Chad: Nation Divided Over Hissène Habré Trial
20 July 2012, Radio Netherlands Worldwide
N'djaména — The International Criminal Court is expected to issue a statement on Friday on the extradition of Hissène Habré to Belgium.
The former Chadian dictator, who has spent over 20 years been in exile in Senegal, will finally face justice. The new Senegalese president, Macky Sall, has indicated his country's readiness to host the trial.
Back in Chad, former victims are growing impatient.
"I spent four years in jail under Habré's dictatorship. I used to sleep on the bare floor and was sick for six months during which I never received any medical care. As a professional gravedigger, I dug the graves of hundreds of prisoners who died in atrocious circumstances," recounts Clément Abaïfouta. The president of the Association of the Victims of Hissène Habré always gets emotional when he recalls the reign of N'Djamena's strong man.
Twenty years later, Clément is still resentful towards his former oppressor. "Very few families in Chad can actually claim that they have not been victims, even indirectly, of Habré's repression. The youth must know exactly what happened. Only then will we be able to achieve true reconciliation."
With the rise of Macky Sall to power in Senegal, the victims of the former Chadian leader could hope for justice to finally take its course, as the new Senegalese president declared his intention to hold Hissène Habré's trial on Senegalese soil, "in Africa." Another twist, that comes as no surprise to most Chadians, in the politico-legal trial that started more than twelve years ago.
In the Chadian capital, the Habré case is usually avoided in conversations. The former dictator is charged with thousands of political assassinations and the systematic use of torture during his reign, from 1982 to 1990, before going into exile in Senegal. There are still remnants of the old regime in the close circle and government of his successor, Idriss Déby Itno. Déby served as former Secretary General at the Presidency, former minister of finance and former minister of communication. It is therefore risky to mention the case with too much zeal.
But a few people have taken the risk. Various newspapers have accused the new Senegalese leader of stalling. "Macky Sall in Wade's dirty footsteps" the weekly newspaper, L'Union, titled in its edition of 3 July. In fact, many believe that Macky Sall emulate his predecessor, who promised to try Habré and never delivered after 12 years in power.
"Once again, there is deception in the air in the land of the Téranga," he says sarcastically. A view that is shared by most N'Djamena residents including Abakar, a taxi driver. "It's a story that is brought up regularly but always ends up dying off. Frankly, if he has to face justice then so should President Déby. He was part of his government and therefore he is also, to some extent, responsible for the crimes president Habré is accused of."
The taxi driver adds: "President Habré is very old already; he will die soon. It's not such a big deal, even if he remains a free man."
Trial in Africa?
One of the next challenges, should there be a trail, will be deciding where Hissène Habré will be tried. In N'Djamena, like in many other African capitals, international tribunals do not always have a good reputation. And Macky Sall's decision not to hand over the former Chadian dictator to Belgian justice - who demanded his extradition based on complaints lodged by Chadian victims - has been welcomed by many.
"Macky Sall took a decision that honours the African continent. We cannot, fifty years after independence, continue to try our leaders in Europe," rejoices André, a student at the N'Djamena University.
Jaqueline Moudeïna, one of the lawyers for representing the victims, agrees: "It's great that it takes place on our continent. It's a decision that honours Senegal." However, practically, he raises some concerns over the trial taking place in the land of the Téranga.
"The Belgian examining magistrate already took five years to complete his investigations. If it has to be redone from scratch, I fear it might be an additional problem." Yet, "the victims have been seeking justice for 12 years" and are growing impatient.