Bullies and Dictators

Remember when you were a kid and someone was mean to you on the playground? You would tell your teacher and if she did not do something about it, you would go further up the chain to your mum or dad. Well that is exactly what victims of the Chadian dictator, Hissene Habre did.

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In 1982 Hissene Habre seized power in a coup and ruled Chad for the next 8 years. Bullies intimidate, abuse, manipulate and control others who are not on their team. Habre tortured, killed and exterminated anyone he felt could be a threat to his regime. Life can be a bitch! Someone else will eventually outsmart the bully. Habre was overthrown in a coup in 1990. He ran away to Senegal and has been there in exile ever since. He has been accused of killing 40,000 people and torturing about 200,000. This means that on average over  8 years, he killed 5, 000 people and tortured 25,000 every year. Many people were affected by the loss and disappearance of friends and family, pretty much like the situation in Chile with Pinochet in the 1980s where people just went missing without a trace.

habre surviviors justice habre_case0113 QUIRIJNS_Klaartje_2007_The-dictator-hunter_poster ending-impunity2

The kids who have been bullied go to the first grown up. In this case, the survivors who have now become naturalized citizens of Belgium took their case to the Belgian courts. Belgium, besides being known for chocolate, is also known for its use of universal jurisdiction. Universal Jurisdiction is the idea that there are some basic norms that we as human beings accept as universal and we make them part of international law so- NO to genocide, NO to racial discrimination, NO to torture and NO to slavery. Once one of these norms is violated, it is treated as a crime against humanity and can be prosecuted in a national court.

In 2005 we had Habre living in exile in Senegal, Belgium asking for his extradition to bring him to trial, Senegal refusing to hand him over and at the same time saying, “We don’t have the power to prosecute him”. The kids who have been wronged on the playground now go to an adult with more power, the daddy.

The case was then taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) where Belgium accused Senegal of violating the UN Convention against Torture and breaching its obligation to bring justice to those accused of crimes against humanity by neither extraditing Habre nor trying him. In 2012 the ICJ ruled that Senegal start the trial “without delay”.

Now daddy has initiated action against the playground bully. Later in 2012, the Parliament of Senegal finally passed a law allowing for the creation of an international tribunal in Senegal to try Habre. The judges would be appointed by the African Union and would come from elsewhere in Africa.

One year later, Habre was arrested in Senegal and charged with crimes against humanity. His trial is set to begin July 20, 2015.

I first heard about the case of Hissene Habre when I was teaching in Johannesburg. As an extracurricular activity, we had Model United Nations (MUN) where students would simulate the workings of the UN over a 3-day period. Students become delegates and are assigned countries and placed in committees, such as ICJ, Ecosoc, Security Council and General Assembly. I was one of the teachers supervising the ICJ and the case that was being simulated was Belgium vs. Senegal over the fate of Hissene Habre. I was particularly interested as I was into anything related to Senegal. At the end of the case, after hearing the arguments of both sides, the student judges also ruled in favour of him being tried in Senegal!

Of course, I was intrigued when I heard the news that he was finally going to be tried. Let us hope he does not develop ‘heart problems’ before the trial as did Pinochet. The bully should get what the bully deserves.


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