Hissene Habre

29.04.2016 ( Last modified: 27.07.2020 )
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Hissène Habré was born on 13 September 1942 in northern Chad. He was a member of the Anakaza branch of the Daza ethnic group, which is itself a branch of the Toubou ethnic group. He ruled Chad from 1982 until his ouster by the current President Idriss Déby in December 1990, following which he fled to Senegal.

Habré’s single-party regime was marked by widespread violations of human rights and mass campaigns of violence against the civilian population. Collective arrests and mass murders against different ethnic groups, especially when their leaders were perceived as a threat to his regime, were not uncommon. This was particularly true for the Sara and other ethnic groups from the South of Chad (in 1984), the Hadjaraï (in 1987) and the Zaghawa (in 1989). Furthermore, during the whole period between 1983 and 1990, many individuals were detained in secret detention centres, where they were tortured and subjected to inhumane treatment. Many died in detention.

The exact number of Habré’s victims remains unknown to this day. In May 1992, the National Commission of Inquiry, established by Idriss Déby in 1990, accused the Habré government of 40’000 politically motivated murders and systematic torture. The greater part of these abuses was carried out by Habré’s dreaded political police, the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS). Its directors, all pertaining to Habré’s own ethnic group (the Goranes), reported directly to him.

On 26 January 2000, seven Chadian victims and one association (the AVCRP, Association of the Victims of Crimes and Political Repression in Chad) file a complaint against Habré before the regional tribunal of Dakar.


legal procedure


On 26 January 2000, seven victims and one association (the AVCRP, Association of the Victims of Crimes and Political Repression in Chad) file a complaint against Habré before the regional tribunal of Dakar. The plaintiffs accuse Habré of torture and crimes against humanity for 97 political murders, 142 cases of torture, 100 enforced disappearances and 736 arbitrary arrests, most of them having been committed by the DDS.

On 3 February 2000, Habré was charged in Senegal with complicity in crimes against humanity, acts of torture and barbarity.

On 4 July 2000, upon appeal by Habré, the Court of Appeal of Dakar decided that Senegalese tribunals were not competent to judge acts of torture committed by a foreigner outside Senegal, regardless of the nationality of the victims. It cancelled the proceedings against Habré. This decision was confirmed by the Senegalese Court of Cassation on 20 March 2001.

On 27 September 2001, upon injunction of the Committee of the United Nations against Torture (CAT), the president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, accepted “not to expulse Habré and to take all necessary measures to prevent Habré from leaving Senegal otherwise than by virtue of an extradition procedure”. The idea was to prevent him from fleeing to a country where he will not be prosecuted.


Before the decision of the Senegalese Court of Cassation, on 30 November 2000, another group of victims filed a complaint in Belgium against Habré. The complaint came from 21 victims, three of them having obtained Belgian nationality after several years of residence there.

On 19 September 2005, the Belgian judge in charge of the case issued an arrest warrant against Habré and asks for his extradition from Senegal.

On 15 November 2005, Habré was arrested and detained in anticipation of the decision on Belgian’s extradition request.

At the extradition hearing on 25 November 2005, the Appeals Court in Dakar rules that it had no jurisdiction to rule on Belgium’s extradition request. The Court’s reasoning was based on Habré’s “immunity” as a former Head of State. This argument was immediately criticized by many NGOs because that immunity had already been waived by Chad. Habré was subsequently released.

On 27 November 2005, Senegal asks the African Union during its summit to indicate “the jurisdiction that is competent to try this matter”.


On 18 May 2006, the CAT ruled that Senegal had violated the UN Convention against Torture and called on Senegal to prosecute or extradite Habré.

On 2 July 2006, the African Union panel decided that Habré should be tried in Senegal. To that end, on 31 January 2007, the Senegalese National Assembly adopted a law which allows the country to prosecute cases of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture, even when they are committed outside of Senegal.

On 15 August 2008, Habré was sentenced to death in absentia, together with 11 chiefs of the armed rebellion in Chad, by a criminal court in N’Djamena (Chad), for “undermining the constitutional order and the integrity and security of the territory”.

On 16 September 2008, fourteen victims file a new complaint against Habré for crimes against humanity and torture before Senegalese jurisdictions. However, from 2008 to 2010, Senegal refuses to advance with the case unless it received full funding for the trial.


On 19 February 2009, Belgium instituted proceedings against Senegal before the International Court of Justice to request Habré’s extradition. On 8 April 2009, the ICJ accepted Senegal’s formal pledge not to allow Habré to leave its territory until the Court rendered a decision on the merits.

Thrice, the Dakar appeal Court rejected Belgium’s request for extradition on procedural motives.

On 20 July 2012, the ICJ decided, unanimously, that Senegal must without further delay prosecute or extradite Habré..


On 18 November 2010, the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) rules that Senegal must try Habré through a “special or ad hoc procedure of an international character.”

After a difficult negotiation process, on 22 August 2012 Senegal and the African Union signed an agreement establishing a special court, embedded in the Senegalese justice system, called ‘Extraordinary African Chambers’ (EAC).

On 2 July 2013, Habré was formally indicted by the EAC for crimes against humanity (wilful killing, massive and systematic practice of summary executions, kidnapping of persons followed by their enforced disappearance and torture and inhumane treatment), war crimes (wilful killing, torture and inhumane treatment, destruction of property, unlawful transfer and unlawful confinement, and violence to life and physical well-being) and torture committed in the period between 7 June 1982 and 1 December 1990.

On 5 July 2013, 1015 victims joined the procedure as civil parties.

On 13 February 2015, after 19 months of pre-trial investigation, a panel of four judges ordered Habré to stand trial for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture.

The trial of Habré began on 20 July 2015 in front of the EAC. In parallel, from 14 November 2014 to 25 March 2015, the trial of more than twenty former officials of the era of Habré took place in Chad.

On the second day of the trial, the 21 July 2015, the judges of the Chamber decided to postpone the trial. Indeed, the lawyers of the accused did not appear before the Chamber and the President appointed three new counsels: Mbaye Sène, Mounir Ballal and Abdou Gning. On 7 September 2015, after a suspension of 45 days, the trial resumed. The trial ended on 11 February 2016.

On 30 May 2016, the EAC filed its verdict, sentencing Habré to life imprisonment. Habré was found guilty of torture, of the crimes against humanity of rape, forced slavery, murder, massive and systematic practice of summary executions, kidnapping of persons followed by their enforced disappearance, torture and inhumane treatment, and of the war crimes of murder, torture, inhumane treatment and unlawful confinement. The Chamber emphasized the central role Habré played in the repression of the civilian population and how he maintained a system of impunity and terror during his Presidency.

Habré’s lawyers appealed the judgment on 10 June 2016.

On 29 July 2016, the EAC granted the civil party victims of rape and sexual violence in the case 20 million FCFA each (33,880 USD), the civil party victims of arbitrary detention, torture, prisoners of war and survivors in the case 15 million FCFA each (25,410 USD) and the indirect victims 10 million FCFA each (16,935 USD). The EAC rejected the civil parties’ request for collective reparations.

The appeal trial started on 9 January 2017.

On 27 April 2017, the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC) in Senegal rejected Hissène Habré’s appeal and confirmed his conviction for crimes against humanity, including torture and murder. He was acquitted for the charge of rape. 


The case is the first universal jurisdiction case on the African continent and the first conviction of a former head of state by an African court for crimes against humanity.


Chad gained independence from France on 11 August 1960 and has known no real period of peace since then. A long running civil war, several invasions by Libya and the emergence of rebel movements in various regions have torn the country apart for several decades. The division between the North of Chad, a desert land populated by Muslims, and a fertile South inhabited by animists converted to Christianity, was reinforced by the French colonialists who favoured the South thereby reversing the “historical” domination of the North.

For almost twenty years, Libya exercised a direct influence over Chad’s political affairs. In 1973, it first occupied, then, in 1975, annexed, the Aozou strip, in the North, a stretch of land claimed by both countries. The Libyan government also supported several rebel groups from the North of Chad, most notably the Chad National Liberation Front, FROLINAT, founded in 1966, which fought with the goal of promoting opposition to the monopoly on power exercised by the South.

In 1979, the Transitional Government of National Union (GUNT-French acronym) gained power following an agreement reached in Lagos at which the main warring factions were brought together. This coalition fell apart in March 1980 when the Minister of Defence,Hissène Habré seceded with his Armed Forces of the North (FAN-French acronym), which he had founded three years beforehand. In doing so he unleashed a 9 month battle that devastated the capital, N’Djamena.

With the solid support of Reagan in the USA, Hissène Habré came to power on 7 June 1982. He immediately set up a one party regime with his stated intent being to bring peace and calm to Chad and to end for once and for all the dissidence in the South. In 1982, Habré’s FAN, which in the interim had become the regular armed forces and was to take the name of the National Armed Forces of Chad (FANT-French acronym), regained control over the principal towns in the South of Chad. However, far from being pacified, the South was then witness to the emergence of a widespread armed opposition fiercely opposed to Habré, called the CODOS (an abbreviation of “Commandos”. This climate of resistance and opposition to Habré led to the “Black September” of 1984. Several sources have indicated that the repression against the southern opposition at the time was especially violent and was aimed not only at the CODOS rebels but also at the civilian population and in particular those in positions of responsibility, such as civil servants and senior administrative officials, all of whom were suspected of collusion with the rebels. In certain prefectures, widespread arrests and massive executions of civilians were carried out intentionally with the sole aim of spreading terror.

Many witnesses have given evidence on the eight years of the Hissène Habré regime during which there were widespread arrests, mass murders, and persecutions against certain ethnic groups whose leaders appeared to him to be a threat to his regime. Notably amongst such groups which were periodically targeted were the Sara and other southern groups( in 1984), the Hadjarai (in 1987), Chadian Arabs and the Zaghawa (1989-1990). In 1992, the Truth Commission of the Chadian Justice Minister, established by President Déby, accused the Habré government of some 40’000 politically motivated murders and of systematic torture. The major part of these predations were carried out by Habré’s political police- the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS)- whose leaders were accountable only to Hissène Habré and who were all members of his own small Gorane ethnic group.

After Hissène Habrés came to power, the GUNT still continued its resistance in exile with the support of Libya. In June 1983, the GUNT forces took over Faya-Largeau in the far North of Chad with the help of Libyan troops. The Libyan troops were to occupy the North of Chad up until the counter-offensive by Habré’s forces which was launched in 1986 and continued until March 1987, at which time the movement began the re-conquest of the North with the support of the French army. Habré and Qaddafi then concluded a cease fire agreement in September 1987. Diplomatic relations between Chad and Libya were re-established in October 1988. The Baghdad Accords were signed a month later thereby sealing the reconciliation between Habré and Acheikh Ibn Oumar a former leader of the GUNT.

On 1st December 1990, after a year of rebellion, the Patriotic Movement of Salvation, a rebel force led by President Idriss Déby, forced Hissène Habré from power. Prison doors were subsequently opened up and hundreds of political prisoners who had been held in various secret detention centres in the capital of Chad were thus liberated.


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