Senegal, AU launch “universal jurisdiction” prosecution of ex-Chad dictator

Chad’s brutal ex-dictator Hissène Habré will stand trial for war crimes, torture, and crimes against humanity in a landmark trial in Senegal. This is huge news if it goes forward because the Senegal trial — undertaken with African Union backing — and will be the African continent’s first-ever use of “universal jurisdiction.”

Universal jurisdiction is a controversial doctrine that allows countries to prosecute people they arrest for significant crimes of mass violence and human rights abuses committed in other places, even without direct interests of or crimes against the prosecuting country. It has been used most heavily by Spain (full story➚).

Habré, who ruled from 1982 until the 1990 coup that brought incumbent President Idriss Déby to power, has been in Senegal since his fall from power. He was placed under house arrest in 2005 and then formally taken to jail in 2013 ahead of the now-upcoming trial. He has been sought by various jurisdictions, including Chad, for his 1980s crimes — which include hundreds if not tens of thousands of political killings and tens or hundreds of thousands of torture victims — but until now he has avoided prosecution.

Universal jurisdiction efforts against him began as far back as 2000. Senegal was initially unsure whether it could apply universal jurisdiction in its domestic courts, but the country is a firm supporter of international justice as a general principle, having been the first country to ratify the creation of the International Criminal Court.

Throughout Habré’s rule he received paramilitary assistance from the United States (via the CIA) as part of Chad’s on-again-off-again war with Libya’s Qaddafi regime. Besides his crimes again humanity, Habré was most notable on the international stage, especially in retrospect, for his pioneering use of Toyota pickup trucks with improvised gun-mounts for highly-mobile desert combat, a tactic he used against the Libyan Army’s tanks to surprisingly strong effect. This tactic’s late 1980s use in the war with Libya may well have influenced the use of pickup trucks with improvised gun mounts in Libya’s 2011 Revolution against Qaddafi, which may have then spread via Libyan fighters to ISIS (and other insurgent groups) in eastern Syria and western Iraq.

There was extensive (albeit secret) U.S. panic when Habré fell from power that CIA-delivered heavy weapons, including the same type of anti-air equipment as what they were delivering to Afghanistan at the same time, might fall into the hands of Qaddafi, who at that point had already brought down the Pan-Am flight over Lockerbie.

Pictured: Chadian President Hissène Habré and U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1987. (Ronald Reagan Library)

Pictured: Chadian President Hissène Habré and U.S. President Ronald Reagan in June 1987. (Ronald Reagan Library)

Sudan Info Minister: Omar al-Bashir deserves Nobel Peace Prize

I realize there’s a long history of pretty undeserving and warmongering people winning the the Nobel Peace Prize but I’m pretty sure we’d really be redefining the word “Peace” entirely if the prize were given to Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir, as has been hilariously/disturbingly proposed by his Minister of Information, according to Darfuri media outlet Radio Dabanga.

According to the Sudanese Minister of Information, President Omar Al Bashir is a man of peace who should have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the war between Khartoum and the southern Sudanese rebels in 2005.
“President Al Bashir is being threatened with an ICC [International Criminal Court] arrest warrant for alleged war crimes in Darfur,” Information Minister Ahmed Bilal told James Butty of VOA News in an interview published today, “instead of being praised and encouraged for his efforts.”

Bilal said that Khartoum cares little about the ICC. “Let me tell you one thing: Our president is a man of peace. He stopped the longest war in Africa. Instead of giving him Nobel [Peace] Prize, he’s being called before the ICC. Instead praising him or encouraging him and saying that he’s doing good things to his neighbors, you are raising this talk of ICC problems.

You can read the VOA News interview with Minister Bilal here.

omar-al-bashirIn addition to Bashir’s genocide in Darfur, he is a past sponsor of global Sunni Islamic terrorism (including al Qaeda during the 1990s before their relocation to Afghanistan) and was a main instigating force and perpetuator of the Sudanese Civil War in the south, which he eventually ended under immense international pressure and UN involvement. Not exactly a shining force for world peace.

President Bashir was indicted in 2009 by the International Criminal Court for his activities in Darfur and has refused to face prosecution, unlike the president of nearby Kenya (who is currently standing trial on less serious charges for post-election violence). He is gearing up to campaign for yet another term as president after 25 years of rule. Fortunately, I doubt even the Nobel Peace Prize Committee is planning to consider Bashir any time soon … or ever.

Europe and the American death penalty

death-penaltyTypically, the only countries that try to tell the United States what to do are in the company of North Korea and Venezuela.

Europe definitely doesn’t make a habit of condemning the policies of the U.S. government and certainly not the policies of specific state governments. Part of that is that it would be unlikely to accomplish much. Part of it is a recognition that they would not like the U.S., a peer nation among developed democracies, telling them what to do at home, either.

They may disagree privately or shake their heads, but it’s rare for European leaders to say anything in an official capacity or to do anything substantive about it. This may be changing a bit in light of the NSA scandals, but there’s also actually already been one fairly quiet exception: the U.S. death penalty. They’ve been very firm on the issue and are increasingly ramping up official activism to end it.
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Court: Dutch troops liable in Srebenica massacre

18 years later, Dutch UN Peacekeepers who served at Srebenica have been found liable by the Dutch Supreme Court for having ordered refugee men and boys out of the sanctuary of their base and into the waiting ranks of the Serb paramilitaries outside who then massacred them. Although their non-Dutch UN commanders gave the orders, the Court found they should not have followed the orders and that the Dutch government and commanders back home could have and should have intervened. The liability finding means the Netherlands will have to pay reparations to victim families in Bosnia. Meanwhile, in a just irony, the paramilitary commander who led the massacres is on trial now in the Hague (also in the Netherlands).

A Rwandan Genocide legacy (part 3)

In parts 1 and 2 of my expanding series on a lesser-noted legacy of the Rwandan Genocide, I looked at some of the abuses that the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) committed in the past and are committing today. With very close ties to the United States government and military, President Paul Kagame has been able to get away with many things, in large part because he liberated Rwanda from the extremist Hutu dictatorship that was precisely carrying out a genocide against the Tutsi minorities. It’s pretty hard to criticize the person that finally ended one of the very worst genocides of the 20th century, after over 900,000 people had been systematically murdered nationwide, with the world watching and doing nothing.

In part 1, I cited Kagame and the RPF’s consolidation of power and suppression of opposition parties ahead of national elections this year, as well as the creation of a secretive work-prison camp holding abducted children. In part 2, I examined how dissent and new historical research attempts are being silenced on grounds of fomenting genocide and civil war.

In a similar vein, defense lawyers for those charged with crimes involving the 1994 genocide report serious intimidation even though they are merely serving the international community by providing legal counsel to defendants. One American lawyer has actually been arrested as a national security threat and Genocide denier, probably in part because he is representing a client that is an enemy of the individuals in power in the post-Genocide government. NY Times, 6/12/10:

Defense lawyers at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which has been prosecuting ringleaders of the 1994 genocide, are threatening to stop participating in cases after one of their colleagues was jailed by the Rwandan government last month.

A growing number of lawyers contend that Peter Erlinder, an American who represents a senior Rwandan Army officer accused of directing death squads, was arrested for his statements at the tribunal even though he is supposed to be protected by diplomatic immunity while working for it.

Mr. Erlinder, 62, is charged with denying Rwanda’s genocide and threatening national security through his writings and speeches. Rwanda’s government argues that Mr. Erlinder’s work can “instigate riots” and “civil disobediences,” but it seems that many of the statements that the Rwandan government finds objectionable are actually part of Mr. Erlinder’s work as a lawyer in the United States and in Arusha, Tanzania, where the United Nations-backed tribunal for Rwanda is based.

So far, 11 lawyers with imminent court appearances have formally requested that the courts postpone their cases. At least 40 in total — a majority of the defense lawyers working for the tribunal — have signed a general petition saying they plan not to work unless their security can be guaranteed.

An article published today suggests that the lawyer who has been arrested might actually have been arrested because outside the ICTR he had decided to represent an opposition candidate who had pointed out the RPF also committed reciprocal atrocities during, preceding, and following the Genocide, when they were a rebel group working to overthrow the Hutu regime and wipe out the genocidaires after the events of 1994. As I discussed at length in part 1 of this series, that’s exactly what did happen, and yet she was arrested as a promoter of “genocide ideology” because she chose to speak out with the truth.

Furthermore, the lawyer in question recently filed a lawsuit, on behalf of the widows of the late presidents of Burundi and Rwanda who were killed in 1994 in an attack on the presidential plane that set the Rwandan Genocide in motion… and the lawsuit alleged (as France has in the past) that then-General Kagame had ordered the RPF’s security detachment in the capital to shoot down the plane. Since Kagame is now president, this is an extremely unpopular move to make within the ruling party’s upper ranks and was probably a serious compounding factor in his arrest. (And from what I understand, it’s much more likely that Hutu military extremists behind the coup shot the plane down, to provide the pretext to seize control and begin the killings within hours, and so this is obviously a very touchy subject with the Tutsis in power.)

Now, I have to state that I have no idea what this lawyer’s actual motivations are. He could very well be sympathetic to the Hutu side or he could be in it for the money (though that’s hard to believe if he’s an ICTR lawyer). Maybe he really believes that the Genocide wasn’t planned, when he says that on behalf of his clients charged with war crimes. However, he is a law professor and an international lawyer. It’s much more likely that he believes he’s just fulfilling a necessary role in a fair judicial system, which is that somebody has to represent the worst of the worst, or even just “the other side” of the story, to make sure everyone gets their day in court without making a mockery of the system. His legal statements probably don’t reflect his personal beliefs.

On balance, sure, the Rwandan Patriotic Front were almost certainly the “good guys,” if we have to pick, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t done bad things (e.g. killing Hutu civilians, destabilizing the Democratic Republic of the Congo several times), and as a political party in the post-Genocide period, they have been doing some very bad things that undermine the fledgling democracy of the country. If they continue to intimidate people and silence dissent or alternative viewpoints, they are not protecting any Rwandans or national security, but rather they are protecting themselves and their power… and the international community should be willing to criticize that and pressure the government to stop. Defense lawyers, who already face a nasty job in general, should not be facing the threat of twenty-year prison sentences just for doing their jobs to help international justice be served.

This article originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.