Hissène Habré

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Hissène Habré
حسين حبري
Hissene Habre.jpg
7th President of Chad
In office
7 June 1982 – 1 December 1990
Prime Minister Djidingar Dono Ngardoum
Preceded by Goukouni Oueddei
Succeeded by Idriss Déby
1st Prime Minister of Chad
In office
29 August 1978 – 23 March 1979
Preceded by François Tombalbaye
(as PM of colonial Chad)
Succeeded by Djidingar Dono Ngardoum
Personal details
Born (1942-09-13) 13 September 1942 (age 73)
Faya-Largeau, Chad
Spouse(s) Fatime Raymonde

Hissène Habré (Chadian Arabic: حسين حبري  [hiˈsɛn ˈhabre]; born 13 September 1942), also spelled Hissen Habré, is a former Chadian dictator who was the leader of Chad from 1982 until he was deposed in 1990.

Early life[edit]

Habré was born in 1942 in Faya-Largeau, northern Chad, then a colony of France. He was born into a family of shepherds. He is a member of the Anakaza branch of the Daza ethnic group, which is itself a branch of the Toubou ethnic group.[1] After primary schooling, he obtained a post in the French colonial administration, where he impressed his superiors and gained a scholarship to study in France, at the Institute of Overseas Higher Studies in Paris. He completed a university degree in political science in Paris, and returned to Chad in 1971. He also obtained several other degrees and earned his Doctorate from the Institute. After a further brief period of government service as a deputy prefect,[2] he visited Tripoli and joined the National Liberation Front of Chad (FROLINAT) where he became a commander in the Second Liberation Army of FROLINAT along with Goukouni Oueddei. After Abba Siddick assumed the leadership of FROLINAT, the Second Liberation Army, first under Oueddei's command and then under Habré's, split from FROLINAT and became the Command Council of the Armed Forces of the North (CCFAN). In 1976 Oueddei and Habré quarreled and Habré split his newly named Armed Forces of the North (Forces Armées du Nord or FAN) from Goukouni's followers who adopted the name of People's Armed Forces (Forces Armées Populaires or FAP). Both FAP and FAN operated in the extreme north of Chad, drawing their fighters from the Toubou nomadic people.

Habré first came to international attention when a group under his command attacked the town of Bardaï in Tibesti, on 21 April 1974, and took three Europeans hostage, with the intention of ransoming them for money and arms. The captives were a German physician, Dr. Christoph Staewen (whose wife Elfriede was killed in the attack), and two French citizens, Françoise Claustre, an archeologist, and Marc Combe, a development worker. Staewen was released on 11 June 1974 after significant payments by West German officials.[3][4][5] Combe escaped in 1975, but despite the intervention of the French Government, Claustre (whose husband was a senior French government official) was not released until 1 February 1977. Habré split with Oueddei, partly over this hostage-taking incident (which became known as the "Claustre affair" in France).[2]

Rise to power[edit]

On 29 August 1978, Habré was given the post of prime minister of Chad, replacing Félix Malloum in that position; Malloum had been both prime minister and president since 1975. Habré's term as prime minister ended, however, a year later, when Malloum's government ended. Elections brought Goukouni Oueddei to the presidency.

Habré deposed Oueddei in a coup on 7 June 1982, and the FAN leader became president; the post of prime minister was abolished. There followed a period of turmoil.[citation needed]


Habré seized power in Chad and ruled from 1982 until he was deposed in 1990 by Idriss Déby. Habré's one-party régime, like many others before his, was characterized by widespread human rights abuses and atrocities. He denies killing and torturing tens of thousands of his opponents although in 2012, the UN's International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Senegal to put him on trial or extradite him to face justice overseas.[6]

Following his rise to power, Habré created a secret police force known as the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS), under which opponents of Habré were tortured and executed.[citation needed] Some methods of torture commonly used by the DDS included; burning with incandescent objects, spraying of gas into the eyes, ears, and nose; forced swallowing of water, and forcing the mouths of detainees around the exhaust pipes of running cars.[7] Habré's government periodically engaged in ethnic cleansing against groups such as the Sara, Hadjerai and the Zaghawa, killing and arresting group members in masses when it perceived that their leaders posed a threat to the regime.[citation needed]

Habré fled to Senegal after being overthrown in 1990. He was placed under house arrest in 2005 until his arrest in 2013. He is accused of war crimes and torture during his eight years in power in Chad, where rights groups say that some 40,000 people were killed under his rule.[8] Human Rights Watch claims that 1,200 were killed and 12,000 were tortured, and a domestic Chadian commission of inquiry claims that as many as 40,000 were killed and that over 200,000 were subjected to torture. Human Rights Watch later dubbed Habré "Africa's Pinochet."[9][10][11]

War with Libya[edit]

Libya invaded Chad on July 1980, occupying and annexing the Aozou Strip. The United States and France responded by aiding Chad in an attempt to contain Libya's regional ambitions under Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi.[citation needed]

Civil war deepened. On 15 December 1980, Libya occupied all of northern Chad, but Habré defeated Libyan troops and drove them out in November 1981. In 1983, Libyan troops occupied all of the country north of Koro Toro. The United States used a clandestine base in Chad to train captured Libyan soldiers whom it was organizing into an anti-Gaddafi force.[citation needed]

Habré's aid from the USA and France helped him to win the war against Gaddafi's Libya.[citation needed] The Libyan occupation of the north of Koro Toro ended when Habré defeated him in 1987. By that time, the war was beginning to end, and had ended by 1988.

Despite this victory, Habré's government was weak, and strongly opposed by members of the Zaghawa ethnic group. A rebel offensive in November 1990, which was led by Idriss Déby, a Zaghawa former army commander who had participated in a plot against Habré in 1989 and subsequently fled to Sudan, defeated Habré's forces. The French chose not to assist Habré on this occasion, allowing him to be ousted; it is possible that they actively aided Déby. Explanation and speculation regarding the reasons for France's abandonment of Habré include the adoption of a policy of non-interference in intra-Chadian conflicts, dissatisfaction with Habré's unwillingness to move towards multiparty democracy, and favoritism by Habré towards American rather than French companies with regard to oil development. Habré fled to Cameroon, and the rebels entered N'Djamena on 2 December 1990; Habré subsequently went into exile in Senegal.[12]

Support of the U.S. and France[edit]

The United States and France supported Habré, seeing him as a bulwark against the Gaddafi government in neighboring Libya. Under President Ronald Reagan, the United States gave covert CIA paramilitary support to help Habré take power and remained one of Habré's strongest allies throughout his rule, providing his regime with massive amounts of military aid.[13] The United States also used a clandestine base in Chad to train captured Libyan soldiers whom it was organizing into an anti-Qaddafi force.[citation needed][14]

"The CIA was so deeply involved in bringing Habré to power I can't conceive they didn't know what was going on," said Donald Norland, U.S. ambassador to Chad from 1979 to 1981. "But there was no debate on the policy and virtually no discussion of the wisdom of doing what we did."[15]

Documents obtained by Human Rights Watch show that the United States provided Habré's DDS with training, intelligence, arms, and other support despite knowledge of its atrocities. Records discovered in the DDS' meticulous archives describe training programs by American instructors for DDS agents and officials, including a course in the United States that was attended by some of the DDS' most feared torturers. According to the Chadian Truth Commission, the United States also provided the DDS with monthly infusions of monetary aid and financed a regional network of intelligence networks code-named "Mosaic" that Chad used to pursue suspected opponents of Habré's regime even after they fled the country.[14][citation needed]

In the summer of 1983, when Libya invaded northern Chad and threatened to topple Habré, France sent 3,000 paratroops with air support, while the Reagan administration provided two AWACS electronic surveillance planes to coordinate air cover. By 1987 Gaddafi's forces had retreated.[citation needed]

"Habré was a remarkably able man with a brilliant sense of how to play the outside world," a former senior U.S. official said. "He was also a bloodthirsty tyrant and torturer. It is fair to say we knew who and what he was and chose to turn a blind eye."[15]

Legal proceedings[edit]

Human rights groups hold Habré responsible for the killing of thousands of people, but the exact number is unknown. Killings included massacres against ethnic groups in the south (1984), against the Hadjerai (1987), and against the Zaghawa (1989). Human Rights Watch charged him with having authorized tens of thousands of political murders and physical torture.[16]

Between 1993 and 2003, Belgium had universal jurisdiction legislation (the Belgian War Crimes Law) allowing the most serious violations of human rights to be tried in national as well as international courts, without any direct connection to the country of the alleged perpetrator, victims or where the crimes took place. Despite the repeal of the legislation, investigations against Habré went ahead and in September 2005 he was indicted for crimes against humanity, torture, war crimes and other human rights violations. Senegal, where Habré had been in exile for 17 years,[17] had Habré under nominal house arrest in Dakar.[18]

On 17 March 2006, the European Parliament demanded that Senegal turn over Habré to Belgium to be tried. Senegal did not comply, and it at first refused extradition demands from the African Union which arose after Belgium asked to try Habré. The Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights expressed its approval of the decision.[19] If he were to be turned over, he would have become the first former dictator to be extradited by a third-party country to stand trial for human rights abuses. In 2007, Senegal set up its own special war-crimes court to try Habré under pressure from the African Union.[17] On 8 April 2008, the National Assembly of Senegal voted to amend the constitution to clear the way for Habré to be prosecuted in Senegal;[20][21] Ibrahima Gueye was appointed as trial coordinator in May 2008. A joint session of the National Assembly and the Senate voted in July 2008 to approve a bill empowering Senegalese courts to try people for crimes committed in other countries and for crimes that were committed more than ten years beforehand; this made it constitutionally possible to try Habré. Senegalese Minister of Justice Madicke Niang appointed four investigative judges on this occasion.[22]

A 2007 movie by director Klaartje Quirijns, The Dictator Hunter, tells the story of the activists Souleymane Guengueng and Reed Brody who led the efforts to bring Habré to trial.[23]

On 15 August 2008, a Chadian court sentenced Habré to death in absentia[24][25] for war crimes and crimes against humanity[24] in connection with allegations that he had worked with rebels inside Chad to oust Déby.[25] François Serres, a lawyer for Habré, criticized this trial on 22 August for unfairness and secrecy.[26] According to Serres, the accusation on which the trial was based was previously unknown and Habré had not received any notification of the trial.[24] 14 victims filed new complaints with a Senegalese prosecutor on 16 September, accusing Habré of crimes against humanity and torture.[27]

The Senegalese government added an amendment in 2008, which would allow Habré to be tried in court. Senegal later changed their position, however, requesting 27 million euros in funding from the international community before going through with the trial. This prompted Belgium to pressure the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to force Senegal to either extradite Habré to Belgium to proceed with the trial. This request was denied by the ICJ.[28]

In November 2010, the court of justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ruled that Senegal could not hold trial in the matter through local court only, and asked for the creation of a special tribunal on the matter of Habré's prosecution. In April 2011, after initial reticence, Senegal agreed to the creation of an ad hoc tribunal in collaboration with the African Union, the Chadian state and with international funding.[29]

Senegal changed their position again however, walking out during discussions on establishing the court on 30 May 2011 without explanation. The African union commission on Habré, in preparation for their next summit on 30 June published a report urging to press Senegal to extradite Habré to Belgium.[30]

On 8 July 2011, Senegal officials announced that Habré would be extradited to Chad on 11 July,[31] but this was subsequently halted.[32] In July 2012, the ICJ ruled that Senegal must start Habré's trial "without delay". Amnesty International called on Senegal to abide by the ICJ's ruling, calling it "a victory for victims that's long overdue".[33]

In December 2012, the Parliament of Senegal passed a law allowing for the creation of an international tribunal in Senegal to try Habre. The judges of the tribunal would be appointed by the African Union, and come from elsewhere in Africa.[26]

On 30 June 2013, Habré, was arrested in Senegal by the Senegalese police.[34] Chadian President Idriss Deby said of his arrest that it was a step towards "an Africa free of all evil, an Africa stripped of all dictatorships." Senegal's court, set up with the African Union, charged him with crimes against humanity and torture.[35]

On 20 July 2015 the trial started. Waiting for the trial to open, Habré shouted: "Down with imperialists. [The trial] is a farce by rotten Senegalese politicians. African traitors. Valet of America". After that Habré was taken out of the courtroom and the trial began without him.[36][37] On 21 July 2015 Habré's trial was postponed to 7 September 2015, after his lawyers refused to participate in court.[38][39][40][41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sam C. Nolutshungu, Limits of Anarchy: Intervention and State Formation in Chad (1996), page 110.
  2. ^ a b "Civil War and Northern Dominance, 1975–82". A Country Study: Chad. Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. 
  3. ^ "Entführung: Bedenkliches Zugeständnis aus Bonn: Diplomatische Beziehungen abgebrochen – Dr. Staewen berichtet über Gefangenschait im Tschad (Abduction: dubious sanction from Bonn: Diplomatic relations broken off – Dr. Staewen reported hostage in Chad)" (PDF). Das Ostpreußenblatt (in German). 6 July 1974. p. 5. 
  4. ^ "Deutscher Rebellen-Funk". Der Spiegel (in German). 17 June 1974. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  5. ^ "Zum Weinen". Der Spiegel (in German). 15 September 1975. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  6. ^ "BBC News - Senegal police arrest Chad former leader Hissene Habre". BBC News. Retrieved 8 March 2015. 
  7. ^ "Chad: Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Crimes and Misappropriations Committed by Ex-president Habré, His Accomplices and/or Associates" (PDF). United States Institute of Peace. 7 May 1992. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  8. ^ "Former Chad President Hissene Habre detained, may face war crimes charges". GlobalPost. Retrieved 8 March 2015. 
  9. ^ "Profile: Chad's Hissene Habre". BBC News. 3 July 2006. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  10. ^ "France to help try Chad ex-leader". BBC News. 27 July 2007. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  11. ^ "Africa's Pinochet" or the beginning of "Africa's solutions"? Al Jazeera
  12. ^ Bernard Lanne, "Chad: Regime Change, Increased Insecurity, and Blockage of Further Reforms", Political Reform in Francophone Africa (1997), ed. Clark and Gardinier, page 274 (see also note 26).
  13. ^ U.S.-Backed Chadian Dictator Hissène Habré Faces War Crimes Trial in Historic Win for His Victims. Democracy Now! 2 July 2013.
  14. ^ a b "The Case Against Hissène Habré, an "African Pinochet"". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  15. ^ a b Douglas Farah (27 November 2000). "Chad's Torture Victims Pursue Habre in Court". The Washington Post. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  16. ^ "Senegal: US Urges Action on Chadian Ex-Dictator’s Trial". Human Rights Watch. Archived from the original on 22 July 2011. 
  17. ^ a b "How the mighty are falling". The Economist. 5 July 2007. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  18. ^ The Independent Archived 21 November 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Human Rights Watch (16 March 2006). "Chad: European Parliament Calls for Trial of Hissène Habré". allafrica.com. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  20. ^ "Sénégal: les députés modifient la Constitution pour juger Hissène Habré" (in French). Google News. Agence France-Presse. 8 April 2008. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  21. ^ "Senegal amends constitution". News 24. Associated Press. 9 April 2008. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  22. ^ "Senegal may finally try Habre". News 24. Reuters. 24 July 2008. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  23. ^ Amy Goodman and Juan González (12 June 2008). ""The Dictator Hunter": Victims of US-Allied Chadian Dictator Hissene Habre Lead Quest to Bring Him to Justice". Democracy Now!. Retrieved 3 July 2012. ]
  24. ^ a b c "Habré’s legal defence dubs Chadian court "underground, unfair" over death sentence". Agence de Presse Africaine. 22 August 2008. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  25. ^ a b "Chad ex-leader sentenced to death". BBC News. 15 August 2008. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  26. ^ a b Thomas Fessy. "BBC News – Hissene Habre: Senegal MPs pass law to form tribunal". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-12-19. 
  27. ^ "African Union: Press Senegal on Habré Trial", Human Rights Watch, 28 January 2009
  28. ^ Andrew Morgan (28 May 2009). "ICJ denies Belgium request to force extraditon of Chad ex-president Habre". Jurist. Retrieved 3 July 2012. ]
  29. ^ Christopher Tansey (25 April 2011). "Bringing Hissène Habré to Justice: Senegal to Create a Special Tribunal in Compliance with ECOWAS Court Judgment". The Human Rights Brief. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  30. ^ "African Union: Press Senegal to Extradite Habré". vadvert.co.uk. 29 June 2011. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  31. ^ "Senegal urged to halt ex-Chad leader Habre extradition". BBC News. 10 July 2011. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  32. ^ "Senegal suspends Hissene Habre's repatriation to Chad". BBC News. 10 July 2011. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  33. ^ Staff (20 July 2012). "Hissene Habre: ICJ rules Senegal must try ex-Chad leader immediately". BBC News. Retrieved 20 July 2012. 
  34. ^ "Senegal Detains Ex-President of Chad". NY Times. Retrieved 30 June 2013. 
  35. ^ "Ex-Chad leader charged over war crimes". Retrieved 8 March 2015. 
  36. ^ Aislinn Laing (20 July 2015). "'African traitors!' Chad dictator trial in Senegal has a chaotic start". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved July 20, 2015. 
  37. ^ "Chad's Hissene Habre removed from Senegal court". BBC News. 20 July 2015. Retrieved July 20, 2015. 
  38. ^ "Trial of Chad's ex-dictator Habré adjourned to September 7". France 24. July 21, 2015. Retrieved July 24, 2015. 
  39. ^ "Chad's Hissene Habre forced to appear in court". BBC News. July 21, 2015. Retrieved July 24, 2015. The trial has been suspended until 7 September after Mr Habre and his lawyers refused to speak to the judge. 
  40. ^ Diadie Ba (July 21, 2015). "Trial of Chad's Habre suspended after boycott by his lawyers". Reuters. Retrieved July 24, 2015. 
  41. ^ Thierry Cruvellier (July 27, 2015). "For Hissène Habré, a Trial by Refusal". The New York Times. Retrieved July 28, 2015. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Goukouni Oueddei
President of Chad
7 June 1982 – 1 December 1990
Succeeded by
Idriss Déby Itno