CSVR | CENTRE FOR THE STUDY OF VIOLENCE AND RECONCILIATION
Introduction

The Commission of Inquiry into the Crimes and Misappropriations Committed by Ex-President Habré, His Accomplices and/or Accessories (1990-1992) was established by President Idriss Déby Itno under Decree No. 014/P.CE/CJ to investigate former President Hissène Habré and his associates.

This inquiry came after Habré’s overthrow, following reports of widespread human rights violations that included institutionalised practices of torture and state mismanagement such as corruption. As the commission’s mandate was narrow, the inquiry excluded specific investigations into sexual violence and these violations were underexplored in the final report.

In 2013, Senegal, with the support of the African Union, established the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC) to put Habré on trial. In 2016, Habré become the first head of state on the continent to be found guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including rape and sexual slavery.

Conflict and Prevalence of Sexual Violence

Habré’s military dictatorship from 1982 to 1990 was characterised by widespread state-sanctioned violence by the president himself and other state agents, particularly the Directorate of Documentation and Security (DDS) (Brody, 2015, p. 209). Habré’s Northern Armed Forces seized power in 1982 after years of political strife with President Goukouni Oueddei’s People’s Armed Forces. Following the seizure of N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, Habré was able to consolidate his power (Bronner, 2014, p. 37). Following this victory, Habré’s regime used violent repression against political opponents, targeting the opposition and particularly those who did not belong to the Gorane ethnic group (CoI, 1992, p. 79). This included violations against the Sara and the Hedjarai in the south and the Zaghawa in the northeast (Seelinger et al., 2020).

Habré’s challenge to Oueddei’s rule was backed by the United States and French governments because of Oueddei’s close ties to Libya under Muamar Gaddhafi (HRW, 2016). Habré’s regime served to protect Western regional interests, and his close ties to these countries helped shield him from accountability for human rights abuses and excessive use of violence. According to the commission, Habré’s government began perpetrating mass killings and other violations against the Chadian population, particularly following the establishment of the DDS, which became Habré’s central “instrument of torture” for eliminating any resistance (Seelinger et al., 2020, p. 156).

Abuses included indiscriminate executions of whole villages viewed as a threat to Habré’s government. According to the commission (1992, p. 92), Habré’s government contributed to the deaths of more than 40,000 people. It also caused mass internal and external displacement.

The EAC investigations and testimonies further revealed that sexual violence was widely used by Habré and his accomplices against both women and men. For example, “the investigating judges … referred to sexual abuse, including routine rape and sexualized torture committed by Habré’s DDS agents, including the forced nudity of a pregnant prisoner, the insertion of chilli peppers into another detainee’s penis, and the use of electric shocks on a detainee’s genitals” (Seelinger et al., 2020, p. 157). Other testimonies described sexual slavery, with victims/survivors detailing their experiences of being subjected to exploitation in military camps, where they were used as domestic servants and forced to perform sexual acts. Victims/survivors further recounted experiences of reproductive violations, such as forced miscarriages.

Contributing Factors around Sexual Violence

The use of arbitrary arrest and detention as methods of torture were employed to instil terror in the Chadian population. This included the use of sexual violence as a tactic. Victims/survivors who testified before the EAC stated that rape “was widely used as a weapon by the military and police, to sow terror in women, children as young as seven and, in some cases, men” (Maclean, 2016).

Women and children who were directly linked to men opposed to Habré’s regime were targeted, detained and subjected to sexual violence. This practice served to both instil fear among women and children and assert men’s failure to protect their families. Children as young as 12 were targeted for being related to opposition figures (ibid).

A contributing factor is the highly patriarchal nature of Chadian society, in which women are excluded from the public sphere and perceived as being less than men (Solhjell, 2010, p. 17). This patriarchal attitude was perpetuated by the commission itself, which in its findings made reference to women as “the weaker sex” (CoI, 1992, p. 79). These broader social imbalances and prevailing perceptions help explain women’s vulnerability to sexual violence during the period of repression.

Transition and Establishment of the Truth Commission

In 1990, Habré was ousted by the former commander chief of the Chadian National Armed Forces, Idriss Déby. Déby was able to consolidate his power while in exile and, with the backing of Libya and his ethnic group, the Zhagawa, he took power (Marchal, 2006, p. 471).

Déby issued Decree No. 014/P.CE/CJ on 29 December 1990, which established the commission of inquiry. According to Probert et al. (2020), the quick establishment of the commission was intended to delegitimise Habré’s presidency and enable a successful ascension to power for Déby and his government. Of note is that Déby served as Habré’s chief of office until 1984, during a period of mass atrocities, yet the commission made no note of Déby’s involvement in any violations. Probert et al. regard the establishment of the commission as a way for Déby to whitewash his past.

Once Habré fled into exile, all efforts to bring him back to Chad to account for his crimes were unsuccessful. A criminal complaint by some of Habré’s victims/survivors was filed in by now three Belgian citizens of Chadian descent and later to the Committee Against Torture (Brody, 2015, p. 211). In 2008, he was sentenced to death in absentia for war crimes and crimes against humanity by a Chadian court. In 2012, the EAC, a special international tribunal, was established by law by the Senegalese government and the African Union to try Habré. It had jurisdiction over the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture (Wu, 2015, p. 15). In 2013, Habré was arrested in Senegal. Although sexual violence was not explicitly mentioned as a crime to be investigated by the tribunal, testimonies from victims/survivors of sexual violence were heard during the court proceedings. This resulted in Habré being convicted of rape and sexual slavery as crimes against humanity (Seelinger et al., 2020, p. 155).

Mandate and Scope in Respect of CRSV

According to the decree that created the commission, it was mandated to investigate “illegal detentions, assassinations, disappearances, torture, mistreatment, other attacks on the physical and mental integrity of persons; plus, all violations of human rights, illicit narcotics trafficking and embezzlement of state funds” between 1982 and 1990 (Decree, 1990, p. 48). The commission was to hear testimonies from all victims/survivors and invite them to produce documentation of their “physical and mental condition” following their time in detention. It is important to note that the decree did not make any special reference to sexual violence.

In Article 3, the decree specified the selection process for commissioners and other staff. The commissioners were to include individuals from different bureaucratic positions, such as police officers, military police warrant officers, records clerks, magistrates and a director of research. The decree did not mention the gender composition of the commission. According to Article 7, the proceedings would be limited to a period of six months. Thereafter, a final report would need to be submitted to government.

Truth Commission Operations

The commission conducted its investigations in two ways, with some of the staff focusing on criminal and political violations and the rest looking into the financial misappropriation. The commission had 12 members: two magistrates, four officers of the judicial police, two civil administrative officers, two record clerks, and two secretaries. It was allocated 4,8 million francs ($53,572,800 today), which limited the technical and specialised procedures it could initiate (CoI, 1992).

The general process of the commission included the use of pre-established questionnaires for conducting interviews. The interviews were done with a list of selected individuals who were perceived as having directly or indirectly experienced or inflicted violations under Habré’s regime. This list included political detainees, close relatives of people who died or were executed, former DDS, former high-ranking security officials, and ministers from Habré’s time in government. The commission centralised its investigations in the South, Central, Central East and Northeast, where it noted that the most serious violations had occurred in the country (CoI, 1992).

The commission had no specific focus on sexual violence or gender and did not make any attempt to interview victims/survivors of sexual violence during this time.

Truth Commission Final Report

In its 43-page report, the commission outlined the scope and nature of the abuses committed under Habré’s rule, which included the use of torture against political prisoners and the targeting of certain Chadian citizens based on their ethnic identity. Although the commission did not detail forms of sexual violence, it did note that women and children were not exempt from the torture and violence committed by the regime, with some alluding to significant reproductive violations that were experienced by women. The report states, “The blind repression did not spare the weaker sex or children. Thus, women were held in the same prisons as men. Some of them even gave birth to a child in this macabre setting” (CoI, 1992, p. 73).

The commission found that abuses under Habré’s regime were rampant. While no area of the country was spared, non-Gorane ethnic groups were the prime targets. The testimonies of 1,726 witnesses included those of 662 former political prisoners, 786 close relatives of victims who died in detention or were executed, 236 former prisoners of war, 30 former DDS agents, and 12 individuals who held high political positions under Habré’s regime (p. 57). The commission was also one of the first to name perpetrators behind the violations experienced during this regime.

The report highlights the impact of this repression on Chadian society, victims/survivors and their families. The commission states that 40,000 deaths resulted from Habré’s regime. With regard to the indirect impacts of the dictatorship, the commission states that it made widows of many women, with the figure estimated to be more than 80,000 (p. 86). Many women and families were also deprived of the material and other support provided by the men who died as detainees or were executed by the regime.

Truth Commission Recommendations

The commission did not make general or specific recommendations that would affect victims/survivors of sexual violence in the country.

The commission also did not make any recommendations regarding reparations for any victims/survivors. Among the recommendations that spoke to the general civilian population in Chad, the Commission of Inquiry did recommend institutional reforms to disband the DDS as a structure within the new government. It also recommended the establishment of a National Human Rights Commission to monitor and track human rights guarantees and violations (CoI, 1992). Despite these recommendations not being directed to victims/survivors of sexual violence, they spoke to guarantees of non-recurrence for victims of sexual violence.

Implementation of the Truth Commission Recommendations

Following the EAC, reparations amounting to $135 million were to be distributed among Habré’s victims/survivors, but this has not happened. The Chadian government and the African Union were ordered by the court to ensure this material compensation, as well as other symbolic reparations such as a statue and a museum to commemorate victims/survivors, but both parties have failed to comply.

Under Déby, the government was able to disband the DDS. Some DDS personnel, such as former Director Saleh Younous, were given life sentences by Chadian courts, but they were subsequently released without reason (HRW, 2020).

A National Human Rights Commission has been established by the government.

References

Brody, R. 2015. “Bringing a Dictator to Justice: The Case of Hissène Habré.” Journal of International Criminal Justice, 13(2): 209-217.

Bronner, M. 2014. “Our Man in Africa.” Foreign Policy, 204: 34.

Commission of Inquiry into the Crimes and Misappropriations Committed by Ex-President Habré, His Accomplices and/or Accessories (CoI). 1992. http://atjhub.csvr.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/1992-Final-Report.pdf

Decree Creating the Commission of Inquiry into the Crimes and Misappropriations Committed by Ex-President Habré, His Accomplices and/or Accessories (Decree). 1990. http://atjhub.csvr.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Decree-No.-014P.CECJ90-of-29-December-1990.pdf

Deguene, C. & Petit, F. 2021. “Habré’s Death: Final Blow or Wake-up Call for Reparations.” JusticeInfo.net. https://www.justiceinfo.net/en/81192-Habré-death-final-blow-or-wake-up-call-reparations.html

Human Rights Watch (HRW). 2016. “US, France, Backed Convicted Chad Dictator.” https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/06/28/us-france-backed-convicted-chad-dictator

Human Rights Watch (HRW). 2020. “Senegal/Chad: No Reparations for Ex-Dictator’s Victims/Survivors.” https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/05/29/senegal/chad-no-reparations-ex-dictators-victims/survivors

Maclean, R. 2016. “‘I Told My Story Face to Face with Habré’: Courageous Rape Survivors Make History.” The Guardian, 18 September. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/sep/18/hissene-Habré-chad-dictator-couragous-rape-survivors-make-history

Marchal, R. 2006, “Chad/Darfur: How Two Crises Merge.” Review of African Political Economy, 33(109): 467-482.

Probert, T., Bluen, K., & Ndiaye, E. 2020. “Shedding All the Light? The Commission of Inquiry into the Crimes and Misappropriations of Hissène Habré in Chad.” In National Commissions of Inquiry in Africa: Vehicles to Pursue Accountability for Violations of the Right to Life? Edited by Thomas Probert and Christof Heyns. Pretoria University Law Press.

Seelinger, K.T., Fenwick, N., & Alrabe, K. 2020. “Sexual Violence, the Principle of Legality, and the Trial of Hissène Habré.” Washington University Journal of Law and Policy, 62. https://openscholarship.wustl.edu/law_journal_law_policy/vol62/iss1/16

Solhjell, R., Karlsrud, J., & Lie, J.H.S. 2010. Protecting Civilians against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Eastern Chad. Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. https://gisf.ngo/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/0042-Solhjell-2010-Protecting-civilians-against-sexual-and-gender-based-violence-in-eastern-Chad4.pdf

Wu, S. 2013. “Look at the Economic, Political, and Social Events that Shape International Law around the World.” ILSA Quarterly, 22(1): 14-20.


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