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An activist on why Hissen Habre should be freed

In an interview with APA, Senegalese human rights activist Alioune Tine pleads the case for the provisional release of former Chadian President Hissen Habre on health grounds.Habre has been imprisoned in Dakar since his conviction in 2017 for “crimes against humanity” by a special tribunal established under an agreement between the African Union and Senegal.

You have been a fierce activist for the trial of Hisseen Habre but you are now backing his lawyers’ request for a six-month release. Why this change in attitude towards him?

AT: I continue to be a staunch activist against impunity; I remain consistent in making the difference between release and provisional authorization granted to a detainee who, too, has rights even if his name is Hissen Habre. I agreed with the first authorization and also with the second one for the following reasons. Hissein Habre is 78 years old, he has the diseases of his age, in a context of Covid-19, in a prison environment, and he is among the most vulnerable people. He has the right to the protection of his health and his life. And as a reminder, he has already served eight years in prison. Finally, I was also made aware of his state of health. I have always defended the rights of detainees.

His short release a year ago due to the coronavirus had caused a heated controversy. Are you not afraid that it will be sparked again by this new request for his release?

AT: The substantive issue is not the one-off authorizations that can be granted to a detainee, because detention is an exception and after eight years of detention one can claim certain rights. The most important issue is the compensation for the victims that was decided by the Extraordinary African Chambers and which must be implemented by the African Union and supported by President Macky Sall of Senegal and Chad’s Idriss Deby. The victims must be supported by the African opinion on this issue. The frustrations they express each time Hissen Habré is granted authorization can be understood because they consider themselves to be the forgotten ones in this trial. I fully understand their desire to make their voices heard.

The verdict condemning Chad’s former ruler to life imprisonment had provided for compensation to the victims, to the tune of 82 billion CFA francs. This money has not yet been fully disbursed to the 7,396 designated beneficiaries. How can you explain this tardiness?

AT: The delay in the payment is explained by the fact that states act as if putting Hissein Habre in prison is to solve all the problems. Remember, it took a battle that lasted over 20 years to get where we are today. The victims and the NGOs who fought had more or less the same attitude. It is not by protesting against Habre’s temporary authorizations alone that we settle the compensation issue. We need a strategy and a collective will to raise awareness, advocate and communicate on the issue of compensation for the victims. We started discussing the issue with the victims and new initiatives will soon be taken to sort this out.

Published on 10.02.2021

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