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To Catch a Dictator: Human Rights Lawyer Reed Brody on the Pursuit and Trial of Chad’s Hissène Habré

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In this special broadcast, we speak with Reed Brody, the international human rights lawyer who has been called “the dictator hunter” for his role in bringing historic legal cases against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and others. Brody’s new book is just out, titled “To Catch a Dictator: The Pursuit and Trial of Hissène Habré.” Habré, a former U.S. ally, was convicted in 2016 by the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegalese court system and sentenced to life in prison.

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StoryMay 31, 2016From U.S. Ally to Convicted War Criminal: Inside Chad’s Hissène Habré’s Close Ties to Reagan Admin
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In this special broadcast, we begin with Reed Brody, the international human rights lawyer who’s been called the “dictator hunter” for his role in bringing historic legal cases against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and others. Reed Brody has just written a book. It’s called To Catch a Dictator: The Pursuit and Trial of Hissène Habré.

Habré is a former U.S. ally who’s been described as Africa’s Pinochet. He served as president of Chad from 1982 to 1990 and oversaw widespread human rights abuses. The Chadian Truth Commission accused his government of systematic torture and being involved in as many as 40,000 deaths. Under President Ronald Reagan, the CIA helped Habré take power in 1982, and he remained a U.S. ally, even visiting Reagan in the White House.

Hissène Habré fled Chad in 1990 following a coup. He may have gotten away with his crimes, had it not been for a group of torture and rape survivors who joined with human rights activists and lawyers to spend decades bringing him to justice. The architects of the case were the victims themselves. This is Souleymane Guengueng speaking in a Human Rights Watch video that also features his testimony.

SOULEYMANE GUENGUENG: [translated] During two years and a half in prison, I saw my friends, my fellow inmates, die from hunger, die from despair, die from torture, and die from diseases. From the depths of my cell, I swore to God to fight for justice, if I got out alive.

AMY GOODMAN: Twenty-five years after Chadian dictator Hissène Habré was overthrown and fled to Senegal, he was convicted in 2016 by the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegalese court system and sentenced to life in prison. A judge read the verdict.

JUDGE GBERDAO GUSTAVE KAM: [translated] Hissène Habré, the court finds you guilty under Article 10(2) of the statute of crimes against humanity, including rape, forced slavery, voluntary homicide, the widespread and systematic practice of summary executions, enforced disappearances, torture and inhumane acts, subject to Articles 6(a), (b), (f) and (g) of the statute. Consequently, Hissène Habré, the court sentences you to life in prison.

AMY GOODMAN: The cheering you hear is Chadian victims of Hissène Habré in the courtroom.

For more, Democracy Now!'s Nermeen Shaikh and I recently spoke to Reed Brody, the international lawyer who worked with Hissène Habré's victims to win a guilty verdict. Brody is formerly with Human Rights Watch. His book is just out, To Catch a Dictator: The Pursuit and Trial of Hissène Habré. I began by asking him to talk about how the trial took place.

REED BRODY: Well, this trial, as you say, Amy, was the result of decades of organizing by the victims, by their allies. Souleymane, I mean, I get chills when I listen to that talk that he gave to the judge. When Souleymane — as people around him were dying in his prison, and he took an oath that if he ever got out, he would fight for justice. And when he got out, he was a walking skeleton, but he used all his charisma to galvanize the victims.

Hissène Habré had fled to Senegal, where he seemed out of the reach of justice. And it was actually the Pinochet case, the arrest in London in 1998 of Augusto Pinochet of Chile on a warrant from a Spanish judge for crimes committed in Chile. And I went to London to work on that case, and I spent the better part of six months in London. And when the House of Lords said that Pinochet did not have immunity, that he could be prosecuted anywhere in the world despite his status as a former head of state, we knew, we realized we had a tool in international justice to bring to book people who seemed out of the reach of justice.

And we were approached by one of Souleymane’s colleagues, an activist from Chad named Delphine Djiraibe, who said, “We have somebody. We have somebody who’s committed worse crimes than Pinochet, and he now lives in Senegal.” And what really interested me about that case was that he was in Senegal, that this would not be, if we could make it happen, a case of a First World country prosecuting the head of one of its former colonies, but one African country pursuing for human rights crimes a dictator of another African country.

And we began to investigate. We met — I met, I mean, Souleymane, an amazing, amazing man. And we helped them file a case in Senegal. And in 2000, we brought the Chadian victims to Senegal. A Senegalese judge actually arrested him in 2000.

But it would take another 16 years of ups and downs, of fighting, of one step forward, two steps back, before we actually got to the trial in Senegal. And those were years of organizing by the victims. Those were years of Souleymane and his comrades and me and others going all around the world.

When Senegal refused to prosecute Habré, we filed the case in Belgium, which then had a long-arm universal jurisdiction law. A Belgian judge began to investigate the case. Then, as so often happens, the Belgian law, which was great when it was working to prosecute Rwandans and other Third World countries, when cases were filed in Belgium against first Ariel Sharon and then the George Bush father, Donald Rumsfeld came to Belgium and said, “Belgium, if NATO leaders cannot travel to Belgium without worrying about arrest, then maybe we’ll have to move NATO.” And the Belgian law then, on which this case hung, got repealed.

But Souleymane — we brought Souleymane to Belgium, and he looked policymakers in the eyes, the minister of justice, the prime minister, leaders, and said, “You can’t do this.” And he tells his story, the same story he told in court about the oath. And people said, “No, no, Mr. Guengueng. We’ll find a way to keep this case going.”

Belgium spends four years investigating the case, seeks his extradition from Senegal. Senegal refuses the extradition, turns to the African Union. The African Union then says, “Senegal, you have a responsibility to prosecute.” The African Union was very interested in Senegal doing something, because the African Union felt picked on by the International Criminal Court. We can talk about that perhaps later.

Ultimately, Belgium took Senegal to the International Court of Justice, the World Court, which ordered Senegal to prosecute Hissène Habré without further delay, if it did not extradite him. A new president was elected in Senegal, Macky Sall, who we had cultivated over the years. I mean, during these 15 years in the desert, the Chadian victims were all over the world building alliances with people, particularly in Senegal, so to create the political conditions, finally, for this trial to happen. And it was a remarkable trial.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to more of the people who testified in this trial and who organized the victims. These are two women who joined the human rights case against Habré, speaking in a Human Rights Watch video that also features their testimony. One testified she was raped personally by Habré.

KHADIDJA HASSAN ZIDANE: [translated] They slept with us, without our consent. Without our consent.

JUDGE GBERDAO GUSTAVE KAM: [translated] And who did it?

KHADIDJA HASSAN ZIDANE: [translated] The first night, the president himself was among them.

JUDGE GBERDAO GUSTAVE KAM: [translated] Which president?

KHADIDJA HASSAN ZIDANE: [translated] Hissène Habré. There was nobody but Hissène Habré.

JUDGE GBERDAO GUSTAVE KAM: [translated] Including the president himself? He was among them?

KALTOUMA DEFALLAH: [translated] During our stay at Ouadi Doum military camp, we didn’t receive any medical care. We didn’t get proper food. They just brought us as sexual slaves. We were given medications. We realized afterwards that it was for us not to get pregnant.

JACQUELINE MOUDEINA: [translated] What is most important about this deposition is to have the story known and to prosecute this crime, so that other women do not become victims of it. Because we speak very little about rape in Chad.

KALTOUMA DEFALLAH: [translated] The fact that I went there, saw everybody, and I saw Hissène Habré sitting there, that gave me the strength to speak and to release what was inside me. So, for me, I don’t hold onto that hate. It’s over. I had a wound inside, but I let it go.

AMY GOODMAN: That last person was Kaltouma Defallah, and, before that, Khadidja Hassan — they were both testifying — and then an interview with Jacqueline Moudeina, who is the person who writes the introduction to your book, To Catch a Dictator, Reed. I mean, the emotional power of these women speaking, and then Jacqueline’s role in bringing Hissène Habré to justice, if you could take it from there?

REED BRODY: Well, these three women are absolute heroes. I mean, Jacqueline was the lawyer for the — is still the lawyer for the victims. She survived a grenade attack, allegedly by one of Habré’s accomplices, who she was also suing back in Chad. She has shrapnel. And she testified. I mean, she presented the case and pleaded the case on behalf of the victims, with shrapnel still in her leg from that assassination attempt.

Kaltouma and Khadidja, who I’ve known for 20 years, took this amazingly courageous step, going from Chad to Senegal, sitting before these — in this courtroom with all the lights, talking about what happened to them. The reason they did that, the reason they were able to break their silence, was because they felt part of the team. They were part of the effort to bring Habré to justice. And they had confidence in Jacqueline. It was not a disembodied moment for them. They were part of this long struggle.

And the bombshell of the trial was the fact that Habré had used women as sexual slaves. And we actually have the documents of his political police that show that these women were sent to a desert camp to be — the documents don’t say why, but it was clear that they were there to serve Habré’s army. Khadidja testified that she was personally raped on four occasions by Hissène Habré. I mean, this testimony proved to be the most dramatic part of the trial. And it was the first time a dictator was convicted of personally having raped someone. And it was a major advance that would not have happened if it were not for Jacqueline Moudeina, their lawyer, and for the fact that these women felt supported and felt that they were part of the effort of bringing Habré to justice.

AMY GOODMAN: Reed, you mentioned the finding of the documents, which ended up being the documentary evidence that was presented in the court in Senegal. Talk about how these documents were found.

REED BRODY: Well, this was really a stroke of luck. We were visiting the complex of the political police, first the dungeon, where hundreds of prisoners died, and next to the dungeon, the headquarters of the former political police. And there we found, on the ground, documents were still there, strewn over several rooms, tens of thousands of documents, spying reports, lists of — daily lists of prisoners, documents, hundreds of documents, thousands of documents that were sent to Hissène Habré. When we interviewed a prisoner, we knew what day they were arrested, when they were transferred from one place to another. There were documents there with Habré’s handwriting on them, in which he actually ordered that war criminals — that prisoners of war not be given hospital treatment, in which he was given information — Hissène Habré — on over 1,000 detainees in his prison. So, this became the documentary background of the case. And really, every time a witness would testify at trial, we were able to produce the document that showed, yes, he was in prison from this date to this date.

We found, you know, incredible stories of bravery in those. I mean, a woman who smuggled out information about torture in prison and who was executed, and who many prisoners had told us about, we were able to find the interrogation report when she was found out. And she was confronted by her torturers and said — and she said, “I would do this again, no matter what you do to me, even if I die in prison. I’m doing it for my country, and Chad will speak about me.” And 15 years later, I — Rose Lokissim — I find this document. It’s like a note in a bottle. And I feel like we have to talk about Rose Lokissim. And we actually made a documentary. My partner, Isabel Coixet, made a documentary called Talking About Rose, based on those documents and what Rose told her torturers the day that she was executed.

AMY GOODMAN: Reed Brody, the acclaimed international human rights attorney, author of the new book, To Catch a Dictator: The Pursuit and Trial of Hissène Habré. We’ll be back with him after this.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we return to our interview with the international human rights attorney Reed Brody, author of To Catch a Dictator: The Pursuit and Trial of Hissène Habré.

AMY GOODMAN: Reed, we have an excerpt of Parler de Rose, Talking About Rose, which is narrated by the Oscar-winning actress Juliette Binoche, about the life and death of Rose Lokissim, that prisoner of Hissène Habré, the former dictator of Chad, executed, as you say, in part because she took these extensive notes to document the abuse she and other prisoners suffered to notify their families.

GINETTE NGARBAYE: [translated] Rose took the packets and wrote everything she saw in prison. “They take you away at 11 a.m., or 8 p.m., or 1:00 in the morning.” No matter if you were Muslim or Christian, she wrote down everything. And if you died, she noted it all down. I looked, but she didn’t want anybody to see.

SARAH NDONA: [translated] She wrote people’s names, who was in charge, who was tortured, who was killed. She got their names to give to their relatives.

ASHTA MAHAMAD ALI MONIQUE: [translated] After our release, they found out Rose had written such-and-such.

FATIME SAKINE HAMADI: [translated] When she wrote, she would hide. She didn’t want anyone to see what she wrote. She would hide off to the side. She did her writing.

DOHKOT CLÉMENT ABAIFOUTA: [translated] Every time there was a death or some mistreatment, you sensed the look of rebellion in her face.

ALEÏNA N’GOUSSI JACKSON: [translated] She noted down the name of every prisoner who died, with the dates, so she could notify the relatives.

JULIETTE BINOCHE: [translated] Rose was betrayed, and DDS agents came to take her away. In the report of Rose’s last interrogation, found 15 years later among the DDS files, her captors wrote that Rose was “irredeemable and continues to undermine the security of the state, even in prison.” They recommended that “the authorities punish her severely.” Rose was executed the same day.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, an excerpt from the film Parler de Rose, Talking About Rose, narrated by the actress Juliette Binoche, about the life and death of Rose Lokissim, a prisoner of Hissène Habré. Absolutely devastating. That film directed by the well-known Spanish director Isabel Coixet, the partner of our guest today, Reed Brody, who has just published his book, To Catch a Dictator. Before we go on to those larger issues, Reed, of international justice and perhaps how this can be used as a model, what about those who were not in the courtroom next to Hissène Habré, who you can see throughout, and that is the countries France and the United States, and their support for Hissène Habré?

REED BRODY: Well, of course, Hissène Habré was brought to power by the United States, by Ronald Reagan. The first covert operation of the Ronald Reagan era, before Jonas Savimbi in Angola, before the Contras in Nicaragua, was bringing Hissène Habré to power as a bulwark against Muammar Gaddafi, who was occupying northern Chad. And the U.S. ignored the fact that he had already had a long record of atrocities as a rebel leader, as an interim prime minister. And the U.S. funneled arms to Hissène Habré in a covert operation, helped him take power. And then the U.S. and France supported Habré throughout his eight years as a bulwark against Gaddafi, the same way, frankly, that the U.S. and France and the West are supporting the current dictatorship of Chad as an island of stability in a region now dominated by ISIS and by jihadists and with a lot of instability in Sudan, in northern Nigeria, in Cameroon.

But we see how shortsighted this is. We found in the documents information about training courses in the U.S. that many of Habré’s political police took, including people who were later identified by the truth commission as the worst torturers in Chad. We know that the U.S. had an adviser to Hissène Habré’s political police, these same political police that had created this dungeon that put Souleymane in jail, that was sending all these documents to Hissène Habré. And, you know, unfortunately, I don’t think that the U.S. or France has learned the lesson of supporting a dictator like Hissène Habré.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Reed, let’s go to the international broader implications of this case of Hissène Habré. First of all, when the judge read out the convictions, he was citing an article. Explain what constitution he was referring to. The trial took place, of course, in Senegal. What was the document to which he referred? And this idea which you mentioned earlier, as well, of universal jurisdiction, the line, you said, from the case of Pinochet to Hissène Habré, if you could elaborate on that? Explain how people accused of war crimes can be tried in countries apart from their country of residence or nationality.

REED BRODY: Sure. This trial originally was based on the idea of universal jurisdiction. I mean, Pinochet was arrested in London. The U.K. — on a Spanish warrant. Both the U.K. and Spain had jurisdiction over him because the crimes he committed, like torture, were crimes of universal jurisdiction, meaning that any court in the world, if they have custody over the defendant, can prosecute those crimes. And the trial in Senegal was before a court in the Senegalese judicial system created with the support of the African Union.

And we’re seeing today around the world more and more — hundreds, actually, of crimes — of trials of universal jurisdiction. Habré is the only one — the only head of state to be prosecuted before the courts of another country, but recently we saw France prosecute Liberian warlords. We saw Germany prosecute Syrian intelligence officials. More and more countries are using universal jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed. For the moment, it’s mostly European countries, which have — many of them have set up special units, war crimes units, who prosecute often people who come in as asylum seekers. But we’re seeing more and more countries adopt universal jurisdiction. We’re seeing a huge amount of justice around the world.

And we’re seeing, in fact, the creation of what could be called a new ecosystem of international justice. I mean, you have the International Criminal Court at the top, the International Criminal Court which prosecutes cases of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, when national courts are unwilling or unable to do so. In 20 years, and at a cost of $2 billion, the International Criminal Court has actually never sustained the atrocity conviction of any state official at any level anywhere in the world. It’s quite, actually, amazing. But the fact that the court exists has had a huge impact on the world. It’s first because it expresses this international commitment, so-called, in favor of justice, also because many of its provisions have been transposed into law in other countries — the articles the judge read out were articles that were transposed into the articles of the court in Senegal from the ICC — and also because the ICC actually puts a lot of pressure on countries to move forward, or risk their officials being prosecuted at the ICC.

And one of the reasons that the Habré case took place, was able to go forward, was because the African Union was feeling picked on, as it was, by the International Criminal Court. The first 29 indictments of the International Criminal Court were all Africans. And the African Union wanted to show that Africa was capable of prosecuting these kinds of crimes, and so it invested in this court in Senegal.

But we are seeing, whether it’s national courts — we saw recently in Guinea the prosecution of Dadis Camara for a stadium massacre in 2008. We saw in Peru, Fujimori; in Guatemala, Ríos Montt. We’re seeing around the world a huge amount of justice that is happening, not at the International Criminal Court necessarily, but what is interesting is that all of the cases I just described are cases which, like the Habré case, were victim-driven cases. These are not top-down cases. These are cases in which victims and their allies have organized, have fought for 10, 20 years to create the political conditions, to do the documentation, often to hand to judges on a silver platter the documentation, and fight to create those political conditions for these trials to happen.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Reed, you mentioned earlier that one of the countries that has invoked universal jurisdiction to prosecute war crimes was Germany in the case of the conviction of the Syrian intelligence official, whom you cited, for overseeing the torture of prisoners at the notorious al-Khatib prison in Damascus. This was reportedly the first trial to target a government that is still in power. He’s an official in the Assad government. So, if you could talk about the significance of that, and also how victims are to bring these cases? Is it because there were Syrian victims of the Assad regime, of this particular person, who were living in Germany, and therefore they were able to invoke universal jurisdiction? Or can victims anywhere in the world bring cases against, you know, a war criminal, wherever he or she may be from?

REED BRODY: Well, in this case, of course, I mean, you have massive crimes being committed in Syria. The ICC is cut off as a possible route, because Syria has not ratified the ICC treaty. And the Security Council can’t refer Syria, because of — obviously, because of a Russia and/or Chinese veto. But you do have, first of all, a — the U.N. created this international investigative mechanism on Syria, a kind of a group of prosecutors who are putting together cases, in addition to which you have NGOs like the Center for International Justice and Accountability that have specialized in bringing out regime documents, massive number of documents. You have a former photographer of one of the torture centers, so-called Caesar, taking pictures of victims. And this mechanism then distributes cases that it is developing to national courts.

And so, the case in Syria, which was based on the fact that these defendants were in Europe — I believe that two of them were in Germany, and two of them were in — one of them was in France, but I could be wrong. It was based on the fact that these people, that Germany had opened — that its war crimes unit had opened what’s called a structural investigation of the situation in Syria, so that whenever a Syrian suspect was within its reach, a case could be triggered. And so, all of these funneled into the cases in Germany to the important conviction earlier this year in Koblenz of two high-ranking Syrian intelligence officers.

Now, each country has its own threshold, and each country has its own requirements. In many cases, as in the case that we brought, the Habré case, both Senegal and Belgium allow victims to go directly to court to file a criminal complaint. Most common law countries — the U.S., for instance — you can’t do that. And so — and many countries also put in political filters. So, earlier, together with Michael Ratner and Wolfgang Kaleck of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, we had filed a case in Germany — two cases — against Donald Rumsfeld and Bush administration officials for alleged torture and waterboarding and crimes committed against Muslim detainees in the war on terror. The first time it went to the German courts, it was dismissed, because they said the U.S. was investigating. Then, when it became clear that the U.S. wasn’t investigating, they said that the chances of success — they threw it out because the chances of putting the case together were not sufficient.

So, we do — I mean, unfortunately, throughout this infrastructure of international justice, we see double standards. You know, we see it both — I talked about how the Belgian law on universal jurisdiction crumbled when it was filed against the U.S. The same thing happened in Spain, which had prosecuted criminals from El Salvador and Argentina. But when cases in Spain were filed against China for Tibet, against Israel, against the United States, that law also was significantly reduced. In the United Kingdom, laws that allowed victims to go directly to court to invoke universal jurisdiction were also curtailed after cases were brought, or attempted to be brought, against alleged Israeli war criminals. So, we’re seeing a lot of justice, but we’re also seeing a lot of double standards.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Reed, also now, given the present war in Ukraine, where there’s probably an unprecedented number of documents that demonstrate war crimes by the Russians in Ukraine, but, of course, Russia, like the U.S., Israel, etc., is a very powerful country, so what do you think the prospects are for Russian officials being held accountable in any one of these courts? And also, the relationship between the courts, hybrid courts, where Hissène Habré was tried, and an international criminal tribunal, like the one, for instance, that was set up in Yugoslavia — on Yugoslavia?

REED BRODY: Well, of course, what we’re seeing in Ukraine, I mean, the naked Russian aggression, the massive war crimes, have provoked an unprecedented justice response. You know, not only are Ukrainians, which are so admirably putting down what they’re doing, documenting war crimes, the ICC has opened up its biggest office ever in Kyiv. Dozens of countries have open cases under universal jurisdiction or are sending technical experts. We’re seeing the kind of response to this atrocity that human rights activists would like to see as a response to all atrocities. It’s heartwarming.

It’s going, certainly, to lead, I would assume, to some prosecutions. I mean, the Ukrainians are capturing Russians all the time. They’ve already started to prosecute some very low-level people. The question, of course, is how far up they can go, and, of course, how — whether they could actually capture any high-ranking Russian officials.

What is unfortunate, though, is that we also see again the double standards. I mean, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, who rightly ran to Ukraine, who rightly talks about Ukraine as a crime scene, who talks about how the law cannot remain silent, he has also an open investigation on Palestine, on which he’s not, at least visibly, doing anything. I talked to Raji Sourani, who’s been on your show many times, the other day, and he said the prosecutor is not doing anything. The prosecutor has an office in — has an investigation open in Afghanistan. Yet last year the prosecutor announced that he was deprioritizing the part of his investigation that relates to potential American and allied war crimes in Afghanistan, because he doesn’t have the resources. And yet the resources are flowing in for Ukraine, which is as it should be. It’s just that there are a lot of other places in the world that need this kind of justice.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we see what happened to the ICC, the International Criminal Court, prosecutor Fatou Bensouda before the current prosecutor, Karim Khan, who’s been going back and forth to Ukraine. In the case of the Gambian Fatou Bensouda, who was formerly the chief prosecutor of the court, Trump designated her as a specially designated national, forbidding all U.S. people and companies from doing business with her. Now, it’s true the Biden administration reversed that designation last year, removing her from that list, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken released a statement saying, while that was inappropriate and ineffective, they would not support the investigation of Afghanistan or what’s happened in the Palestinian territories, the Occupied Territories. So, how powerful — I mean, and also Israel, Russia and the United States are not signatories to the ICC. Is it those powerful countries, even nonsignatories, that determine what the ICC does, and, more importantly, what they don’t investigate?

REED BRODY: Well, these are certainly, you know, important factors. I mean, the U.S. objects — under Democrats, the U.S. has kind of a good neighbor policy with the ICC. It supports, you know, in many ways, ICC investigations. Ironically, the — I mean, the main objection the U.S. has ideologically or legally to the ICC is that the ICC has jurisdiction over American citizens if they commit crimes in countries that have ratified the ICC. So, an American who commits a war crime in Afghanistan is subject to the jurisdiction of the ICC. That drives Washington crazy. Washington says, “We haven’t ratified the ICC statute, therefore you don’t have jurisdiction.”

Now, but if you look at the reverse, that’s exactly what’s happening in Ukraine. Russians are alleged — Russia, which has not ratified the ICC treaty — Russian nationals are alleged to have committed war crimes in Ukraine. And so, the U.S. really is tiptoeing around this line about how they feel about the ICC investigation. Obviously, the U.S. supports bringing Russian war criminals to justice, but it can’t actually say that it supports the ICC doing it, because that would go against the U.S.’s fundamental legal objection to the ICC.

But I do see this — I mean, I spend a lot of time in Africa, as you know, and Africans look at this as very one-sided. India even spoke at the Security Council about the Ukraine investigation, said, “Look, we need objectivity. You can’t just be investigating the crimes of certain countries.” And they all cite this deprioritization of the crimes in Afghanistan, the lack of movement on any investigation into the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and also when British — there were cases — because Britain has ratified the ICC treaty. There was a case against British officers for torture in Iraq. The ICC closed that investigation, saying that Britain was adequately investigating them, even though thousands of cases had gone to British adjudication and there was not one conviction.

So, we are, unfortunately, seeing a double standard based on political power at all levels. And that’s, again, why it’s so important to have these cases, like the Hissène Habré case, like the case we saw this week in France, like the Ríos Montt case, where it’s victims who are organizing to bring justice to their countries.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Reed, before we end, just to talk specifically about this issue of hybrid courts, the courts that were used to try Hissène Habré, as against international criminal tribunals, like the one that was set up in Yugoslavia where, famously, the Bosnian-Croat war criminal Slobodan Praljak died after taking potassium cyanide in The Hague courtroom once he was sentenced to 20 years for war crimes in Bosnia. So, talk about this, the hybrid courts versus international criminal tribunals.

REED BRODY: Well, one of the main differences at this point is cost. I mean, the cost of the Yugoslav court, which was very successful, I mean, tried over 70 — convicted over 70 people. The International Criminal Court, as I mentioned, cost $2 billion. The Rwanda court, the Yugoslavia court cost a billion dollars each. The Hissène Habré court cost $10 million.

We are seeing more and more the artifice of hybridization, which is that a country — now this is happening in Gambia, where I currently work with Gambian government and Gambian victims. The former dictator of Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea. And Gambia has just announced that it wants to bring him back, but to do it before a hybrid court, a hybrid court that would give it the — a hybrid court, together with ECOWAS, the organization of West African states, that would give it a political strength to get an extradition, that would allow it to hold trials outside of the Gambia.

Basically, what we have learned is that different — you need different solutions for different situations. And by creating a — once you have jurisdiction, once you have legal jurisdiction over a defendant, you can really create the kind of a court that is tailor-made to a situation. So, in this case, in the Habré case, Senegal and the African Union created a court within the Senegalese legal system but that had many features, like the use of international law, the use of television, the use of legal principles like command responsibility, the full backing of the African Union, that a Senegalese court would not have had.

In the Gambia, what Gambia saying is, “We’re too small. We don’t have the resources. Our legal system is not adapted. We also believe that bringing Jammeh back to Gambia to prosecute him — to detain him and prosecute him here might be destabilizing. Let’s bring in the entire region. We can hold some of the trials, like the trial of Yahya Jammeh, in Ghana, let’s say.”

Same thing happened in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone’s Special Court was a hybrid court between Sierra Leone and the United Nations. It prosecuted, I believe, nine people. One of them was Charles Taylor. People felt it would be too dangerous to have Charles Taylor tried on the ground, so he was tried in The Hague. The optics of doing it in The Hague were not the best, because, again, it looked like it was white person’s justice.

But we are learning in situation after situation. There’s a hybrid court in Central African Republic now, which just recently handed down its first convictions. I mean, there are actually some two dozen hybrid courts now using this principle, which are delivering justice at a close to local level and at a much lesser cost.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, on reparations for the people of Chad, yes, Hissène Habré, who died last year, was imprisoned for life, after their incredibly courageous testimony. But when it comes to reparations, Reed, can you talk about what the African Union, what the Chadian government, what the victims received in addition to the justice of imprisoning the man who had murdered or mutilated or had them hurt in some way?

REED BRODY: Well, of course, for victims, justice means many things, not just putting the bad guy in jail. It means legal reform. It means guarantees that this won’t happen again. But for victims, especially these very poor victims, it also means reparations. And they have been fighting since the very beginning for reparations. And they’ve been fighting — the Chadian government owes them reparations as a general principle. If you are tortured by a government, that government owes you reparations.

Both the court that sentenced Hissène Habré, as well as a Chadian court which sentenced 20 of Habré’s accomplices, in a trial that was also very important, also led by Jacqueline Moudeina, both sentenced — both ordered massive reparations to the victims. And I’ve been fighting, together with the victims and with Jacqueline, for another six years. And just last week, or just a few weeks ago, the government of Chad announced that it was going to put into an African Union trust fund that had been created $15 million in reparations. The African Union has also put in $5 million, so $20 million in reparations. It’s a drop in the bucket. We calculate it comes out to about $2,700 per victim, which does not nearly cover how their lives were upended. But I can assure you that in Chad, it’s going to go a long way if it actually gets to them, which, of course, we’re hopeful that it does.

But reparations are an integral part of justice. People often forget that it’s not just about putting someone in jail, as important as that is. It’s not just about a lesson, as important as that is. It’s also about making victims whole — and particularly these victims, who are such heroes. I mean, the reason the Habré case — the Habré trial could be done for $10 million was because the victims worked for 20 years to put the case together. They should have been paid for that. I mean, as part of our campaign, they were — I mean, we had victims on staff of the campaign. But this is the kind of justice that should be universal.

AMY GOODMAN: Reed Brody, the acclaimed international human rights attorney, author of the new book, To Catch a Dictator: The Pursuit and Trial of Hissène Habré.

Up next, Ed Yong, the Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer, on his book, An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us. Stay with us.

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