War crimes complaint filed against Chad leader Deby

Coumba SYLLA
1 / 3

Chadian President Idriss Deby has been in power since 1990

Chadian President Idriss Deby has been in power since 1990 (AFP Photo/Francois Guillot)

Dakar (AFP) - War crimes accusations have been filed against Chad's President Idriss Deby, a Senegalese court which is already trying ex-Chadian dictator Hissene Habre said Thursday.

Deby, who overthrew Habre in 1990, has been accused of "genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture, at the initiative of some victims", lawyer Mbaye Jacques Ndiaye told radio station RFI.

The tribunal confirmed a case against Deby had been filed on Wednesday at the special African tribunal but would not comment further.

Legal experts said the court's founding statute appeared to bar it from taking any action against the president.

The complaint relates to the period directly before Deby rose to power in December 1990, according to RFI.

The plaintiffs, who are Chadians, accuse him of having tortured and executed prisoners of war when he was a rebel commander, according to Ndiaye, who was not available to comment to AFP.

"President Deby personally committed wrongdoing -- acts of torture. He personally killed individuals. These are people who were tortured, who were executed, burned alive and thrown to wild animals," the lawyer told RFI.

He was unable to give the number of victims involved in the action, but said two were in Senegal while others were abroad.

French lawyers for Deby denounced " a fantastical complaint," adding that it was aimed at "undermining the image" of the president.

The court's statute allows for the "person or persons most responsible" for abuses committed during Habre's years in power to be prosecuted, but in reality it has no mandate to pursue Deby, said Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch.

"According to the statute of chambers, a prosecution cannot be set in motion except by the public prosecutor and, in addition, the investigation phase is over," Brody, a lawyer who has been working with the victims of Habre's regime since 1999, told AFP.

"The investigation chamber was dissolved. This complaint could not trigger further investigations."


- 'Africa judging Africa' -


Habre -- backed during his presidency by France and the United States as a bulwark against Libya's then leader Moamer Kadhafi -- is on trial over actions under his regime from 1982 until he was ousted in 1990.

The 72-year-old is due to resume the landmark hearings next week for war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture during his blood-soaked reign.

Rights groups say 40,000 Chadians were killed under a regime of brutal repression of opponents and rival ethnic groups Habre perceived as a threat to his grip on the Sahel nation.

He refuses to recognise the legitimacy of the Dakar prosecution, the first time a despot from one African country has been called to account in another.

The court, known as the Extraordinary African Chambers, has appointed three attorneys to defend him after he refused legal representation.

It adjourned in July to give the lawyers time to prepare the defence.

After he was overthrown Habre fled to Senegal, where he was arrested in June 2013 and has since been in custody.

Delayed for years, the ongoing trial sets an historic precedent as previously African leaders accused of atrocities were tried in international courts.

Many Africans distrust the International Criminal Court in the Hague, accusing it of chiefly targeting Africans for prosecution.

"This is Africa judging Africa," Senegal's Justice Minister Sikidi Kaba said of Habre's case.

The Extraordinary African Chambers -- set up under an agreement between Dakar and the African Union - indicted Habre in July 2013 and investigators spent 19 months interviewing some 2,500 witnesses.

Around 100 witnesses are expected to testify during the trial, out of some 4,000 people who have been registered as victims in the case.