Habre judg­ment sets good prece­dent

Lesotho Times - - Leader - Salil shetty ty

WITH the re­cent hold­ing of the High-level Midterm Re­view of the Im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Is­tan­bul Pro­gramme of Ac­tion in Turkey, Le­sotho’s sta­tus as be­ing among the world’s 48 least de­vel­oped coun­tries (LDCS) was once again put in the spot­light.

Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions, an LDC ex­hibits the low­est in­di­ca­tors of so­cioe­co­nomic de­vel­op­ment, with the low­est Hu­man De­vel­op­ment In­dex rat­ings of all coun­tries in the world. Such a de­scrip­tion makes for sad read­ing for any pa­tri­otic Mosotho, given that the Moun­tain King­dom is firmly en­sconced in this ig­no­ble list.

Le­sotho can­not jus­tify be­ing on the list be­cause of its mod­est size, since many other small na­tions are in the mid­dle in­come cat­e­gories and even be­yond. The rea­son is as clear as day, and one that Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Mo­thetjoa Mets­ing suc­cinctly pointed out else­where in this edi­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the deputy premier, Ba­sotho needed to wean them­selves from a de­pen­dency syn­drome for the na­tion to grad­u­ate from its cur­rent LDC sta­tus. For the avoid­ance of doubt, Mr Mets­ing said: “As Ba­sotho, we have a de­pen­dency syn­drome and are frankly quite lazy. We de­pend on for­eign aid so much that we can’t even see our own ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and it is high time that we do away with this ret­ro­gres­sive ten­dency. We can’t go on like this.” We couldn’t agree more deputy prime min­is­ter. Most na­tions have myths and leg­ends about their for­ma­tion that de­fine their mod­ern-day pos­ture. For in­stance, Bri­tain has a proud his­tory of with­stand­ing in­va­sions from Europe, while Rus­sia looks back on its “glory days” as a ma­jor player in Euro­pean pol­i­tics. Le­sotho is cer­tainly no ex­cep­tion given the proud legacy of its found­ing monarch Moshoeshoe I, who man­aged to fend off at­tacks from var­i­ous tribes and the Bo­ers to cre­ate a na­tion that still stands to­day.

How­ever, it seems we lost the “can do” at­ti­tude Moshoeshoe I be­queathed us and now have a de­pen­dency men­tal­ity that has crip­pled our po­ten­tial to be the Moun­tain King­dom of peace, rain and pros­per­ity we as­pire to be. For all their faults, the Amer­i­cans have an in­cul­cated cul­ture of self-suf­fi­ciency, and in that coun­try’s his­tory, peo­ple with an ad­ven­tur­ous and en­ter­pris­ing knack have been re­garded as the fore­most he­roes hence the re­frain; “land of the free and the home of the brave”. This has led to the growth of huge in­dus­tries and the world’s largest econ­omy among other no­table achieve­ments.

This is the same in Asia with coun­tries such as South Korea and Sin­ga­pore be­com­ing eco­nomic be­he­moths de­spite hav­ing no other nat­u­ral re­sources than their peo­ple.

Mr Mets­ing’s clar­ion call for a par­a­digm shift is not only apt, but es­sen­tial to Le­sotho’s hopes of turn­ing around her for­tunes. We al­ways hear of the high unem­ploy­ment rate with many of our young peo­ple aim­lessly walk­ing the streets.

Un­for­tu­nately, for most of them, so­cial vices such as al­co­holism and promis­cu­ity seem to be their sole oc­cu­pa­tion in­stead of find­ing ways to gen­er­ate in­come for their ben­e­fit and the na­tion at large.

Equally dis­con­cert­ing is the ex­pec­ta­tion by many among us for the govern­ment to pro­vide ev­ery­thing from ed­u­ca­tion, food, ac­com­mo­da­tion and jobs. It has never worked any­where else, and it will cer­tainly not work in Le­sotho. The coun­tries with the kind of economies we as­pire to have didn’t get to those lev­els be­cause the govern­ment pro­vided their ev­ery need.

In fact, in most of those coun­tries, the gov­ern­ments merely cre­ated an en­abling en­vi­ron­ment for busi­nesses to flour­ish.

A fun­da­men­tal par­a­digm shift is thus needed for Le­sotho to be­come self-re­liant and not rely on the so­called de­vel­op­ment part­ners for ev­ery­thing. The word part­ner im­plies col­lab­o­ra­tion, but in many cases it is merely a giver and re­ceiver re­la­tion­ship.

That the mostly arid Botswana has over the years do­nated food aid to a Le­sotho teem­ing with wa­ter should not be a cause for cel­e­bra­tion but great em­bar­rass­ment.

We need to put our house in or­der start­ing from the top ech­e­lons down to kin­der­garten. We can ill-af­ford a way of life that grooms un­der­achiev­ers and lazy young­sters. The time to change is now. “FROM the depths of my cell, from the depths of that madness, I swore to fight for jus­tice if I ever got out alive,” former de­tainee Souley­mane Guengueng told the spe­cial crim­i­nal court last year.

On Mon­day, he and thou­sands of other vic­tims are cel­e­brat­ing af­ter the life sen­tence handed down by the Ex­tra­or­di­nary African Cham­bers (CAE) in Dakar against the former Cha­dian Pres­i­dent, His­sene Habre for crimes against hu­man­ity, war crimes and tor­ture.

Guengueng, im­pris­oned for two-and-a-half years in the late 1980s, was one of the lucky ones. An es­ti­mated 40 000 peo­ple are thought to have per­ished at the hands of Chad’s se­cu­rity forces be­tween 1982 and 1990.

“I saw my friends and fel­low in­mates die from hunger, die from de­spair, die from tor­ture and die from sick­ness,” Guengueng re­called in his tes­ti­mony.

Yet, from that fur­nace of hor­ror some­thing re­mark­able has been forged.

Col­lec­tive ef­fort For more than two decades, de­spite threats, in­tim­i­da­tion and ma­jor po­lit­i­cal set­backs, vic­tims to­gether with civil so­ci­ety groups worked tire­lessly to make this day pos­si­ble.

A coali­tion of hu­man rights or­gan­i­sa­tions and vic­tims groups in Chad has spent decades gath­er­ing tes­ti­mony from vic­tims and their fam­i­lies to build the case against Habre.

Na­tional and re­gional cam­paigns were set up, sup­ported by in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions such as Amnesty In­ter­na­tional that helped doc­u­ment hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions com­mit­ted in Chad since the 1980s.

At­tempts to pros­e­cute or ex­tra­dite the former pres­i­dent to Bel­gium were re­peat­edly thwarted, as were ef­forts to force Sene­gal to pros­e­cute him.

But vic­tims groups and cam­paign­ers bat­tled on and in 2012, the African Union sup­ported Sene­gal in fi­nally clear­ing the path to jus­tice.

A new law was passed in De­cem­ber 2012 al­low­ing for the cre­ation of the CAE in Dakar. Habre, then 70, was ar­rested six months later and on 20 July 2015, he ap­peared for the first time in the court­room.

Over the fol­low­ing months the charges con­tained in the 187-page in­dict­ment against Habre were tested in court. These in­cluded crimes against hu­man­ity, tor­ture and war crimes.

Har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ences were re-lived by 69 former vic­tims. They de­scribed shock­ing vi­o­la­tions suf­fered at the hands of Chad’s se­cu­rity forces.

Much has been made of this land­mark case from an in­ter­na­tional jus­tice per­spec­tive.

This is, af­ter all, the first univer­sal ju­ris­dic­tion case on the con­ti­nent, and the first time a former African leader has been pros­e­cuted for crimes un­der in­ter­na­tional law be­fore a court in an­other African coun­try.

This case gives new im­pe­tus for the African Union or in­di­vid­ual African states to ad­dress en­trenched im­punity in other coun­tries on the con­ti­nent.

No es­cape from jus­tice But, for me the sig­nif­i­cance of this case goes fur­ther and is much more per­sonal. It demon­strates that vic­tims of hu­man rights abuses - no mat­ter how hope­less their sit­u­a­tion - can still have a voice and the abil­ity to achieve jus­tice.

It demon­strates that the work of cam­paign­ers and hu­man rights de­fend­ers — no mat­ter how long and chal­leng­ing — re­ally mat­ters. And it demon­strates that heads of state, mil­i­tary com­man­ders and oth­ers who are sus­pected of com­mit­ting hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions around the globe can no longer ex­pect to evade the net of in­ter­na­tional jus­tice for ever.

Safe havens are no longer safe for those sus­pected of com­mit­ting war crimes, crimes against hu­man­ity or other crimes un­der in­ter­na­tional law.

Af­ter the fall of Habre’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, more than 50,000 let­ters and post­cards from Amnesty In­ter­na­tional mem­bers call­ing for the re­lease of de­tainees were found at the main se­cu­rity head­quar­ters in the Cha­dian cap­i­tal N’dja­mena.

A quar­ter of a cen­tury on, many of those named in those let­ters will not be here to see the ver­dict. They and thou­sands of oth­ers died in 1980s.

For the sur­vivors, how­ever, and for all who be­lieve in hu­man rights and rule of law, to­day’s ver­dict is deeply sig­nif­i­cant.

It is mo­ments like these that we can draw on in darker times. They are the things that nour­ish us with hope and give us strength to stand up for what is right.

Mon­day’s ver­dict will give re­newed en­ergy in the fight against im­punity for crimes com­mit­ted dur­ing Habre’s ad­min­is­tra­tion which will con­tinue un­til all those re­spon­si­ble for crimes un­der in­ter­na­tional law are brought to jus­tice.

Na­tional and re­gional cam­paigns were set up, sup­ported by in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions such as Amnesty In­ter­na­tional that helped doc­u­ment hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions com­mit­ted in Chad since the 1980s

l Shetty is the sec­re­tary-gen­eral of Amnesty In­ter­na­tional. A long-term ac­tivist on poverty and jus­tice, he leads the move­ment’s world­wide work to end the abuse of hu­man rights.

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