Habre judgment sets good precedent
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.