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World

Chad's Former President Convicted Of War Crimes In Senegal Trial

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A historic verdict in Africa today - the ex-president of Chad, Hissene Habre, was convicted of war crimes in a trial in Senegal. Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch has been involved in this case for 17 years. He joins us now via Skype. And a warning to listeners - some details in this story may be hard to listen to. Welcome to the program.

REED BRODY: Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Described first what he was convicted of.

BRODY: Habre was accused, now convicted, of political killings, a systematic torture, of waves of ethnic cleansing. He was also convicted of having used women as sexual slaves for his army. He was convicted actually of having personally raped one woman four times. The charges were crimes against humanity or crimes and torture.

SHAPIRO: This verdict is historic for a number of reasons. Talk about what makes it so significant.

BRODY: Well, it's the first time anywhere in the world that the courts of one country - Senegal - have prosecuted and now convicted the leader of another country - Chad - for human rights crimes. It's also the first time that victims, survivors have really banded together in this way to fight internationally for justice.

You know, one of the people next to me was Souleymane Guengueng who, as people were dying around him in his cell, took an oath that if he ever got out, he would fight for justice. And then when he did, he organized the Victims Association.

One of the stars of this trial was Jacqueline Moudeina, the victims' lead lawyer who survived an assassination attempt by a former Habre police chief. And as she presented her arguments and examined witnesses it court, she still has shrapnel in her leg from that assassination attempt 15 years ago. So this was a very determined and courageous group of people I've had the privilege to work with for these 17 years.

SHAPIRO: Is this a verdict that he can appeal? Is there a sentencing phase? What happens now?

BRODY: Yeah, of course. Habre doesn't recognize the legitimacy of the court. He was actually dragged into court kicking and screaming. He had court-appointed lawyers who were very active in defending his interests. And the assumption is that those court-appointed lawyers will appeal on his behalf. And Habre's in jail. He's been in jail now for over two years during the trial.

SHAPIRO: Do you expect this will have repercussions in other parts of Africa where there may be current or former dictators who have not been held accountable for their crimes?

BRODY: Well, we certainly hope so. I mean, on the one hand, this is a message to leaders that if they commit atrocities, they won't be out of the reach of their victims. But even more importantly, it's a message of hope. We've gotten messages of support from all over Africa and all over the world, actually - people who look at what the Chadians victims did and think, well, you know, maybe we can do that.

It shows that survivors with tenacity and with perseverance can actually fight and create the political conditions to bring their dictator to justice and even in Africa. So the hope is that other survivors, other activists will look at what Habre's victims have been able to do here and say, well, you know, maybe we can fight for justice.

SHAPIRO: Although you've been working on this case for 17 years. That is a long path to justice.

BRODY: Well, you know, unfortunately, that's what it often takes. I was at the trial recently in Guatemala of the former dictator Efrain Rios Montt. It took his victims 30 years to bring him to justice. The Khmer Rouge are only being tried now.

I mean, obviously, you know, justice delayed is, as they say, justice denied in many ways. And many of the people who started this who I knew 17 years ago who filed the first case are no longer with us. But this shows that justice is possible, and maybe next time, it won't take so long.

SHAPIRO: Reed Brody is council and spokesperson for Human Rights Watch and joined us from Dakar, Senegal. Thank you very much for your time, and congratulations on your victory.

BRODY: (Laughter) Thank you so much. It's a great victory. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.