Former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre is escorted by prison guards into the courtroom for the first proceedings of his trial by the Extraordinary African Chambers in Dakar on July 20, 2015. (SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images)
By Sarah Milburn and Gladys Melo-Pinzon
Something remarkable began in Senegal on Monday a week ago. An African court in one country is trying the former head of state of another country, bringing badly-needed support to the continent’s formal human rights commitments and to the principle that no one – not even heads of state – should be above the law.SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
By Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada
Fighting is raging between various ethnic groups on the Darfur side of the border of the Chad/Sudan border, particularly between two Arab tribes, the Salamat and Misseriya, who have been allies in the past. More villages are being attacked and left in ruins. That means more people killed and injured. It also means more women and girls being raped, though it is as of yet impossible to get a clear read on how widespread that has become. Homes and businesses are being set on fire and destroyed. Looting and theft, of livestock and personal property, is pervasive.
Activists hold lighted candles during a vigil on International Day of the Disappeared in Sri Lanka, where some 12,000 complaints of enforced disappearances have been submitted to the U.N. since the 1980s (Photo Credit: Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP/Getty Images).
Every year in dozens of countries around the world, thousands of men, women and children are detained by state authorities for no reason, never to be seen again. They are the “disappeared.” In 2012 alone, Amnesty International documented such cases in 31 countries.
Child soldier with adults, Sanghe, Democratic Republic of Congo, June 2002.
By Angela T. Chang, Advocate, Crisis Prevention and Response Team, Amnesty International USA
When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery. When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family—girls my daughters’ age—runs away from home, or is lured by the false promises of a better life, and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists — that’s slavery. It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.
— US President Barack Obama, September 2012
Despite these strong words by President Obama against the use and recruitment of child soldiers a few months ago, he got reprimanded earlier this week for falling flat in delivering on tangible actions to address this issue.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child released a new report on Tuesday, calling out the U.S. and the Obama administration for failing to adhere to its international human rights obligations by continuing to waive sanctions on military assistance, per the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act, to countries that are known to recruit and use child soldiers – a clear violation of children’s rights and a war crime if the children are under the age of fifteen. Yes, you read that right. Seems confusing and backwards? That’s because it is.
On August 30, Amnesty International and other human rights groups around the world will observe the International Day of the Disappeared. We’ll be pressing governments to disclose the status of the disappeared and to prosecute those responsible for enforced disappearances. Here’s how you can join us:
Amnesty International condemns all enforced disappearances as crimes under international law. And on August 30, we’ll be doing something about them.
Sandya Eknaligoda wife of disappeared journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, Sri Lanka, 10 January 2011
An enforced disappearance occurs when a person is arrested or abducted by the state or agents of the state, who then deny that the person is being held or conceal their whereabouts, placing them outside the protection of the law.
Enforced disappearances take place around in the world, including in countries such as China, Nepal, Chad, Sri Lanka and North Korea. In Sri Lanka, tens of thousands of enforced disappearances occurred during decades of civil conflict on the island. One recent example is the journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, who went missing after work on Jan. 24, 2010.
Even at nine in the morning on a Friday, when most of us would normally be counting down to the weekend, the energy in the Foundry in Washington, DC is phenomenal. In the sunshine outside, groups color flags in support of Filep Karma, while inside roses and key actions are passed around for signatures. Larry Cox hasn’t even arrived yet, and everyone is already buzzing with excitement.
By the time everyone has settled inside for the opening speeches, the count is well over one hundred Amnesty International activists. The various speakers infect the crowd with even more passion and anticipation, reaching a pinnacle when Larry announces that he has decided that joining us for Get on the Bus is more important than going home to meet with the IRS.
The group splits, half heading to demonstrate for the Women of Zimbabwe (WoZA) at the Zimbabwe Embassy and half for Walid Yunis Ahmad at the Iraqi Consulate. We march in long ovals, chanting and holding our signs, the very picture of peaceful protest. At the Iraqi Consulate, faces peer out from the windows and passers by stop to watch.
Rawan is just 13 years old, though he looks older. He was not even 11 when he left his home and became a child soldier. He – and the 40 other boys who talked to us about their experiences – are living proof of the use of child soldiers in Chad.
Children are still being used by both the army and armed opposition groups. Thousands have joined up in recent years as the armed conflict between the Chadian army and rebel groups has intensified in the region and the Darfur conflict over the border in Sudan has engulfed eastern Chad.
Most child recruits are boys aged between 13 and 18, but some are as young as 10. Most receive military training, including weapons handling, and many are involved in combat. Hazam, who was 15 when he joined a rebel group, told us: “What was the most difficult was taking part in the fighting. Many of us were my age. There is nothing joyful in the rebellion.”
For more than 10 years, victims of former Chadian president Hissène Habré have been waiting for justice. Since he was chased from power in 1990, Habré has been living in Senegal, where, despite being charged by the Dakar regional court in 2000 for crimes against humanity, acts of torture and acts of barbarism, he continues to enjoy impunity for his crimes.
Habré’s role in the violation of human rights in Chad has been well documented. In 1992, a Truth Commission Report concluded that 40,000 political murders and 200,000 cases of torture occurred in Chad while Habré was president. And in 2005, Habré was indicted by a Belgian court for war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture.
While Senegal has taken some very positive steps towards ensuring Habré will face trial, such as arresting him in 2005 and subsequently reforming its laws to remove any legal obstacles to his trial, the fact that his trial still hasn’t begun is unacceptable. Every month, new victims, or relatives of victims, die without having seen Habré brought to trial. But Senegal’s president Abdoulaye Wade keeps making excuses, claiming a lack of funds to start the trial and demanding that the international community finance the trial before it can start. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
Chad’s government seems to have misplaced its copy of the Rome Statute, the founding document of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir, who was recently charged with the crime of genocide by the ICC, just spent the last two days in Chad, without the Chadian government lifting a finger to respect its obligations under the Rome Statute.
Presumably, Al Bashir was in Chad to discuss the agreement Sudan and Chad signed in January 2010 to normalize their relations while armed insurgencies continue to devastate eastern Chad and western Sudan. Chadian President Idriss Déby had gone to Khartoum in February to meet with Al Bashir, and several weeks later the two governments started to deploy a jointly-commanded military force along the border. But as we noted in our most recent report on Chad, fighting continues to erupt between the Chadian National Army and armed opposition groups. The situation across the border in Darfur remains extremely volatile, especially with the arrival of more than 1,000 new refugees in Chad in May 2010.
Between this refusal to arrest Al Bashir while he was in Chad and the government’s insistence that the UN peacekeeping mission in eastern Chad, MINURCAT, withdraw before the end of the year, human rights are being threatened.