Once again, the United Nations has portrayed its double standards and given clear signals that it can’t be relied on to administer world affairs impartially. It is becoming increasingly clear that the UN has two different sets of standards for handling world affairs, depending on what best suits its manipulators’ interests. The UN has just interfered with an event that initially seemed to raise hopes that African leaders who misrule cannot escape justice.
By a stroke of its clout, the UN has stopped Senegal from extraditing the former Chadian President, Hissene Habre, to his country to face accusations that he committed atrocities during his eight-year rule between 1982 and 1990. His scheduled repatriation would have taken place on July 11; but the UN has intervened to prevent it.
In a sudden twist of events, Senegal has reversed its earlier decision to extradite former Chadian President, Hissene Habre, to his country to answer charges of atrocity against his own people. This sudden turn of events must come as a rude shock to those who initially welcomed Senegal’s move as the logical conclusion to a long story of wickedness and inhumanity by an African leader that was to be given closure with his return to face reality.
By reversing this decision, however, Senegal has poured ice-cold water on such expectations and given a misleading impression that those who misrule and torture their own people to strengthen their hold on power on the continent will escape justice at all costs.
The move followed an appeal by UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay. She had expressed concern that Habre could be tortured in Chad. Habre is blamed for killing and torturing tens of thousands of opponents between 1982 and 1990, charges he denies.
Senegal’s Foreign Minister Madicke Niang on Sunday announced the government had reversed its decision to return Habre following the UN plea. Mr. Niang told state broadcaster RTS that Senegal would hold talks with the UN and European Union to try to solve the situation.
Ms. Pillay said in a statement: “I urge the government of Senegal to review its decision…. As a party to the Convention Against Torture, Senegal may not extradite a person to a state where there are substantial grounds for believing he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”
Who says putting Habre through the judicial process amounts to torture? Everything that needs to be done to prove that the current rulers of Chad respect the judicial process has been done. A 1992 Truth Commission in Chad accused Habre of being responsible for widespread torture and the death of 40,000 people during his eight-year rule. In 2008, he was sentenced to death in absentia for planning to overthrow Chad’s government.
Habre couldn’t physically be present in court to defend himself because Senegal refused to extradite him to Chad as demanded. Thus, he couldn’t get the chance to tell his side of the story. Now that Senegal has agreed to send him back home, it is clear that Habre’s moment of truth-telling (from his perspective) will come. Why should the UN jump to the conclusion that he will be tortured if returned home?
This intervention by the UN makes a mockery of its own tenets. Will Habre be turned over to Belgium for trial or will he continue to live his life in comfort in Senegal? The UN seems to be causing more trouble than the situation warrants. It is fast eroding its own credibility.
If Senegal’s U-turn has given us a rude awakening, it pales in significance to the cause for this reversal. Nothing underscores it more than the fact that Senegal acted on the appeal from the United Nations (among other bodies that called for a change of mind on Habre’s fate).
The UN has been very particular about human rights violations all over the world and made its voice heard whenever possible. Since its own Declaration of Fundamental Human Rights (in 1948) underpins the desire that everyone’s human rights will be respected, it is obvious that the UN should be the first to not only condemn atrocities committed by those in power but to ensure that they are brought to book.
That’s why the UN has in contemporary times been in the forefront, identifying occurrences of human rights violations and empowering its institutions and member-countries to act expeditiously to either curb such violations or to punish the perpetrators. From Kosovo to Srebrenica, to Sarajevo, to Rwanda, to Liberia, to the Democratic Republic of Congo, to Egypt, to Syria, and now to Libya, the humanitarian crisis that have piqued the UN’s interests have led to diverse forms of actions being taken against those seen as the culprits.
The current hunt for Gaddafi by NATO is a clear instance of the UN’s disgust for human rights abuses and its efforts to clamp down on them. If we grant the UN some credit for its strident protestations against such violations, we can’t fail to acknowledge its failure to enforce standards impartially. We know how the International Criminal Court, the War Crimes Tribunal, or the Internal Court of Justice do their work. With reference to the ICC and its pursuit of violators of war crimes or crimes against humanity—which form the basis of the indictment and prosecution of high-profile leaders of countries that have experienced massive human rights violations—we can tell how the UN’s scope is defined to leave out others.
The circumstances surrounding the Iraqi and Afghan crises and the failure of the UN to rope in soldiers and politicians of the United States who played pivotal roles in such conflicts is often cited as a prominent example to support claims of bias against the UN. Of course, the US is one of those countries that refused to sign the protocol establishing the ICC in 2002. The US doesn’t want its citizens to be hauled before the ICC but it works very hard for others elsewhere to be captured, tried, and punished by the ICC. That’s a major challenge to the UN, which it has so far failed to meet.
Thus, anything that raises concern about the UN’s perspective on and approach to human rights violations must not be treated lightly at all. This case involving Hissene Habre is a clear-cut one that borders on abysmal disrespect for human rights. Putting aside the verdict against Habre on his alleged involvement in the plot to overthrow Idriss Deby’s government in 2008, we can tell that accusations concerning his atrocities between 1982 and 1990 are not the figment of anybody’s imagination.
There is enough evidence to support such accusations and that is why the Chadian government wants Senegal to extradite Habre for him to answer for his crimes. There is every good reason to support such a move and measures taken to ensure that even if he has to be re-tried on those charges, everything will be done to ensure that the mill of justice grinds the fullest course to its logical conclusion. Using the diplomatic clout to cut short this process is disappointing. It sends the wrong signal that the UN can protect some atrocious leaders while working hard for others to be sent speedily to the gallows. This perception of the UN is troubling.
No one is suggesting that Hissene Habre be sent to Chad to be tortured as is being adduced by the UN and other human rights organizations whose intervention has saved him for now. All that is being asked for is that he shouldn’t run away from justice. If he has nothing to hide, why not be allowed to go through the fact-finding process in Chad, where the alleged crimes occurred under his rule?
The best the UN can do to prevent soiling its reputation is to provide all the necessary support mechanism to prevent any extra-judicial action being taken against Habre in his country. But it is imperative that he be extradited there first. Then, the UN can be part of the processes to unearth all that went on in his administration. Such a step will be more encouraging than what has happened now. The dark clouds are still hanging up there and no one will be impressed by this display of double-standards.
By saving the situation now, will the UN say that those seeking justice are wrong or that they should forever be denied what they are looking for? How does the UN reconcile its position on Hissene Habre with other situations in which it either superintended over or actively worked for the perpetrators of human rights violations to be brought to book? If torture isn’t good, why did Habre use it against his opponents? And what is bad about torture for Habre that is good for the victims of his indiscriminate atrocities?
One hopes that the UN is not being mischievous in this case and that now that it has discovered torture to be bad, it will ensure that it doesn’t become the norm anywhere in the world. It is only then that the UN can present a better image and claw back the goodwill that it has lost.