Hissein Habre’s charging highlights importance of fighting impunity


Hissein Habre’s charging highlights importance of fighting impunity

The news that Chad’s ex-dictator Hissein Habre has been charged with crimes against humanity and torture during his eight-year rule in the 1980s will be welcome to his victims and their relatives. This is the first time that an ex-ruler is facing international justice in an African court.

We should all be striving for other perpetrators of abuse to be brought to justice. Impunity for violations of freedom of expression is something that PEN International has been working to end – for example through its campaign to end impunity for killings of and threats against journalists and writers in Latin America which saw the publication of Write against Impunity – an anthology of writings from across the world which acts as a literary protest against the culture of impunity which is leading to so many uninvestigated deaths and leaving families without access.

But at the same time, we should not forget that freedom of expression under Chad’s current rulers is also under threat. A draft media law prepared in secrecy in 2012 would, if passed, impose measures that would stifle a free press, and PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee protested in March against defamation charges brought against blogger and writer Jean Laokolé. Its most recent case list of persecuted writers also highlighted an editor given a suspended prison sentence after conviction of “defamation” for publishing an article highlighting a petition against poor governance in Chad and two other journalists who were attacked or threatened apparently in connection with articles published which criticised the president of the ruling party. It’s imperative that freedom of expression organizations keep a close eye on what is happening there.

Ann Harrison
Programme Director
Writers in Prison Committee