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Jacqueline Moudeïna nominated for Robert F Kennedy Award

- Lee-Anne Bruce

CALS nominates lawyer responsible for bringing dictator Hissène Habré to justice for crimes against humanity for the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights Award

CALS is proud to nominate our friend and colleague Jacqueline Moudeïna for the 35th annual Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. The Award is given to honour an individual or group of people who "stand up to oppression at grave personal risk in the nonviolent pursuit of human rights." With the support of the Bertha Justice Network and Human Rights Watch, CALS has submitted that Ms Moudeïna deserves to be celebrated for her human rights work in Chad, particularly in bringing dictator Hissène Habré to justice. Read more about our nomination of this extraordinary individual below. 

What are the main human rights issues the nominee is working on to advance? What are the nominee's human rights goals and objectives?

Jacqueline Moudeïna is a human rights lawyer from the Republic of Chad who is most well-known for her central role in bringing former dictator Hissène Habré to justice for crimes against humanity. One of the few female lawyers in Chad, Ms Moudeïna worked tirelessly for over two decades to support victims of Habré’s regime. Her remarkable efforts saw him convicted of war crimes, torture, rape and sexual slavery by a special court in Senegal in 2016. This set an incredible precedent as the first time a head of state has been convicted for crimes against humanity in the court of another country.

She continues to combat current day human rights violations and promote the rule of law in Chad as the President of the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (ATPDH). The organisation has a number of focus areas including protecting the rights of women, children, people in detention and victims of torture. Most recently, Ms Moudeïna has spoken out against the Chadian government’s use of child soldiers in the military and led protests against election irregularities. She is also responsible for the creation of ‘vigilance clubs’ in villages to protect children from child slavery.

What tools does the nominee use to achieve his/her human rights objectives? Please provide examples

Jacqueline Moudeïna makes use of a number of different tools to promote and defend human rights. These include developing awareness-raising campaigns, conducting training, providing legal advice, monitoring detention centres, and drawing attention to rights violations through the media, memoranda and open letters.

Much of her work involves the creative use of strategic litigation and international mechanisms to address human rights abuses, but this is also effectively supported by advocacy campaigns. Ms Moudeïna’s management of the case against Hissène Habré is a prime example.

It took many years and different strategic approaches from the time Ms Moudeïna laid the first charge against Habré in 2000 in Chad to having him prosecuted and convicted where he lived in exile in Senegal since 1990. These years saw the victims of his crimes approaching a multitude of structures, from courts in Chad and Belgium, to the International Court of Justice in the Hague, to the African Union.

When he was finally tried in a special international court in Senegal, Ms Moudeïna made sure to link the case to an advocacy campaign. This had the effect of both moving the case forward and also ensuring that the stories of Habré’s victims came to light in public for the first time in over 25 years. Not only were they able to face their persecutor in court, their voices were heard and echoed far beyond that space. Julia Duchrow has pointed out that this approach has played an important role in helping the people of Chad to come to terms with the past and “preventing these sorts of violations from recurring.”

What are the nominee's greatest accomplishments in advancing their human rights goals?

Jacqueline Moudeïna’s management of the Habré case had been described as a “masterpiece of strategic litigation” which ultimately led to his conviction of human rights abuses including torture, rape and sexual slavery. The court in Senegal sentenced him to life in prison and ordered him to pay millions as compensation for the victims of his crimes.

When Habré appealed the court’s finding, the appeals court upheld his conviction and ordered him to pay €123 million in reparations. This was a ground-breaking prosecution and conviction and a world first. It was the first time in history that a former head of state had been convicted of crimes against humanity in the court of another country. Importantly, Habré was convicted in another African country, setting an incredible precedent.

The case has also had extraordinary implications back in Chad. In 2015, a Chadian court prosecuted 22 of Habré’s security agents and convicted 20 of murder, torture, kidnapping and arbitrary detention. The court ordered the state and the 20 convicted offenders to each pay half of the €112,5 million allotted in victim compensation. Some of these men were still serving in Chad’s current government.

Among the 20 men convicted was Mahamat Wakeye, who reportedly ordered an assassination attempt on Jacqueline Moudeïna. Ms Moudeïna survived the grenade attack during a protest against election fraud, though she sustained lifelong injuries to her hearing and continues to live with shrapnel from the grenade in her feet.

Why does your nominee deserve to be chosen as the 2018 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Laureate? 

Ms Moudeïna embodies the values of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and all it stands for. She has stood up against a man responsible for the rape torture and murder of some 40,000 people in her country. She has done so at great personal risk over many years with little hope of success.

Jacqueline Moudeïna has faced impossible obstacles in trying to hold her government and former dictator accountable for the worst kinds of human rights violations and abuses of power. She has had her office ransacked and her car stolen; she has been followed and threatened; she has even endured violent attacks and an attempt on her life. Nevertheless, she persisted. Over the decades, she has never lost her resolve to seek justice for those who suffered human rights violations. She has fought peacefully and strategically against those abusing their power. And she has won. 

Ms Moudeïna deserves to be celebrated for her work and supported as she continues her determined pursuit of justice leading an NGO at the forefront of promoting human rights in Chad. She has made a remarkable difference not only in the lives of victims of human rights abuses, but for ordinary people around the world who may be protected by the precedent she has had a hand in setting.

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