Jacqueline Moudeina

(2011, Chad)

...for her tireless efforts at great personal risk to win justice for the victims of the former dictatorship in Chad and to increase awareness and observance of human rights in Africa.


Jacqueline Moudeina is a lawyer who works fearlessly to bring the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré to justice making sure that those who committed crimes do not go unpunished. At the same time, she works on a wide range of human rights issues concerning Chad today. With her commitment to justice as prerequisite for reconciliation and her dedication to intervene from the grassroots level up to international jurisdiction, she has made a prominent and crucial contribution to winning respect for human rights in Africa. 

Contact Details

BP 4082

Phone: +235 251 88 53 (secretariat ATPDH)
Fax: +235 51 58 84



Jacqueline Moudeina was born in 1957 and was studying English at the University of Chad in 1979 when civil war broke out and she and her husband fled to the Congo, where she stayed for 13 years, completing a law degree at the University of Brazzaville.

The civil war was followed by a reign of terror from 1982-90 by the new President, Hissène Habré, and his one-party rule. In 1990, Habré fled to Senegal. A truth commission later established that Habré's government was responsible for 40,000 politically motivated killings and published the names of the security service agents who had tortured and killed thousands according to their own police files. Many of those former security service agents on the list got high-ranking positions again in the next government.

Moudeina returned to Chad in 1995 and registered as a legal intern - among the first women in Chad to do so. She became legal secretary and then, in 2004, President of the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (French acronym ATPDH).

Moudeina worked on human rights cases and, with survivors of the Habré years, began collecting evidence on his atrocities. In 2000, when other Chadian lawyers had refused to become involved, she filed a case against Habré in Senegal, where he was living in luxury, and against his security agents in the Chad courts. In 2001, while Moudeina was engaged in a peaceful demonstration, police commanded by a man indicted in the atrocities case threw a grenade and shot at her. She narrowly escaped with her life.

The legal case against former President Habré

When Moudeina had filed the case against Habré in Senegal on behalf of seven victims in 2000, a Senegalese judge indicted him for complicity in acts of torture and barbarity and opened an investigation against persons unknown for crimes against humanity. Habré's lawyers attacked the indictment and, in 2001, the Senegalese High Court threw out the case as being outside Senegalese jurisdiction. Thus, the victims turned to Belgium, as Belgium had a law under which anybody who committed torture worldwide could be tried. After five years, the investigating judge in Belgium charged Habré with crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide and put out an international arrest warrant against him. Belgium requested the extradition of Habré from Senegal. Habré was arrested for ten days, but the prosecutor at the Senegalese appeal court declared himself incompetent to rule on the extradition request.

Senegalese President Wade then called the case an African issue and put it before the African Union. So the African Union, still in 2005, asked Senegal to prosecute Habré in the name of Africa because no African head of state should be judged outside of Africa. Senegal requested funding to cover the trial costs, which international donors, among them the EU, pledged.

Senegal continued to delay putting the dictator on trial until the International Court of Justice ruled in a landmark judgement on 20 July 2012 that Senegal was in breach of its obligations under the UN Convention against Torture. The Court issued a binding directive in Belgium vs Senegal that Senegal must try Mr Habré "without further delay... if it does not extradite him." Following the judgement, the Senegal government signed an agreement with the African Union to create a Special Court in Senegal, to be known as the "Extraordinary African Chambers" with African judges appointed by the AU presiding over his trial. President Macky Saul has indicated that he hopes for the trial to commence by the end of the year, leading to many to hope that the Habré's victims will finally have their day in court.

While driving the case against Habré internationally, Jacqueline Moudeina is also representing the victims of his dictatorship as their lawyer.

International criminal law is still a trial and error process. Moudeina has proved to be a pioneer on the ground, she has been innovative, never tiring of seeking new paths, and stands today as a role model for developing international legal practice from inside a country affected by grave violations of human rights.

The Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (ATPDH)

ATPDH employs nine people, but has 90 volunteers working in the ten regional chapters of the organisation.

ATDPH works towards the following objectives:

  • People know their rights, claim and defend them.
  • The rights of prisoners are respected.
  • The dignity of women is respected.
  • Children rights are respected.
  • Impunity is reduced.
  • Torture decreases.

To achieve these objectives, ATDPH is running a number of programmes including:

  • Creation of a national monitoring system on prison conditions, which includes training prisoners and prison wardens
  • Working against the slavery of children who are sold in markets to work as agricultural labourers by creating 'circles of vigilance'
  • Awareness-raising for human rights, e.g. through a bimonthly paper 'Le Rougeau' and leaflets in French and Arabic on torture, Aids, or the rights of prisoners
  • Educational programs in the regional chapters on human rights, and women rights, such as educating about legal means to prevent child marriage
  • Seeking compensation for environmental damage from the Chad Cameroon Oil and Pipeline Project.
ATPDH is a member of the Commission of Associations of Human Rights in Chad, and engages in joint activities with its other members. ATPDH also works closely with the Chadian League for Human Rights (LTDH) and other local organisations. Internationally, ATPDH works intensively with Human Rights Watch.

Moudeina's approach

Moudeina has a reputation of working together with those who create a problem rather than polarising. By this approach, she is able to work out solutions and to make progress. For example, although it is mandatory to attend a public school in Chad, many parents prefer to send their children to Islamic schools. ATPDH has worked out a scheme with Islamic schools to allow the children to attend a certain number of hours per week in the local public school to obtain elementary training in subjects such as maths and French. By inclusion, Moudeina creates solutions that are sustainable and a start for long-term improvements.

In 2002, Moudeina received the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, followed, in 2013, by the Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism, given by Human Rights Watch. 


Award Acceptance Speech by Jacqueline Moudeina

5 December 2011

(English translation)

Allow me to begin by sincerely thanking you for the distinguished honor that you are bestowing upon me through the Right Livelihood Award. This Award recognizes me specifically but, beyond that, rewards all the human rights defenders in the world, and particularly in Africa.

Rest assured that it is a deeply encouraging sign for us, the human rights defenders, and especially for us, the women, who fight on a daily basis, in very difficult conditions, sometimes at the risk of our own lives, in a world where power is generally held by men. This Award gives us the courage to continue our different struggles on a road fraught with pitfalls.

Fighting for victims is in my genes. I am a rebel who from an early age has been indignant in the face of abuse, and I cannot bear injustice. I have always felt this way and always will, as long as those who suffer injustice are ignored by their leaders and as long as justice is selective. Many have tried to prevent me from doing my work; many have tried to intimidate me, to psychologically and physically threaten me. But I have come to understand, as Alexis Voinov said in Albert Camus' The Just Assassins, that "it is not enough to speak out against injustice. You have to dedicate your life to fighting it." Until now, no one has managed to discourage me or get the better of me. I will continue my fight.


I will seize this occasion to tell you about one aspect of our struggle for human rights: the fight against impunity.

In the past twenty years, the international community has undeniably made major strides in the fight against impunity for the worst criminals. But in Africa, much remains to be done. On this continent, impunity is a cancer that, with its corollary disease corruption, has infected our body politic and prevents us from realizing our true potential. We, the members of civil society, are fighting against this cancer, from Tunis to Harare, from Dakar to Khartoum, and in other places like Abidjan, Tripoli, and N'Djamena.

And yet, this justice that I am speaking about is not a science in the making. It isn't a utopia. It is the most fundamental form of justice: criminal justice that allows victims to wash away the worst horrors, that gives back dignity to men who were tortured, and that gives back courage to women who have lost hope.

You only need to look at our struggle to bring to justice the former dictator of my country, Hissène Habré, to understand that today, in the twenty-first century, more than sixty years after the Nuremberg trials, it is sometimes easier to resort to oppression than to abide by the law, easier to commit violence than to deliver justice!

Habré ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990 until his overthrow and exile in Senegal. During his reign, atrocities were committed on a large scale, waves of ethnic cleansing crashed down on individual groups, and torture was institutionalized. In 1992, a national Commission of Inquiry estimated that his regime was responsible for the death of more than 40,000 people and the disappearance of thousands of individuals, leaving in its wake innumerable widows and orphans.

The victims of the Habré regime, whom I represent, have fought tirelessly for justice for twenty-one years. But to date their struggle remains unfinished. Before leaving power, Hissène Habré emptied out Chad's national coffers and has skillfully used these funds in Senegal to weave himself a powerful network of protection. And so, instead of allowing the victims' case to be heard, Senegal and the African Union have subjected them to what Archbishop Desmond Tutu and 117 organizations from twenty-five African countries rightly denounced as an "interminable political and legal soap opera". I would say even more: a true stations of the cross for the victims.

- In January 2000, we filed a complaint against Hissène Habré in Senegal where he now lives. One month later, the decision by a Senegalese judge to indict Habré gave us real hope.

- However, following political inference, denounced by the United Nations, the Senegalese courts declared that they lacked jurisdiction.

- The victims then turned toward Belgium, which offered them a path to justice. After a four-year investigation, a Belgian judge issued an international arrest warrant against Habré in 2005. The victims once again felt real hope that they might see Hissène Habré brought to justice for his alleged crimes.

- But once again, the victims were disappointed when Senegal refused to extradite Habré to Belgium.

- In May 2006, the UN Committee against Torture condemned Senegal for its failure to act and enjoined Senegal to prosecute or extradite the former Chadian dictator.

- In July 2006, the heads of state and government leaders of the African Union gave Senegal a mandate to prosecute Habré "in the name of Africa". It was another step forward.

- But our renewed hope to see Habré tried was short-lived. For four years, Senegal conditioned the start of investigations on the up-front payment by the international community of all the costs of the trial. When the international community committed to such payment, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal suddenly refused to execute the mandate conferred by the African Union and, in June 2011, finally declared that Senegal would not prosecute Hissène Habré.

- Since then, Belgium, a country to which I express thanks on behalf of all the victims, has renewed its extradition request.

- But now, the African Union talks of sending Habré to Rwanda and starting everything all over again. What an outrage! What a loss of time, when the surviving victims are dying one after the other! More than a dozen victims have passed away this year alone. A request to transfer Habré to Rwanda would entail many more years of waiting, the time that it would take for Rwanda to create an adequate legislative framework, to conduct an investigation, and to issue an extradition request, whereas a trial in Belgium could take place quickly.

This is yet another dilatory tactic by the African Union, and calls into question the institution's commitment to the fight against impunity. With a few exceptions, African leaders, who say that they want to free themselves of the tutelage of international tribunals and the extradition requests of Western countries, are revealing that they form nothing more than a club of heads of states ensuring their own impunity.

It is time for Senegal to grant victims the justice that they have demanded by extraditing Habré to Belgium where he can be tried. The victims cannot wait any longer. Psychologically and physically, they have suffered severe trauma that has taken a heavy toll over the years.

The Chadian government itself, last July, requested, and I quote, that the "option to extradite Habré to Belgium to face trial be given priority". Why is President Wade denying us justice? Why is the African Union failing to listen to the victims? Why do Senegal and the African Union not support the position of Chad, the country most directly concerned by this case, which is to see Habré tried in Belgium?

I would like to seize this opportunity today to voice the victims' plea, and to call on Senegal to extradite Habré to Belgium, to enable them at last to obtain justice.

This case isn't just about one man, however, but rather it is about one of the most tyrannical regimes of the last century. This regime is usually identified with one man, Habré, but we have not forgotten about his accomplices, the executioners and torturers who carried out the former dictator?s orders. These ex-agents of Habré's terrifying political police, known as the 'Documentation and Security Directorate', must also face justice before the Chadian courts and must be removed from public service. This was already one of the main recommendations of the National Commission of Inquiry in 1992.

Some of these accomplices continue to haunt us by taunting and threatening us in our daily lives. But we will not drop this fight. I myself was targeted in 2001 for my involvement in the Habré case. During a peaceful march in favor of democracy, a police squad attempted to assassinate me with a grenade. Its commander was none other than a former torturer against whom the victims had initiated a judicial procedure in Chad.

This event illustrates the educational value of a trial: how could this former torturer still believe that a dictator's weapon is more powerful than a judge's gavel? Despite this attempted assassination, I have never relented, and I will continue my efforts until Habré and the other executioners are brought to justice.


The challenge of our struggle, above and beyond the trial of one individual, is that of national union for a lasting peace in my country. Today, the trial of Hissène Habré and his accomplices would allow the Chadian people to begin, at last, the reconstruction of their country. And it is only at the end of this process that the Chadian people will be able to truly come together and enjoy a rebirth.

In the struggle to end the impunity of some powerful leaders, justice has so far been an elusive dream. But this Award, which you bestow on me today, is a tribute to the thousands of victims, widows, and orphans.

And it is to these individuals that I dedicate this Award. We will not give up. This Award reaffirms that we are right and encourages us to continue our fight against impunity.

Thank you for your attention.


Fighting Impunity in Chad: Jacqueline Moudeina

(This video is also available in GermanFrench and Spanish.)

Jacqueline Moudeina speaking at Oslo Freedom Forum 2009

Portrait by True Hero Films

First Days of Hissène Habré Trial 2015


Three questions to Jacqueline Moudeina

Interview from September 2011
Interview conducted by Lyndsey Unwin in September 2011

What did it mean for you be the first woman to register as a lawyer in Chad?

It was very important to me. I was among the first women to qualify for the law.  It is very difficult in a male dominated society for women to break through and it has been a real struggle. 

How many other women are lawyers in Chad today?

About a dozen, it is very much a man's world.  Women are expected to take only traditional roles in the family home and raising children. 

What progress are you making with the Habré case? Are you any closer to getting his extradition to Belgium?

It is a slow process but we are making progress. We have the African Union behind us as well as the people of Chad.

Is the international community helping with the extradition process? Are you working with colleagues in Europe?

Belgium is supportive. It is a slow process. 

Could the international community do more?

Yes they could and should do more. They should put pressure on the Senegalese president to extradite Habré to Belgium where he can be put on trial for the atrocities he committed.

How are you representing the victims of Habré's dictatorship. What is the process for this? 

Yes I am but it is a long process. After the coup d'état, all the prisons were opened and I began working with the survivors. However, they survived a terrible ordeal and so are very fragile. One person died last week. The judge is giving false reasons for not progressing the cases and you have to understand that many of the people who worked under Habré's regime are still in power.

I am working for the victims in an attempt to get financial compensation but also to achieve international recognition for what they suffered under this regime.

What drives you to do your work when you are facing enormous personal risk?

I have tried to conquer the fear. I no longer have the word fear in my vocabulary. It is a real struggle on a daily basis. I am working with women who can't understand why the dreadful atrocities they experienced are not being recognised by the court. They have no patience with the system and I can understand this. This is what drives me on.

I also work with human rights organisations specifically campaigning for women's rights and the protection of children.

How will the prize and the prize money help you continue the work defending human rights?

The protection it offers is very important to me. Receiving the Right Livelihood Award will raise my profile internationally and make it difficult for people to attack me as they have done in the past.


Publications by Jacqueline Moudeina

In June 2011, Jacqueline Moudeina, ATPDH and partner organisations released the following press release about the Habré Trial. Download pdf.


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