Brussels — The adoption by the Senegalese National Assembly on December 19, 2012,of laws establishing special chambers within the existing Senegalese court structure heralds the start of criminal proceedings against the former president of Chad, Hissène Habré.
Habré is accused of thousands of political killings and systematic torture that took place during his presidency from 1982 to 1990. He has been living in exile in Senegal for 22 years and has yet to face justice.
"The opening of the case against Hissène Habréhas never seemed so close," said Reed Brody, legal counsel for Human Rights Watch. "In eight months, Macky Sall's government has accomplished more to reward the perseverance and tenacity of Habré'svictims than Senegal had over the course of two decades."
Since Sall's election as president of Senegal and the decision of the International Court of Justice on July 20, 2012, ordering Senegal to prosecute Habré "without further delay" or to extradite him, negotiations resumed between the African Union (AU) and Senegal. These ultimately led to a plan to create "Extraordinary African Chambers" to conduct the trial within the Senegalese judicial system. The agreement was formalized by the two parties on August 22. Justice Minister Aminata Toure has stated that the tribunal will be operational soon, once the judges and other personnel are appointed.
The National Assembly's adoption of the laws also follows agreements between the AU, Senegal, and international donors regarding the tribunal's funding, for which a budget of 7.4 million euros was agreed upon. According to media reports, the international donors are Chad (approximately 3 million euros); the European Union (2 million euros); the Netherlands (1 million euros); the African Union (US$1 million); the United States (US$1 million); Germany (500,000 euros); Belgium (500,000 euros); France (300,000 euros) and Luxembourg (100,000 euros).
"I have been waiting to see Hissène Habré face justice for over 22 years", said Clément Abaïfouta, President of the Association of Victims of the Crimes of Hissène Habré's Regime (AVCRHH) who as a political prisoner under Habré, was forced to dig mass graves and bury hundreds of other detainees. "We are finally going to be able to confront our executioner and regain our dignity as human beings."
The Extraordinary Chambers Statute calls for the creation of chambers to handle investigations, trials, and appeals. The trial chamber and the appeals chamber will each consist of two Senegalese judges and one non-Senegalese judge from an AU member country, who will preside over the proceedings.
The Chambers will prosecute "the person or persons most responsible" for international crimes committed in Chad between June 7, 1982, and December 1, 1990. It is possible that Habré will be the only person tried before the tribunal.
The Extraordinary Chambers Statute provides for the participation of victims at all stages of the proceedings as civil parties, represented by counsel, and says that the victims may also be awarded reparations. The chambers' budget allows for the recording of all proceedings as well as the establishment of an extensive outreach program so that the trial can have a positive and educational impact in Chad and elsewhere.
"Habré's trial, if it is fair and transparent, could mark a turning point for justice in Africa," Brody said. "The Habré precedent could become a source of inspiration and help steer justice efforts in Africa and in the world."