9 February 2013

Senegal: Habré Investigations Mark Turning Point for African Justice

Photo: Dany Danzoumbé/IRIN
People in the Walia area of the Chad capital N'djamena.

Dakar — The special court set up to try ex-Chadian President Hissène Habré officially opened its investigations on 8 February in Senegal, making it the first time a former African leader faces trial in another African country.

The launch of the court marks a "turning point in a long campaign to bring ex-Chadian dictator Hissène Habré to justice," according to a human rights coalition statement carried by Human Rights Watch.

At the opening at Dakar's Palais du Justice, Ciré Aly Ba, the court's administrator told reporters he hoped "the intolerable suffering endured by victims will be redressed."

The opening marked the launch of 15 months of pre-trial investigations in Chad and Belgium by four Senegalese magistrates which should culminate in a trial.

Habré, who ruled Chad between 1982 and 1990, has been accused of ethnic cleansing, systematic torture and other human rights violations. Chadian human rights groups put the death toll at 40,000 people.

The special court , known as the Extraordinary Chambers, is tasked with judging crimes committed on Chadian territory between 7 June 1982 and 1 December 1990. It will judge a series of four crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture, according to the court's Attorney General Mbacke Fall.

Habré was supported at the time by France and the United States, who viewed him as a bulwark against the influence of former Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi.

The ex-dictator was first indicted in Senegal in 2000, but the country's courts said that he could not be tried locally, so his victims filed a case in Belgium. In September 2005, a Belgian judge indicted Habré and requested extradition, which was refused by Senegal, then lead by President Abdoulaye Wade.

The African Union requested Senegal to try Habré. The authorities approached donors to fund a special court but progress largely stalled. When President Macky Sall took office in April 2012 he revamped the process, creating a working group to set up the special court.

The budget, not entirely complete, is 7.4 million euros (US$9.8 million) of which 3 million euros (US$4 million) have been given by Chad and 2 million euros ($2.67 million) by the European Union. The rest has come from the Netherlands, African Union, United States, Belgium, France and Luxembourg.

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