Arusha — Senegal on Friday inaugurated a special tribunal to try former Chadian president Hissène Habré, accused of crimes committed in his country during his rule from 1982 to 1990. The former head of state has been living in exile in Senegal for the last 22 years.
The tribunal was inaugurated by its "administrator", Ciré Aly Ba, in the presence of judges recently appointed to sit on the tribunal, according to Senegalese media.
The preliminary phase of the trial, comprising an investigation by four Senegalese judges, is expected to last 15 months and to be followed by a trial in 2014.
The inauguration of the tribunal marks a decisive turning point in the long campaign to bring to justice the former dictator of Chad Hissène Habré, according to a statement from the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH). This international organization stresses the news is welcomed by a coalition of human rights groups
"I have waited 22 years," said Souleymane Guengueng, who only just survived three years of brutal treatment in Habré's jails and later founded the Association for Victims of Crimes of the Hissène Habré Regime (AVCRHH).
"I want to see Habré brought to court before other victims die," the statement quotes Guengueng as saying.
The African Union and Senegal reached agreement in 2012 to establish a special African tribunal to try Habré within the Senegalese judicial system. This followed the election of Macky Sall as Senegal's president in April 2012 and a decision by the International Court of Justice ordering Dakar to start judicial proceedings against Habré without delay or extradite him for trial elsewhere.
"Today Senegal can hold its head high," said Alioune Tine, head of the Dakar based human rights group RADDHO. "My country is setting an example for the rest of Africa by showing that Africans can settle their own problems. The time when despots could empty their bank accounts and go live peacefully in a neighbouring country is over."
The Statute of the special tribunal provides that the court will have judges from both Senegal and other African Union countries.