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Senegal: New Court to Try Former Chadian Leader

(Aug. 29, 2012) On August 22, 2012, the African Union and Senegal concluded an agreement on a special tribunal to try Hissène Habré, the former leader of Chad. The tribunal will be established in Dakar, Senegal, and will consider charges that Habré was responsible for the tortures and deaths of thousands of members of his political opposition in the years 1982 to 1990. Habré has lived in Senegal since fleeing there in 1990. (Dan Taglioli, African Union, Senegal Create Special Tribunal to Try Former Chad Dictator, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Aug. 23, 2012); Senegal: New Court to Try Chad Ex-Dictator in Senegal, Human Rights Watch website (Aug. 22, 2012).)

While at present the new court is expected to try only one person, Habré, it is mandated to prosecute anyone responsible for genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity in Chad in the years in question. It will be known as the “Extraordinary African Chambers” and will be established within the court system of Senegal by the end of this year. The court will have separate offices to investigate cases, try them, and handle appeals, with both the trial and appellate sections having two judges from Senegal and a president from elsewhere in Africa. (Taglioli, supra.)

The African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights, a non-governmental organization founded in 1990 and located in Dakar, hailed the agreement. Its president, Alioune Tine, stated, “[w]e are one step closer to justice today. … We’re counting on Senegal and the African Union to move quickly now and to begin Habré’s trial before even more survivors die.” (Senegal: New Court to Try Chad Ex-Dictator in Senegal, supra; Nana K.A. Busia, Jr., The Status of Human Rights Organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa: Senegal, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA HUMAN RIGHTS LIBRARY (last visited Aug. 27, 2012).)

The International Committee for the Fair Trial of Hissène Habré, a coalition body that includes Tine’s organization, plus a number of other African human rights groups, called for international donors to fund the new court. (Senegal: New Court to Try Chad Ex-Dictator in Senegal, supra.)

There have been two previous major investigations of Habré. One was done by a truth commission in Chad that concluded in 1992 that his regime was responsible for systematic torture and up to 40,000 deaths. The second investigation, finished in 2005, was by a Belgian judge and resulted in indictments of Habré for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture. Belgium then requested that Senegal extradite Habré, but Senegal did not cooperate. (Id.; see also Truth Commission: Chad, United States Institute of Peace website (last visited Aug. 27, 2012).)

The new agreement between the African Union and Senegal follows an International Court of Justice ruling in July of this year, specifying that Habré either be tried in Senegal or extradited to Belgium to face charges. (Taglioli, supra; Questions Relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v.Senegal) (July 20, 2012), International Court of Justice website.)