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African Union; Chad; Senegal: Former Chad Dictator Hissene Habre’s Trial Opens in Dakar

(July 21, 2015) On July 20, 2015, the trial of former Chadian President Hissène Habré before the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC) opened in Dakar, Senegal. He is facing accusations of crimes against humanity, torture, and war crimes. Habré denies being responsible for the thousands of deaths and the systematic torture that allegedly occurred during his rule from 1982 to 1990. (Cas Habré (June 12, 2013), EAC website.)

The special court was given jurisdiction to preside over Habré’s case through an agreement signed between the African Union and Senegal in August 2012. (Agreement Between the Government of the Republic of Senegal and the African Union on the Establishment of Extraordinary African Chambers Within the Senegalese Judicial System, LC11888 (Aug. 22, 2012), African Union website.) The African Union appointed Burkinabe Gustave Kam Gberdao as President of the Trial Chamber. He is assisted by two senior Senegalese judges. This trial marks the first time in history that the court of one country is prosecuting the former leader of another state for human rights crimes. (Senegal: Trial of Chad Ex-Dictator Begins (July 17, 2015), Human Rights Watch website.)


Over the years since his rule, calls to bring Habré to justice have come from many sources, including from many of the thousands of political prisoners tortured during his regime. According to Clement Abaifouta, a prisoner assigned to wrapping and burying the bodies of dead inmates, 10 to 20 died due to torture, malnutrition, or illness in the prison each day. “There was a lot of suffering, a lot of pain.” (Carley Petesch, Chad Ex-Dictator Habre to Stand Trial Sought for Decades, ABC NEWS (July 18, 2015).)

After being ousted through a coup by current President Idriss Déby in 1990, the ex-dictator fled to Senegal. In May 1992, a truth commission was formed in Chad by Déby, The ten-member body blamed Habré’s administration for the deaths of about 40,000 people. Habré’s Directorate of Documentation and Security, the commission reported, used methods that included beating, burning, fingernail extraction, and whipping. (Id.)

In February 2000, a Senegalese judge condemned Habré for torture, crimes against humanity, and acts of barbarism. However, following interference by the Senegalese government, the appellate courts dismissed the charges on the grounds that the Senegalese courts were not competent to judge crimes committed abroad. In November 2000, three Belgian nationals of Chadian origin, along with other victims, filed a complaint in Belgium against Habré. After four years of investigations by the Belgian authorities, he was indicted for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture. His extradition from Senegal was requested by Belgium in 2005, but the Senegalese courts declared themselves incompetent to rule on the extradition request. (Cas Habré, supra.)

In a judgment of July 20, 2012, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) unanimously found that “the Republic of Senegal must, without further delay, submit the case of Mr. Hissène Habré to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution, if it does not extradite him.” (Questions Relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal), Summary 2012/4 (July 20, 2012), at 16, ICJ website.) Soon thereafter, as was noted above, the African Union–Senegal agreement establishing the EAC was reached.

Prepared by Geneviève Claveau, Law Library Intern, under the supervision of Nicolas Boring, Foreign Law Specialist.