Tuesday, February 01, 2011

War Crimes: Chad - African Union Calls for ‘Expeditious’ Start to Habré Trial

Source: International Criminal Court (ICC)

(Addis Ababa, February 1, 2011) – Senegal should start the trial of Chad's former dictator Hissene Habre immediately, Human Rights Watch said today, echoing a call from African Union heads of state and government. In a resolution adopted at its summit on January 31, 2011, the African Union called for an "expeditious" start to the trial.

"The African Union has made it clear that Hissene Habré needs to face justice soon," said Reed Brody, special counsel at Human Rights Watch, who has been working with Habre's victims for 12 years. "Survivors of Habré's government's cruel abuses have been fighting for 20 years for their day in court. It's time for Senegal to stop this circus and heed their pleas."

Habré is accused of thousands of political killings and systematic torture when he ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990 before fleeing to Senegal.

In July 2006, after Senegal had refused to extradite Habré to Belgium, the AU called on Senegal to prosecute Habré "on behalf of Africa," and President Abdoulaye Wade declared that Senegal would do so. President Wade recently stated, however, that he had "had enough" of the Habré case and was "returning" it to the AU.

The resolution adopted on January 31, though, noted Senegal's "readiness" to hold the trial. It called on Senegal's government to meet with the AU Commission to work out the modalities for an "expeditious" start to Habré's trial taking into account a November 2010 ruling by the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) that Senegal should carry out Habré's trial by "a special ad hoc procedure of an international character."

In response to the ECOWAS court ruling, the AU Commission has proposed a plan to create special chambers within the Senegalese justice system with the presidents of the trial court and the appeals court appointed by the African Union.

Habre was first indicted in Senegal in 2000, but then Senegalese courts ruled that he could not be tried there. His victims then turned to Belgium and, after a four-year investigation, a Belgian judge in September 2005 issued an arrest warrant charging Habré with crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture and requested his extradition.

Senegal then asked the AU to recommend a course of action. On July 2, 2006, the African Union called on Senegal to prosecute Habré. President Wade accepted but refused to proceed for several years, however, until Senegal was provided with money to finance the trial. On November 24, 2010, international donors met in Dakar and fully funded the US$11.7 million budget for the trial.