The African Union has assigned a team of legal experts to recommend where and how Chad’s deposed former president, Hissene Habre, should be brought to justice. Their conclusions are to be submitted in June at the upcoming AU summit.
Despite initial press reports this week that seemed to return the burden of the decision to Senegal, his country of exile, the group Human Rights Watch says that summit leaders agreed this week that Habre must go to court for atrocities against various ethnic groups and opponents of his nine-year regime.
The deputy director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch, Georgette Gagnon, tells Voice of America reporter Howard Lesser why the Habre issue received so much attention from the delegates in Khartoum. “The government of Chad had put this issue on the agenda and asked that it be considered. And then, of course, there was much pressure from various human rights groups to also have it addressed. In addition, Senegal put the issue of what should happen to Habre in the hands of the African Union, so again, they had to deal with it at this summit.”
Ms. Gagnon says Human Rights Watch and other non-governmental organizations continue to favor extraditing Hissene Habre to Belgium to stand trial under that country’s human rights code, since it is becoming clear that no African country is interested in putting Habre on trial. She says, “We were very pleased that the AU did not exclude Habre’s extradition to Belgium because in our view, of course, this is the most efficient and least costly mechanism to try Mr. Habre. However, we very much hope this expert committee studies the issue thoroughly and does not let the case drag on.”
Ms. Gagnon says she believes the government of Senegal will wait until the African Union’s June summit for a determination of how justice for Hissene Habre should be dispensed. Asked to draw a parallel between bringing Habre to justice and winning an extradition of former Liberian president Charles Taylor from Nigeria to stand trial for crimes committed during Sierra Leone’s long civil war, Ms. Gagnon says, “The parallel is that Africa leaders, African countries, in our view need to take stronger action to fight impunity on the continent. And they need to be showing all those victims that they care about them and that they want to see justice done.”