On July 2, 2006, the African Union (AU) mandated Senegal to put former Chadian President Hissene Habre on trial. Despite AU and European offers of financial support to hold a trial, Senegal has not acted, and human rights activists are urging the AU at its summit, which opens Wednesday in Sirte, Libya, to move proceedings ahead.
From Sirte, Human Rights Watch attorney Reed Brody, who counsels Chadian war victims in their recovery efforts, says that after 18 years, it’s time to bring Habre to justice.
“Three years ago, the leaders of Africa called on Senegal to prosecute Hissene Habre. Three years later, that hasn’t happened. The victims have been waiting for 18 years for justice, and many of them have died. Two of the people who filed the first case against Habre nine years ago in Dakar are already dead, so justice has to be done before it’s too late here,” he says.
Brody points out that a lot of countries are willing to help Senegal finance the trial if Senegal presents a credible budget, which he says needs to be revised. He says that at its upcoming summit, the African Union can provide the impetus to step up the funding effort and make it a reality.
“Senegal says that it needs €27 million ($42 million) up front. But a lot of people are ready to help finance the trial, the European Union, a number of countries. The question now is really just moving forward and the political will to move forward,” he advised.
Hissene Habre fled Chad in 1990 after being ousted by current President Idris Deby. He has lived in Senegal since then, but as of November, 2005, has been under arrest. Two months earlier, a judge in Belgium indicted Habre for causing more than 1,200 deaths (a truth commission in Chad put estimates at up to 40,000 deaths) and torturing more than 12,000 victims during his rule that began in 1982.
It was the 2005 Belgian indictment under that country’s universal jurisdiction law that prompted Senegal to arrest Habre, but Brody notes that Senegalese officials continue to show reluctance to arrange a trial despite winning encouragement from European and African countries.
“Senegal says, and it’s true that the prosecution and investigation of alleged crimes that took place in another generation, half a continent away, is very complex, and no developing country has ever done something like that before. But Senegal has the partners that are ready to finance the trial. Many of the victims whom I work with don’t believe that Senegal has the political will to bring Hissene Habre to trial,” he observes.
This past January, the AU called on its member countries to donate funds for a trial in Senegal, but to date, only Chad has offered to contribute. Human Rights Watch’s Reed Brody says he is disappointed that African countries that often complain about justice outside of Africa, are not stepping up to an opportunity of having justice in Africa.
“Here in Sirte, there is a campaign being led by Libya and some other countries against the International Criminal Court (ICC) against the use of universal jurisdiction by non-African countries to try Africans accused of the worst crimes. But at the same time, the Habre case, which represents an opportunity for Africa to show that it’s capable of prosecuting crimes against African victims, that case is not moving forward,” he reflects.
Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade, who Reed Brody says supports the prosecution of Hissene Habre, recently threatened to expel Habre from Senegal. That prompted Belgium last February to ask the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to order Dakar to prosecute or extradite him and to hold Habre in Senegal until its case is decided. Senegal then gave the court a formal pledge that it would not let Habre leave the country until a final judgment is carried out against him.