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Trial of Former Chadian Leader to Resume Monday

  • Mariama Diallo

The trial of former Chadian president Hissene Habré, which opened July 20 but was postponed two days later to enable his court-appointed lawyers to prepare his defense, will resume September 7 in Senegal. Habre is accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture between 1982 and 1990. But he insists the special tribunal set up for his trial is illegal.

At the opening of his long-awaited trial in July, the former Chadian leader denied the legitimacy of the special court: the Extraordinary African Chambers.

"This is not a trial, this is a masquerade," Habré shouted as he was being ushered out of the court. A few supporters chanted “Long live Habré.”

But Charles Jalloh, from the Florida International University College of Law, said via Skype that Habré's argument cannot be sustained.

"As a political argument maybe he has an argument, but this is a court of law, properly constituted; it's an independent tribunal; the judges will be determining whether he's guilty or innocent based on the evidence before them, based on the case put forth by the prosecutors and also what the defense lawyers for Mr. Habre will argue in court," said Jalloh.

The trial was adjourned when Habré’s lawyers refused to appear in court, which then decided to appoint other lawyers to represent him.

While imposing attorneys on a defendant who refuses to cooperate can be a danger for a court, Jalloh said what's happening in Habré's case is not new.

"We've heard this argument before. Former Liberian president Charles Taylor also said on the first day of his appearance at the special court, and I was sitting in the courtroom at the defense bench, that he's not recognizing the special court for Sierra Leone. It was also a political court and that was not properly constituted. We've seen the same argument made by President Slobodan Milosevic, former Serbian president in the Yugoslav tribunal," said Jalloh.

Jalloh said that as a legal principle, a defendant is not entitled to hold justice hostage because the alleged victims also have a right to justice. Clement Abaifouta was a political prisoner during Habre's regime, and now is president of the Association of Victims.

“I was a grave digger. That means every day of my prison life I was burying victims who were my colleagues,” said Abaifouta.

The trial marks the end of a 15-year battle to bring the former leader to justice in Senegal, where he fled and has lived in exile after being overthrown in a coup in 1990.