In Addis Ababa, a committee of African Union Eminent Jurists has been considering the available options for putting former Chadian President Hissene Habre on trial. The committee plans to release its conclusions at an A.U. Summit in Banjul, Gambia next month.
Reed Brody is special counsel for the organization Human Rights Watch. He told English to Africa reporter Howard Lesser that while Belgium is the most realistic venue for a trial, the ultimate disposition of the case rests with the government of Senegal. “The committee of jurists, if it really does its job, will first of all reaffirm that it is Senegal and not the African Union that has a legal obligation in this case. What the committee and what the African Union have to do is come up with a feasible, fundable, practical way for Hissene Habre to be brought to justice.”
When Senegal failed to prosecute Habre, a court in Belgium agreed to conduct a four-year investigation of allegations against him. He was indicted last year for crimes against humanity and torture. Brody says when Senegal left a decision on Habre to the African Union, it asked the regional body to recommend whether Dakar should put him on trial, hand him over to Belgium for trial, or extradite him to face justice in another country.
“Given the political realities around the African Union, that the preference is for an African trial, Human Rights Watch as well as Habre’s victims would be happy with a trial in Africa as long as it actually happens. What we don’t want to see is the African Union just saying, ‘Well, OK, we’re just going to explore further the possibilities for a trial in Africa, or to make some vague call for the setting up of a permanent African court that we all know would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and that would never see the light of day.’”
Human Rights Watch’s Reed Brody says Habre’s case lends itself to a simpler solution than that of Charles Taylor. “What we’re asking the African Union is to help Senegal live up to its international obligations. Senegal cannot avoid those obligations by passing the case to the African Union.”
Brody calls the leadership of Liberian President Sirleaf and Nigerian President Obasanjo in handing Taylor over to the Sierra Leone Court a psychological breakthrough for Africa. “Hopefully, the cycle of impunity, has taken a hit with the case of Charles Taylor and hopefully, it will take another hit with the case of Hissene Habre.”
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