U.N. Human Rights Chief, Louise Arbour, says she is pleased former Chadian president Hissene Habre will finally face justice for human rights violations committed during his eight-year rule. She says the latest change to Senegal's constitution now makes it possible for courts in the country to try Habre. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from the Office of the High Commissioner in Geneva.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, calls this a very positive development in the struggle to strengthen accountability. She says putting Chad's former president on trial for crimes he committed while in office marks an important step forward in the never-ending fight against impunity.
Arbour's spokesman, Rupert Colville, says the High Commissioner acknowledges how rare it is for one state to make it possible to prosecute a former leader of another country. He says she commends Senegal for taking this step.
"I think it certainly sets a precedent and that is what is rather exciting about it. It is, I believe, the first time a case of this type has happened in Africa and also it is extremely rare anywhere else in the world," he said. "So, I think, not just from the African point of view, but from a global point of view it is a very, very good precedent."
Hissene Habre ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990. When he was overthrown, he went into exile in Senegal. During his time as president, thousands of Chadians were allegedly tortured, and unlawful killings and other serious human rights violations took place.
In February 2000, Habre was charged by a lower court in the Senagalese capital Dakar. This ruling was overturned by an appeals court that said Senegal did not have the legal competence to try such cases if the crimes were committed in another country.
Two years ago, Colville says the African Union took the unprecedented step of urging Senegal to try the case on, what it called, behalf of Africa.
"Since then, the country has adopted a number of legal amendments to its Constitution to....allow its legal system to deal with such a case. The latest amendment was adopted by the National Assembly on the 8th of April," he said. "Mrs. Arbour hopes that, with this latest amendment, the final obstacles preventing this case coming to court have now been cleared away."
The trial is expected to be very costly. And, High Commissioner Arbour is urging the international community to continue its support to Senegal to ensure that Hissene Habre will finally go on trial in the near future.