Hissene Habré, former dictator of Chad, has lived under house arrest in Senegal for years awaiting trial for war crimes and launching legal complaints of his own. With Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade stating that he would like to “get rid of” Habré, yesterday the UN Committee Against Torture called on Senegal to either prosecute or extradite Habré.
Human Rights Watch summarizes the legal proceedings so far:
Mr. Habré was first indicted in Senegal in 2000 before courts ruled that he could not be tried there. His victims then turned to Belgium and, after a four-year investigation, a Belgian judge in September 2005 issued an international arrest warrant charging Mr. Habré with crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture committed during his 1982-90 rule and requested his extradition.
Senegal then asked the African Union to recommend a course of action. On July 2, 2006, the African Union called on Senegal to prosecute Hissène Habré “on behalf of Africa,” and President Abdoulaye Wade declared that Senegal would do so.
In 2007-2008, Senegal amended its constitution and laws to permit the prosecution of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture no matter when and where the acts occurred.
On September 16, 2008, fourteen victims filed complaints with a Senegalese prosecutor accusing Habré of crimes against humanity and torture. Senegal said, however, that it would not process the complaints until it receives €27 million from the international community for all the costs of the trial.
Faced with Senegal’s inaction, Belgium on February 19, 2009 asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to order Senegal to prosecute or extradite Mr. Habré. . On May 28, the court accepted Senegal’s formal pledge not to allow Habré to leave Senegal pending its final judgment.
A ruling from the ECOWAS Court of Justice on November 18, 2010 requested that Senegal create a special jurisdiction to prosecute Habré.
HRW continues the narrative:
On November 24, international donors met in Dakar and fully funded the $11.7 million budget for the trial. Senegal’s justice minister said that the donors’ meeting was the “completion of the long process of preparation leading up to the actual start of trial” and that Senegal would discuss with the African Union (AU) how to respond to the ECOWAS decision.
President Wade then appeared to backtrack yet again. On December 10, he announced that, “The AU must take its case back [...] Otherwise I will send Hissène Habré elsewhere. […] I’ve had enough of it at this point. [...] I am going to get rid of him, full stop.”
On January 12, an African Union delegation led by AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Ramtane Lamamra presented President Wade with a cost-neutral plan to respond to the ECOWAS decision by creating a special jurisdiction within the Senegalese justice system which would include the nomination of two judges by the AU.
On January 13, however, President Wade told the Council of Ministers that he was “returning” the Habré case to the AU.
The UN and HRW responded to Wade’s statements with strong language.
The United Nations Committee against Torture has called on Senegal to comply with its “obligation” to prosecute or extradite Chad’s exiled former dictator, Hissène Habré, Human Rights Watch said today.
“The UN has stood up for Habre’s thousands of victims who have been seeking justice from Senegal for 20 years,” said Reed Brody, counsel with Human Rights Watch, who represents the victims before the UN Committee against Torture. “President Wade can’t simply ‘get rid’ of the case; he has a legal obligation to ensure that Habré faces justice.”
What are Wade’s motives? The money and the international support for the trial are there; it does not seem that logistics are the main issue now. AFP hints at a motive when it writes, “Senegal has been accused of dragging its feet on the case — which would be the first time an African leader was tried for war crimes on the continent.” It is possible that Wade is uncomfortable with setting that kind of precedent, potentially fearing that trying Habre could damage Senegal’s relations with other African countries. Perhaps Wade does not want to make Senegal a forum for African justice. Or maybe it’s just a project he doesn’t want to devote time or energy to. Whatever the case, he has made his reluctance to pursue a trial clear.
The next move is with the AU and the UN. I do not see how they can force Senegal to hold a trial. And amidst the legal wrangling, I wonder sometimes whether there ever will be a trial.