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Former Chadian Leader to Face Trial in Senegal

August 23, 2012

by James Butty

A lawyer for the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch says he has confidence in the commitment of Senegal’s new president, Macky Sall, to put former Chadian President Hissène Habré on trial in Senegal.

This comes after it was announced late Wednesday that Senegal and the African Union have signed an agreement to set up a special tribunal to try Habré, who is accused of murdering more than 40,000 people during his eight-year rule.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled last month that Senegal had to act quickly to put Habré on trial or extradite him to Belgium to stand trial at the ICJ.

Human rights lawyer Reed Brody who said he has been working with victims of the former Chadian leader for 13 years, said the news of a special tribunal means that Habré may soon face justice for his crimes.

“This is an important agreement. This brings us one step closer to Hissène Habré’s trial, and it is an important step to the long campaign that victims of Hissène Habré have been waging to bring him to justice,” he said.

Belgium issued an arrest warrant against Habré in 2005, after a Belgian of Chadian origin filed a complaint against him under Belgium’s “universal competence” law.

The law allows those accused of crimes under international law, which have affected Belgians, to be tried in Belgium.

But after nearly 12 years, Senegal, which had said it was willing to try Habré in Senegal failed to do so.

The International Court of Justice ruled last month that Senegal had to act quickly to put Habré on trial or extradite him to Belgium to stand trial at the ICJ.

Brody said he is sure the new Senegalese government under Macky Sall would live up to its international obligation.

“The new government of Senegal under Macky Sall has been committed to bringing Habré to justice. So this responds to that decision, but it also reflects, I believe, a new willingness on the part of the Senegalese government to live up to its international obligation and to bring Habré to justice,” Brody said.

He said the special tribunal that will try Habre would include Senegalese and other African judges.

“The agreement calls for what are known as extraordinary African chambers within the existing Senegalese court structure with sections to handle investigations, trial and appeal. And the trial court and appeal court will each consist of two Senegalese judges and the president from another African country,” he said.

An ex-prisoner of the former Chadian president told VOA in July there can be no reconciliation until Habré is finally put on trial.

Clement Abaifouta, president of the Association of Victims of the Crimes of Hissène Habré said victims of Habré have been frustrated with Senegal’s delay in putting the former Chadian leader on trial.

Brody agreed that many victims had been discouraged with Senegal, but he said unlike its predecessor, the Macky Sall government is determined to put the former Chadian leader trial.

“As you know, Senegal had really toyed with the victims’ hope for so many years. Bishop Desmond Tutu referred to it is a political and legal soap opera to which the victims had been subject. So there’s a lot of mistrust of Senegal, and it’s going to be important for the government to move quickly and expediently to show that this time it means it,” Brody said.

Senegal’s Justice Minister Aminata Toure said after signing the agreement that “we are moving resolutely towards the holding of the trial.”

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