Senegal opens court to try former Chad dictator

Senegal‘s newly-created Extraordinary African Chambers officially opened on Feb. 8 to prepare for the prosecution of former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre (BBC backgrounder). Senegal’s national assembly adopted a law in December allowing for the creation of the special tribunal with the support of the African Union (AU) and financial assistance from the European Union and the US. The Extraordinary African Chambers will operate within the existing Senegalese court structure in Dakar and will have sections to handle investigations, trials and appeals. Habre is accused of administering thousands of political killings during his eight-year rule from 1982 to 1990. Seven victims filed a criminal complaint against him in January 2000, and a Senegalese court indicted him. However, the case was dismissed on appeal for a lack of jurisdiction. Habre’s trial will not begin until the prosecution completes its investigation, which will open next week and is expected to last 15 months.

Habre fled to Senegal after being deposed in 1990 and denies charges of killing and torturing tens of thousands of his opponents after coming to power in a bloody coup in 1982. The AU began talks with Senegal to come up with a plan for Habre’s trial after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled last July that Senegal must either try Habre promptly or extradite him to Belgium for trial. The court’s legally binding order also noted that Senegal had failed to make serious efforts to prosecute Habre, who has been been under house arrest there since 2005. In July 2011 Senegal reversed its decision to deport Habre back to Chad after UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned of possible torture. That month Pillay issued the plea to stay Habre’s deportation to Chad after the nation’s courts sentenced him to death in absentia.

From Jurist, Feb. 8. Used with permission.

See our feature on Africa’s Presidents in the Dock.