Monday, July 20, 2015

Bad news for another former African dictator, this time from Chad

Starting today, Hissène Habré is on trial in Senegal for crimes against humanity during his rule in Chad from 1982-1990.

During the brutal rule of Habre, who has been referred to as Africa's Pinochet, some 1,200 (according to Human Rights Watch) to 40,000 (according to a Chadian commission) Chadians were killed and 12,000 tortured (according to Human Rights Watch) by a network of secret police known as the DDS (Direction de la Documentation et de la Sécurité).

After being overthrown in a coup led by Idriss Déby – Chad’s current president – in 1990, Habre fled to Senegal, where President Abdoulaye Wade (2000-2012) protected him indictment by a Senegalese judge in 2000 from extradition requests in 2005 from Belgium, which has a Law of Universal Extradition for cases of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. 

Belgium filed a case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague in 2009, and in 2012 the ICJ ruled in Belgium's favor and directed Senegal to extradite Habre or try him in Senegal. Meanwhile, Senegal elected Macky Sall president in 2012. 

Macky Sall's government responded quickly to the ICJ decision. Habre was arrested in July 2013. Senegal negotiated with the African Union (AU) and then passed appropriate legislation to create an Extraordinary African Chambers to conduct the trial. 

Chad itself never sought Habre's extradition, but he was sentenced to death in absentia in 2008 for his alleged role in a rebellion in the east of Chad that year. If he is found guilty in Senegal, he faces up to a life sentence.

The trial is a historic event for the continent: it is the first time one African country has prosecuted the former leader of another country for alleged human rights crimes.

(Clarification: Chad is not in ECOWAS, but Senegal, where the election will be held, is.)


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