Senegal's National Assembly adopted a law last week that will enable it to try Hissene Habre, the vile former dictator of Chad.
Habré was first arrested in Senegal in February 2000 on charges of crimes against humanity and torture stemming from his 1982-1990 rule in Chad. Senegal refused to prosecute him in 2001 or to extradite him to Belgium in 2005, but in 2006, Dakar agreed to abide by an African Union decision that Habré should be put on trial in Senegal. Wednesday’s law allows such a trial by permitting Senegal to prosecute cases of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture, even when they are committed outside of Senegal.
At the same time Human Rights Watch took issue with an estimation by Senegal’s Foreign Minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio on Tuesday that Hissène Habré might not be brought to trial “before three years.”
“Senegal has taken an important step in the right direction,” said Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch, who works with Habré’s victims. “If the Senegalese government moves forward quickly to open an investigation, and takes advantage of the years of work already done by Belgium, a trial could be held relatively soon.”
This is remarkably good news: an African nation, at the urging of the African Union agreed to provide a framework to try one of the continent's worst former dictators. Here's some of Habre's handiwork:
In its report, published in May 1992 after 17 months' work, the Commission said: "It is only fair to draw the reader's attention to the fact that this investigation covers only a minute proportion of the acts committed by the Habré dictatorship. Neither time granted to the Commission, the means at its disposal nor the availability of victims enabled it to conduct an exhaustive investigation." The Commission drew up a list of 3,806 people, including 26 foreign nationals, who had died in detention or been extrajudicially executed during the period 1982-1990, and calculated that the total could reach 40,000 deaths. It counted 54,000 prisoners (dead and alive) during the same period. The Commission's considered that the work it carried out represented no more than 10 per cent of the violations and crimes committed under Hissein Habré. [emphasis in original]
He makes Pinochet seem like a piker. There's still some way to go before he pays for his crimes, but senegal and the AU should be saluted for this. It's a significant step.