On September 7th, 2015, former Chadian President, Hissène Habré, returns to court to face trial on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture. The alleged crimes were committed during his time in power from 1982 to 1990. An estimated 40,000 people are reported to have died or disappeared under his regime.
Hissène Habré fell from power after a military coup in 1990. He has been living in exile in Senegal since December 1990. His trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegalese courts crowns a hard-won battle led by victims’ groups and human rights activists all over the world. This is no small performance. It took over 20 years to bring this case before the Senegalese courts to hold Habré accountable for the crimes perpetrated under his rule.
A changing legal environment
In 2012, the Government of Senegal and the African Union signed a historic agreement to set up the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Courts of Senegal. The body serves as an ad hoc tribunal with a mandate to put on trial those alleged to be most responsible for the crimes committed in Chad from 1982 to 1990.
The trial of Hissène Habré is a watershed in the fight against impunity in Africa. The case constitutes a first in many respects. It is the first time a former African Head of State is facing justice in another African country. It is also one of the first occasions where an African court is operating under the principle of universal jurisdiction.
A sign of new times
For the victims of human rights violations and human rights defenders across the continent, the long struggle to bring Habré to justice has finally born fruit.
The Extraordinary African Chambers has the potential to demonstrate Africa’s ability to hold its former leaders to account and strike a decisive blow against impunity on the continent. A fair, effective and transparent trial for Hissène Habré would set a precedent in the fight for justice across Africa.
The body is one of the new African mechanisms for international criminal justice that have emerged in recent years to advance the fight against impunity across the continent.
In a similar move, the African Court of Justice has extended its mandate to include international crimes. And in June 2015, the African Union tabled, for vote, a draft policy on transitional justice.
Actors with a cause
For all the civil society groups that work to end impunity in Africa, this is a vital opportunity to give people everywhere the right information about this historic case.
In the last two months, TrustAfrica has been working closely with several human rights groups, students and journalists in Senegal to make sure they have the right skills and techniques to monitor the trial of Hissène Habré and report on the proceedings.
The goal of these activities is to ensure there is an independent platform of informed young scholars and human rights activists who can provide accurate and timely analysis of the proceedings, and share this information with a wide audience in and out of Africa.
One step at a time
TrustAfrica has been working with civil society groups on international criminal justice since 2011. It set up a five-country programme in 2013 with work in Nigeria, Uganda, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, and Kenya.
The International Criminal Justice (ICJ) Fund at TrustAfrica continues to gather, train and support civil society groups and networks all over the continent to make headway in mounting creative responses to advocate for the rights of victims and advance international criminal justice on the continent.
For more on the trial of Hissène Habré, live streaming of the proceedings is available here.