This month, Senegalese special court Extraordinary African Chambers, inaugurated to bring justice to Chad’s ex-president Habré, starts its second investigative mission in Chad, making another step to bringing a long-awaited victory for human rights.
Eight years of Habré’s presidency from 1982 to 1990 were over in 1990, after the military coup that deposed the leader. The former dictator fled to Senegal where he was living in exile under electronic monitoring for 23 years and where he was finally taken into custody in July. Once having heard the long hoped-for news, overjoyed Chadians filled the streets of N’Djamena to celebrate the upcoming trial of the former dictator and their victory.
The role of the Chadian people made it in their power challenging for Habré’s behaviour only to be left in dusty pages of history books should be far from underestimated. It was primarily their obstinacy through more than 23 years of constant hurdles that determined the eventual delivery of justice. Initially knocking on the door of the Senegalese government, however unable to get responsive actions, they turned to Belgium as the only country with universal jurisdiction. Belgium’s requests for Habré’s extradition in 2005, twice in 2011 and again in 2012 were also neglected by Senegal. Higher-level demands received from the International Courts of Justice were also unhelpful for a long time. Despite the constantly postponed judicial process, with a firm belief in the need for historical justice, people relentlessly continued their way towards the victory. Their determination was finally rewarded this year.
The breakthrough came with the change of presidency in Senegal. Shortly after Macky Sall’s term started, the special court – Extraordinary African Chambers – under the agreement with the African Union was set up in Senegal to try the former Chadian dictator. The Court immediately provoked a uplifting response from the International community and the media, being portrayed as “historic,” “unprecedented,” “explanatory,” “milestone of African jurisdiction” and “Habré precedent”. This resonance is well warranted.
Firstly, Habré’s trial is already a huge achievement in the national dimension of Chad. What Chadian human rights groups achieved in Senegal stands as a great lesson for the country itself, where people are unaccustomed to the accountability of authorities, justice or equal law. Already in this year, 27 officers related to atrocities of Habré’s era were trialed. Habré’s case is expected to strengthen the notion of law in the country, making it more tangible and less fluid.
As for the broader picture, this trial buildd the basis for the new and promising judicial framework for the way justice is delivered in the African region. For the first time in history, the leader of one country was trialed in the court of another African country. For the first time in history, an African dictator faced justice within the framework of a national and regional African organization. This is a truly unprecedented, fully African trial without direct western involvement in the process of the prosecution per se.
It is clear that Habré’s trial will put pressure on the current African dictators, as it increases the number of institutions that can bring them to justice, adding the African Union and neighboring African countries to the list of potential prosecutors. Thus, Habré’s case promises to work as a counterweight to the overindulgence of African dictators and, therefore, injects unprecedented transformations to the security indicators of the whole African region.
How will the completion of Habre’s trial allow the people of Chad to move forward for a better future?