Thursday, 23 July 2015

On trial

After two decades of obstruction, the trial of Chad’s ex-President, Hissène Habré, for crimes against humanity got under way this week in Dakar. The Special Court, jointly set up by the government of Senegal and the African Union, offers another forum for the prosecution of leaders accused of atrocities. It comes as several AU leaders, including South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, criticise the International Criminal Court for ‘targeting Africa’.

In fact, setting up Special Courts and working in parallel with African justice systems is well within the remit of the ICC, which was meant to reinforce, not replace them. Some argue that the ICC should set up an adjunct or Special Court in South Africa or another state with a credible judiciary.

Without the matchless determination of Chadian lawyer Jacqueline Moudeina, herself a victim of a grenade attack in 2001, the trial might never have happened. Habré used his close relations with Cold War leaders such as Ronald Reagan and François Mitterrand in the 1980s to give him cover to obliterate his guerrilla opponents and civilian allies. It helped that some of them were backed by Reagan’s arch enemy Colonel Gadaffi.

Chad’s current President, Idris Déby Itno, came to power by overthrowing Habré with backing from Sudan. But until he seized power, Déby was Habré’s head of military intelligence and a key part of his security apparatus. Habré’s defence team must be tempted to call Déby as a witness, if only to embarrass him.

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