Hissène Habré, or a long way to justice

Despite the fact that international criminal law has come a long way in the last two decades, it remains one of the most complicated domains of international law. States are not fond of sharing their “imperium”, that is in big part based on criminal law. Nevertheless, when it comes to crimes against humanity, the world is becoming more conscious of the need for cooperation.

Hissène Habré was the President of the Republic of Chad from 1982 to 1990. His regime was a dictatorship, imposed by an unique party. Habré is today pursued for several crimes against humanity. Indeed, he is accused of human rights violations (like systematic torture), against particular ethnic groups, and of political assassinations.

In 1990, Habré was forced to step down from power and took refugee in Senegal. The following year, the Chadian Association of Victims of Crimes and Political Repression engaged in legal proceedings against him and his accomplices. However, the investigating judge did not pursue the charges due to insufficient evidences.

Almost ten years later, with the help of Human Rights Watch and the African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights, the victims were able to file a criminal complaint in Senegal against Habré, following an investigation in Chad. That same year, three victims who are Belgian nationals file a complaint in Belgium, based on universal or extra-territorial jurisdiction, which allowed the Belgian authorities to exercise their power beyond their normal competence. In 2005, after an investigation, a Belgian judge issued an international warrant for the apprehension of Habré, on the charges of crimes against humanity. However, since Habré was in Senegal, there was nothing the Chadian authorities could do and Senegal refused to extradite him. Finally, in 2007, the Senegalese Constitution was amended to allow the pursuit of criminals of war and against humanity, opening the door for the trial of Habré in that country.

However, the lack of funds to make this trial, combined with former Senegalese President Wade’s resistance, continuously slowed down the process. Hissène Habré’s judgment is a massive case of international criminal law. With the election of President Macky Sall in 2012, the Extraordinary African Chambers were inaugurated in Senegal and an in-depth investigation has already taken place. We hope the trial will now start, and that it will be fair for all the parties involved. Read more about it here.

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