Ten years after Chadian dictator Hissene Habre was indicted in Senegal for mass murder and torture, his case has yet to come to trial – dashing hopes that Africa is able, and willing, to try its own.
While human rights bodies accuse Senegal of dragging its feet in bringing Habre to trial, the ex-president of Chad lives a life of quiet luxury in a chic Dakar suburb where he has been in exile since 1990.
Human Rights Watch’s Reed Brody, who has spearheaded the case against the man he dubs ‘Africa’s Pinochet’ for his reign of brutal torture and murder, believes time is running out for Habre’s victims.
“If it continues at this rate there won’t be any survivors left and maybe Hissene Habre who is 68 years old will die before there is a trial and before justice can be served,” he told AFP in an interview this week, Africasia reports.
The case will set a historical precedent for Africa which has long sought to solve its problems at home and is loath for its own leaders to be tried in international courts.
Alioune Tine, president of African human rights group Raddho, said prosecuting Habre would be “a very serious sign that Africa is combating impunity, that we have sovereignty to try our own political and military elite.”
After first being charged in January 2000, Habre’s case was later thrown out as Senegal said it did not have universal jurisdiction.
But after the African Union mandated Senegal to put him on trial, the country in 2008 changed its penal code to include crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.
So why the delay
“Senegal says it won’t lift a finger until it receives 37 million dollars (27 million euros) upfront from the international community,” said Brody, in Dakar this week for a meeting with Foreign Minister Madicke Niang.
The European Union and other countries willing to finance the trial believe this is excessive.
Director of Criminal Affairs and Pardons, Judge Demba Kandji confirmed to AFP this amount and said: “Experts from the African Union and the European Union are working with our experts to establish the final budget.”
A joint EU-AU team is due to present a revised budget proposal and funding plan to Senegal in the coming weeks.
“Senegal’s willingness to conduct this trial is unshakeable,” Foreign Minister Niang told journalists.
“Once the budget amount is recovered, the trial will begin immediately. It is a matter of dignity for Africa that the trial precedes in the best conditions.”
While Brody agrees investigating Habre’s crimes will be costly, he does not see the need for courthouse renovations, as sought by government, or to fly in 500 witnesses.
“The evidence is there and it won’t take that much for the Senegalese to put it together and begin the process,” said Brody, who in 2002 stumbled on records in the old headquarters of Habre’s police service documenting their atrocities.
The one-time warlord rose to power in 1982 backed by the United States and France who wanted to stop their bete noir Libyan President Moamer Kadhafi annexing northern Chad and spreading his influence in the region.
Habre fled to Senegal after being toppled in 1990 after a reign in which a 1992 truth commission report says he oversaw up to 40 000 political murders and often horrific tortures.
Having emptied Chad’s coffers before he left, Habre was able to “build himself a network of protection” in Senegal, according to Brody.
One of the plaintiffs, 52-year-old Clement Abaifouta, was imprisoned between 1985 and 1989 and forced to bury the bodies of his inmates at an N’Djamena prison.
“I used to bury eight to ten in a day, we were not considered as human beings,” he told AFP in a telephonic interview from Chad.
“We want to know the truth… we never want this kind of thing to be repeated. We have been fighting for ten years” for the case to come to court.
Pic: Fomer Chad Dictator- Hissene Habre