Background Briefing

Submission to the Committee of Eminent African Jurists
Options for Hissène Habré to Face Justice

April 2006

Related Material

Download PDF file (13 pages, 177 KB)

Options for Hissène Habré to Face Justice in French

The Case against Hissène Habré, an "African Pinochet"

More on Human Rights Watch's work on Chad

Recommendations to the Committee of Eminent African Jurists


Senegal's Legal Obligations

Options for the Trial of Hissène Habré

Future Situations

A Belgian judge has indicted the former Chadian President Hissène Habré for his alleged role in thousands of political killings, systematic torture, and violent campaigns against different ethnic groups. Belgium has asked for Mr. Habré’s extradition from Senegal, where he lives and where he was first indicted on atrocity charges in 2000. The president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, in turn requested the January 2006 summit of the African Union (A.U.) to “indicate the competent jurisdiction” for the trial of Mr. Habré. On January 24, 2006, the A.U. set up a Committee of Eminent African Jurists (CEAJ) to consider the options available for Hissène Habré’s trial, taking into account, inter alia, “fair trial standards,” “efficiency in terms of cost and time of trial,” “accessibility to the trial by alleged victims as well as witnesses,” and “priority for an African mechanism.” 

This paper examines Senegal’s legal obligations as well as the different options for bringing Mr. Habré to justice. It notes that—whatever the outcome of the A.U. review—Senegal is under an obligation to prosecute or to extradite Hissène Habré. It concludes that Mr. Habré’s extradition to Belgium is the most efficient, realistic, and timely option for ensuring that Mr. Habré is able to respond to the charges against him with all the guarantees of a fair trial. If the CEAJ wished to propose an African option, it should recommend Mr. Habré’s trial in Senegal. Chad does not offer the guarantee of a fair trial. Establishment of a new ad hoc African tribunal to try Mr. Habré’s alleged crimes would require enormous political will, would be years in the making, and would probably cost over U.S.$100 million, while no existing African tribunal appears to have judicial competence over the alleged crimes. Hissène Habré’s victims have already been waiting for fifteen years to find a court to hear their case, and many of the survivors have already died.

The victims’ first attempt to bring Hissène Habré to justice was in Senegal, six years ago. When a Senegalese judge indicted Mr. Habré on charges of crimes against humanity and torture in January 2000, it was hailed as a new dawn for African justice. The Senegalese courts later ruled, however, that they had no competence to try Hissène Habré. President Wade had already spoken out against Hissène Habré’s trial in Senegal. President Wade then stated that he would nevertheless hold Hissène Habré in Senegal and that “if a country capable of organizing a fair trial—there is talk of Belgium—wants him, I do not foresee any obstacle.” President Wade has indeed kept Hissène Habré in Senegal, and Belgium is now seeking Mr. Habré’s extradition.

Senegal, as the state on whose territory Hissène Habré is living, has since 1990 been under a legal obligation to prosecute or extradite Hissène Habré pursuant to the 1984 United Nations (U.N.) Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture). Senegal cannot elude this obligation by referring the matter to the African Union. Rather, the African Union should consider its role as seeking to help Senegal discharge its treaty obligations. Belgium has stated that if Senegal fails to extradite Hissène Habré, it will pursue remedies against Senegal under the convention.