(Dakar) - The Nobel Peace Prize winners Bishop Desmond Tutu and Shirin Ebadi, as well as 117 African human rights groups from 25 countries, called today for the government of Senegal and the African Union to move forward with the trial of Hissène Habré. The exiled former dictator of Chad is accused of thousands of political killings and systematic torture.
African heads of state will come together in Kampala from July 25 to 27, 2010, for an AU summit, four years after the AU mandated Senegal "to prosecute and ensure that Hissène Habré is tried, on behalf of Africa." Senegal has not yet begun proceedings against Habré, however, claiming that it is still waiting for international funding.
"The victims of Mr. Habré's regime have been working tirelessly for 20 years to bring him to justice, and many of the survivors have already died," says a petition to Senegal and the AU signed by the groups, the Nobel winners, and other prominent figures. "Instead of justice, the victims have been treated to an interminable political and legal soap opera."
Habré ruled Chad from 1982 until he was deposed in 1990 by President Idriss Déby Itno and fled to Senegal. His one-party regime was marked by widespread atrocities, including waves of ethnic campaigns. Files of Habré's political police reveal the names of 1,208 people who were killed or died in detention. A total of 12,321 victims of human rights violations were mentioned in the files.
Habré was first indicted in Senegal in 2000, but after political interference denounced by two United Nations rapporteurs, Senegalese courts said they had no jurisdiction to try the case. His victims then turned to Belgium and, after a four-year investigation, a Belgian judge charged Habré in September 2005 with crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture. After Senegal rejected a Belgian extradition request, President Abdoulaye Wade accepted an AU request to put Habré on trial in Senegal.
On July 1, after years of discussions on the budget, the AU and the European Union announced that a donors' meeting had been set for sometime in October. Agreement has not been reached yet on the final budget, however.
Among the signatories of the petition are Richard Goldstone of South Africa, the first prosecutor of the UN war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda and head of the Gaza fact-finding commission, as well as the leading human rights organizations in Chad and Senegal, the Foundation for Human Rights of South Africa, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, the Kenya Human Rights Commission, and the Association Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme (DRC).