Widows protest in the Chadian capital, N'Djamena, demanding the extradition of Hissène Habré to Belgium to face charges of crimes against humanity.

© 2005 Madjiasra Nako/IRIN

(Dakar) - A meeting of international donors in Dakar on November 24, 2010, to finance the prosecution of Hissène Habré is a potential turning point in the long campaign to bring the former Chadian dictator to justice, a coalition of human rights organizations said today.

Proceedings against the exiled dictator have been held up for years due to Senegal's insistence on full up-front international funding. The meeting is expected to result in pledges to match the US$11.7 million (€8.59 million) budget presented by the African Union and the European Union. The Senegalese government has said that it will begin pretrial proceedings once it receives the funding.

"After so many years of tenacity and disappointments, Hissène Habré's victims can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel," said Reed Brody, counsel for Human Rights Watch, who works with the victims. "Senegal needs to get the proceedings under way before even more survivors die."

Habré is accused of thousands of political killings and systematic torture when he ruled Chad, from 1982 to 1990, before fleeing to Senegal. Habré was first indicted in Senegal in February 2000, but Senegalese courts ruled that he could not be tried there. His victims then turned to Belgium and, after a four-year investigation, a Belgian judge in September 2005 sought his extradition. On July 2, 2006, the African Union said it would instead "mandate" Senegal to prosecute Habré "on behalf of Africa," and President Abdoulaye Wade declared that Senegal would do so. For years, however, Senegal has said that it would not process the case until it received €27 million, its estimate of the costs, from the international community.

After lengthy negotiations, the AU and EU presented the budget of roughly €8.59 million. The budget foresees a 20-month pretrial investigation and a 5-month trial. The AU, the EU, Belgium, Chad, the Netherlands, and the United States have already indicated that they will make significant contributions to the trial, and other contributions are expected.

Special rules need to be put in place to prosecute mass crimes by a former head of state of another country, said Human Rights Watch, the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (ATPDH), the Dakar-based African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights (RADDHO-Senegal), and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). The groups called on Senegal and the AU for the rapid conclusion of an agreement on witness and victim protection, immunity for "insider" witnesses, and the broadcast of proceedings to Chad.

Senegal had said that it did not want to be involved in handling funds for the trial. Under the funding plan, contributions will be deposited in an AU-controlled bank account. A management committee, with representatives from Senegal, the AU, the EU, and leading donors, will supervise the distribution of funds.

"A fair trial for Habré in Senegal could be a milestone in the fight to hold the perpetrators of atrocities in Africa accountable for their crimes," said Alioune Tine, president of RADDHO.

The groups said that one of the major challenges to maximizing the impact of Habré's trial would be to ensure its accessibility to the Chadian people. The budget includes a significant amount for outreach, press information, and trial monitoring activities.

"Holding Habré's trial thousands of miles away from the victims and the country he ruled will require significant outreach to make sure that people in Chad know and understand what is happening and that the trial stimulates their own understanding of the past and the search for justice," said Dobian Assingar, the Honorary President of the Chadian League for Human Rights and Representative of the FIDH.