Senegal may finally try Habre

2008-07-24 10:39

Dakar - Senegal lifted the last constitutional obstacle to its courts trying former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre for human rights crimes, said the Senegalese Minister of Justice on Wednesday.

The West African country's upper and lower legislative chambers passed an empowering bill and appointed four judges, paving the way for legal proceedings to start against Habre, who was accused of torturing and killing opponents during his 1982-1990 rule in Chad.

Senegal, where Habre had lived since his overthrow, was ordered by the African Union two years ago to try the Chadian, in what campaigners said would be the first time one developing nation had tried someone for human rights abuses in another.

"We have witnessed a joint session of the parliament, which gave us the legal basis to try President Habre," Justice Minister Madicke Niang said.

He was speaking after the National Assembly and Senate passed a bill allowing Senegal's courts to try crimes either committed abroad or more than 10 years in the past.

'This is a very positive step'

Niang said: "I have appointed four investigative judges, those judges will know about the case."

"We have moved forward a great deal. We are completing all the steps that would lead us to the start of the trial," he said, without naming the judges.

Human rights campaigners welcomed Wednesday's move.

"This is a very positive step. It's been eight years since Habre was first indicted, but it now looks like Senegal is finally rolling up its sleeves," said Reed Brody, a lawyer with the United States-based Human Rights Watch.

"There are still a number of crucial decisions Senegal has to make. It's very important that Senegal circumscribes the charges and puts forward a plan, a calendar and a budget so justice can actually be achieved," he said.

In May, Senegal appointed top judge Ibrahima Gueye as trial coordinator, in line with recommendations from a European Union legal expert advising the government.

The overall cost of the trial had been estimated at 18 billion CFA, ($43.22m) most of which was expected to be paid by international donors, but Niang said that so far, Senegal alone had paid trial expenses of one billion CFA.