Public debate at the University of Dakar: first lessons after the final verdict in the Habre case Reviewed by Momizat on . Dakar, Senegal, Friday, 28 April 2017 Following the delivery of the final judgement on appeal in the case of Chad’s former president Hissein Habré, the Outreach Dakar, Senegal, Friday, 28 April 2017 Following the delivery of the final judgement on appeal in the case of Chad’s former president Hissein Habré, the Outreach Rating: 0

Public debate at the University of Dakar: first lessons after the final verdict in the Habre case

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DEBAT PUBLICDakar, Senegal, Friday, 28 April 2017

Following the delivery of the final judgement on appeal in the case of Chad’s former president Hissein Habré, the Outreach Consortium for the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC), in partnership with the Human Rights and Peace Forum (IDHP), organised a debate at Dakar’s University’s law faculty. The debate was attended by nearly 150 students, legal professionals and lawyers and attracted wide coverage in the Senegalese press.

This was part of a series of exchanges and reflections on the EAC which have been developed over the last three years in Senegal, in Chad, as well as in Africa and Europe by the three partner organisations of the Outreach Consortium for the Extraordinary African Chambers. “The debate is an additional activity undertaken following the conclusion of the case with the aim of helping students realise the importance of discussing the issues involved in the case, a case whose impact on domestic and international law must lead to more peaceful relations in society and the world over,” said the moderator, El Hadj Omar Diop, a professor of public law. He then went on to recall the highlights of the appeal verdict.

Three victims – Clément Abaïfouta, Souleymane Guengueng and Abdouramane Gueye – sat in the front row of the amphitheatre; their presence was testimony that this is truly unique case in the history of international courts in the sense that it was triggered by the victims complaints. Reed Brody, Counsel for Human Rights Watch, commended the victims, recalling that “he had the honour to support them for seventeen years”. The case was made possible by the perseverance and dogged persistence of those victims who came to Senegal in 2000 to lodge complaints against Mr. Habré. They are the ones who convinced the political leaders to accord them justice. And as it turned out, the trial did reflect the repression carried out during the Habré regime, all that thanks Prosecutor General Macky Fall’s capacity to listen, says Brody.

“If Habré victims have been able to do it, others also can”

Those victims now feel a great sense of pride and bravery for having participated in the implementation of justice, not only as witnesses but also as architects of the case. The victims who are here attending the debate just returned from a meeting in Gambia where they met victims of former president Yahya Jammeh’s regime. They reassured them that their complaints will bear fruit. “If Habré victims have been able to do it, others also can”, encourages Reed Brody. After the EAC’s decision on the appeal, they still have one right to assert: that of obtaining reparations. The battle has now begun, that of locating Hissein Habré’s funds, as the per Appeals Chamber’s order to the Trust Fund.

Sharon Weill from Sciences Po Paris and Kim Thuy Seelinger from the University of California at Berkeley have embarked on a joint research project concerning the impact of the EAC on the domestic legal system. They explained their project to the Senegalese students. The project will culminate in a collective publication, to be prepared by the stakeholders in the case. According to the researchers, the case was marked by tension between, on the one hand, political considerations in Senegal and Chad, and, on the other, Senegal’s domestic law, according to which the case was litigated, and international law, according to which the charges were characterised. According to Sharon Weill, “This case will go down in annals of international justice, because it highlights the important role that international courts play in the fight against impunity.”

“It’s all interrelated,” opined Alioune Tine, head of Amnesty International for Senegal. “You cannot dissociate the EAC from the International Criminal Court (ICC), given that Senegal was the first country in Africa to ratify the Rome Statute.” He recalled further that it was important to take account of the political aspect, in that the activists were able to use the changeover from President Abdoulaye Wade to President Macky Sall to gain victory. “It is important to recognise that now, we are building capacity for effective justice right here in Africa whereas the ICC is on a downward spiral. We must create conditions for hearing cases right here, and the EAC is sending a strong message to African leaders through the victims.”

The victims’ Trust Fund at the heart of reparations agenda

The participants were asked to air their views after the Consortium’s communication expert had outlined the features of outreach concerning the Extraordinary African Chambers, through which populations were kept abreast of developments regarding the trial, which was closely followed, not only in Chad, but also all across Africa. Souleymane Guengueng left his mark on the Hissein Habré trial, because swore by the Almighty God as he languished in prison that he would work for justice if he was released. Holding his head high, with his trademark hat, he said that he was “on board with the idea of a hybrid court”. We must encourage both national courts and international courts to work hand in hand, to ensure that dictators have no way out. According to him, the best way to thwart larcenous leaders is to place the victims’ Trust Fund at the heart of the reparations agenda, recognise the victims and seize Hissein Habré’s assets. Investigating Judge Julien Ndour asked how the investigative judges were able to complete the investigation by issuing an indictment against Hissein Habré whereas they were unable to enforce the warrants for the arrest of the other suspects. Ndiegnene, a lawyer, said that he was pleased to note that Senegal’s justice system was able to rise up to the challenge of attending to the needs of that distressed Chadian victims, but had reservations as to whether it was fair to force the accused to appear for trial. He said, “In this instance, the interest of justice did not serve the accused but rather the victims. Yes, we ought to hold trials in Africa, but we must do so within the bounds of the law, as is the case everywhere else.” Students asked questions about the challenges arising from use of a dual national law and international law procedural approach; the divorce between Africa and the ICC; whether the Chadian people felt that the conclusion of the case also meant that the work is completed or was yet to be completed.

By way of conclusion, professor Diop said: “The EAC raises some important issues and represents a key step in building a model of universal justice at a time when the international community and civil society are engaged in a struggle against the perpetration of mass crimes. But that model must reflect the commonly accepted idea of justice. Any replication of the Senegalese experience must take account of its limits and shortcomings, to ensure a sound justice system for the future.”

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