Senegal & Chad: The Future of Accountability In Africa.

Senegal & Chad: The Future of Accountability In Africa.

The former dictator of Chad, Hissène Habré, is currently on trial in Senegal on charges of crimes against humanity, torture and war crimes.

Habré’s trial will be the first in the world in which the courts of one country prosecute the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes. It will also be the first universal jurisdiction case to proceed to trial in Africa. Universal jurisdiction is a concept under international law that allows national courts to prosecute the most serious crimes even when committed abroad, by a foreigner and against foreign victims. A most recent example of this has been attempts by Spain to extradite the Rwandan security chief.

Habré was president of of Chad from 1982 until he was deposed in 1990 by Idriss Déby Itno, the current president. Habré has been living in exile in Senegal ever since.

This was all made possible by the establishment in Senegal of a purpose built court system called the Extraordinary Africa Chambers. A third of the funding has come from Chad (no doubt incentivised to ensure his imprisonment) and the remainder from Western nations.

Although, Habre will be tried within the Senegalese court system, the trial will have a distinctly international character with the judges appointed by the African Union.

The trial is not only a milestone in African human rights law but is likely to lay down a marker for the dwindling number of African dictators, as to the direction the winds of change on the continent are blowing. However, for those who have concerns on the reach of countries exercising laws of universality. There is some crumbs of comfort for those concerned that universal jurisdiction in Africa could give rise to a worrying trend. In London recently, the courts dismissed the extradition request by the Spanish judiciary to extradite the Rwandan Security Chief for crimes against humanity committed after 1994. His legal team supported by Cherie Blaire, the wife of the former UK Prime Minister, convinced the court that universal jurisdiction should not apply under UK law, and therefore their client should not be extradited.

For those considering investing in the region juridical accountability is likely tobe positive news. Sustained economic growth and good governance are not mutually exclusive but complimentary, despite arguments to the contrary from some quarters.