Trying Hissène Habré: international justice in Senegal’s courts

Over the past two weeks, the investigating chamber (chambre d’instruction) of the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegalese court system, undertook a mission in Chad as part of its case against former Chadian president, Hissène Habré. Habré has been indicted by the court for crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture committed in Chad from June 7th, 1982 to December 1st, 1990.

The Chambers came about after years of negotiations between and decisions by Senegal, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other players – including the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT), the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and Belgium. The Chambers were eventually created after a July 2012 ruling by the ICJ (Justice in Conflict blogged about the case in March 2012 here; iLawyer has a great analysis of the decision here) that Senegal – where Habré fled to after being overthrown in 1990 – was obligated to prosecute Habré if it did not extradite him to Belgium, where courts had been  trying to prosecute him for years.

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The situation in CAR in regional and historical context

For a few days now, worrying reports have come out of the Central African Republic (CAR) regarding advances by rebels. With substantial interests in the stability of the CAR (see more below), France called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Wednesday, March 20th. In a statement issued the same day, the UN Security Council closed with the following:

The members of the Security Council expressed serious concerns at reports of human rights violations and abuses, in particular reports on the targeting of persons belonging to ethnic minorities and illegal detentions, and at the continued violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including recruitment and use of children in armed conflict and sexual and gender-based violence.  They emphasized that such activities must cease immediately and that those responsible for such violations and abuses should be held accountable.

At the time of writing, reports are coming in that the rebels – known as the Seleka rebel coalition – have entered Bangui, the capital, last night (Saturday), after fighting with Chadian and South African troops, and may have even taken the Presidential palace. It is also being reported that France has sent an additional 150 troops to help keep control over the airport in Bangui, where 250 troops were already stationed.

While I’m not an expert of the Seleka rebel coalition – and there are plenty of news stories and analytical pieces floating around that can explain it very well – I thought it would be interesting to discuss the regional and historical context (see below) for CAR’s current predicament, as well as clarify some of the military aspects which are being referenced to. A lot of the news pieces I’ve seen so far seem to say a lot, without going into details and I find them quite confusing. So here we go.

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