Senegal, AU seal deal on ex-Chad dictator trial

August 23, 2012 - 3:40 AM

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Senegal and the African Union have finalized a deal on how to try a former Chadian dictator who is accused of ordering thousands of political opponents to be tortured or killed.

The move announced Wednesday comes about a month after preliminary agreement was reached. Earlier in July, the International Court of Justice had ordered Senegal to try Hissene Habre or extradite him after years of delays.

"We are one step closer to justice today," said Alioune Tine, president of the Dakar-based African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights (RADDHO). "We're counting on Senegal and the African Union to move quickly now and to begin Habre's trial before even more survivors die."

The Senegalese government has said it intends to start proceedings against Habre before the end of the year. Under the deal finalized Wednesday, an African magistrate will preside over the special court in Senegal and will be assisted by two Senegalese judges.

"The holding of these proceedings will show that Africa can try Africa," said Robert Dossou, the AU representative who signed the deal along with Senegal's justice minister.

Habre ruled the Central African nation of Chad from 1982-1990 and sought exile in Senegal after being ousted from power, where has has kept a low-profile while living in a posh villa in an upscale neighborhood.

A Chadian truth commission has accused Habre of more than 40,000 political killings during his eight-year rule, and a court there already has sentenced him to death in absentia.

Habre has since become a symbol of impunity in Africa, living freely in Senegal despite an indictment on charges of crimes against humanity.

In 2005, Belgium indicted Habre based on complaints filed there by survivors of his regime. Brussels then brought Senegal before the court in The Hague after Senegalese authorities failed to extradite him. Habre's Senegalese-based lawyer dismissed the international court's ruling as a "new kind of judicial imperialism."