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Open letter to the international and African communities from the International Committee for the Fair Trial of Hissène Habré

(N’Djamena, Brussels, Dakar, April 15, 2008) - We write to draw your attention to Senegal’s long delay in opening proceedings against the former President of Chad, Hissène Habré. We appeal to the African and international communities to encourage Senegal to discharge the mandate it was given by the African Union, and to respect the decision issued by the United Nations Committee against Torture almost two years ago, calling for the trial of Hissène Habré.

" Almost two years after the Committee’s decision, and more than twenty months after the African Union mandate, Senegal has yet to initiate legal proceedings against Mr. Habré, although no legal barrier remains to this first step. "
The Steering Committee of the International Committee for the Fair Trial of Hissène Habré  
  
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The victims of the Habré dictatorship have been fighting for seventeen years to end the impunity enjoyed by their former president. Many are weak as a result of the torture they endured, and many among them die each year without having obtained justice. We write to relay their anguish and their doubts regarding Senegal’s political will to undertake Mr. Habré’s trial in keeping with the AU and UN decisions, which Senegal has yet to implement.  
 
On May 18, 2006, the UN Committee against Torture found Senegal in violation of the Convention against Torture and enjoined it to “to submit the present case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution or, failing that,” to extradite Hissène Habré. In July 2006, the African Union “mandate[d] the Republic of Senegal to prosecute and ensure that Hissène Habré is tried, on behalf of Africa,” to which President Abdoulaye Wade agreed.  
 
Almost two years after the Committee’s decision, and more than twenty months after the African Union mandate, Senegal has yet to initiate legal proceedings against Mr. Habré, although no legal barrier remains to this first step.  
 
We understand the scope of the challenge for Senegal, which must investigate mass crimes which were allegedly committed in another state more than seventeen years ago. We therefore anticipated the importance of external aid for Senegal and, as early as July 2006, encouraged the Senegalese authorities to articulate an official request for support from the international community; this request was finally presented in July 2007. In this regard, we salute the commitment of, amongst others, the European Commission, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, who have agreed to provide Senegal with technical and financial assistance.  
 
We also applaud the legal reforms adopted by Senegal, including the promulgation of laws in February 2007 and the constitutional amendment currently being voted, which make clear that Senegalese courts may prosecute acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes perpetrated in the past, including those committed outside of Senegal, thus lifting any legal barriers to the trial of Hissène Habré. However, this progress is rather thin considering the almost two years which have elapsed.  
 
The Senegalese authorities have said that they lack the necessary elements for the prosecutor to seize an investigating magistrate. However, we note that for the past two years Senegal has not taken any steps to gather these elements. Moreover, in November 2007, the victims’ lawyers submitted to the Ministry of Justice a three hundred-page synopsis of the crimes of which Mr. Habré is accused, as well as CD-ROMs containing several thousand documents from Mr. Habré’s political police. This is the same file which the victims’ lawyers had submitted to the Belgian investigating magistrate.  
 
The Senegalese government is now contemplating the possibility of sending a fact-finding mission to Brussels to gather elements from the Belgian case-file. Belgium, however – which on many occasions offered to transfer the results of its four-year probe to a Senegalese judge – will only be able to do so on the basis of letters rogatory, which in turn will only be possible after a Senegalese judicial investigation has been opened.  
 
Within the context of this build-up of delays, the recent nomination of the former coordinator of Hissène Habré’s legal team, Mr. Madické Niang, as Minister of Justice – a key position for the organization of the trial – does nothing to alleviate our concerns regarding Senegal’s political will to undertake this case. Already in 2000, President Wade had named Mr. Niang his Special Legal Counsel, even though Mr. Niang continued at the time as Mr. Habré’s lawyer. The Council of the Senegalese bar association reacted by deciding that Mr. Niang would be suspended from representing clients as long as he held public office. Following the Council decision, President Wade named Mr. Niang Legal Counsel for the government, a nomination which human rights groups considered a ruse.  
 
We have examined the recent report issued by the European Union (EU) experts’ mission regarding the preparation of the trial. We agree with the report’s conclusion that Senegal must define a prosecution strategy and work according to a precise calendar within a reasonable budget, as well as the suggestion that a Senegalese coordinator be named to pull together all the administrative and financial aspects and serve as the principal interlocutor for the international community. We also support the calls to create an expert coordination cell and an expert group in international criminal law, to define a communication and outreach strategy, and consider a reparations fund.  
 
On the other hand, we regret that the EU experts did not offer Senegal concrete assistance for the implementation of these recommendations; by failing to offer Senegal the technical assistance that it clearly needs, the beginning of the preparatory phase of the trial has again be set back for months. In order to promote the adoption by Senegal of the European mission’s recommendations, we encourage the EU to consider a follow-up mission to Senegal before the summer break.  
 
With regards to the African Union, we salute the nomination of a special envoy to monitor Senegal’s progress on this case. However, the impact of this nomination remains unclear. It was the AU which recommended that Mr. Habré be tried in Africa, rather than in Belgium which was prepared to try him two years ago. The AU now has a responsibility to follow up the mandate it gave to Senegal and to make sure that the trial does indeed take place in Africa.  
 
Considering that Hissène Habré was ousted more than seventeen years ago, that he was indicted by Senegalese courts eight years ago, and that with the lapse of each year the number of victims who die without having obtained justice increases, the time factor is a crucial element with regards to the credibility and impact of this trial.  
 
Habré’s trial, if fair and transparent, would be a milestone in the fight to hold the perpetrators of atrocities responsible for their crimes.  
 
We call upon Senegal’s partners to:  
• encourage Senegal to open a judicial investigation without further delay, and  
• offer Senegal the technical assistance it needs to carry out the recommendations of the European Union experts’ mission, and to prepare the investigation and trial.  
 
Without this international contribution, there is a real risk that the trial of Hissène Habré will be postponed indefinitely  
 
We thank you for your concern, and have the honour to remain,  
 
Yours truly,  
 
The Steering Committee of the International Committee for the Fair Trial of Hissène Habré:  
 
Jacqueline Moudeina (President of the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights – ATPDH),  
Reed Brody (counsel and spokesperson, Human Rights Watch),  
Souleymane Guengueng (Founding President of the Chadian Association of Victims of Political Repression and Crime – AVCRP),  
Alioune Tine (President of the Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme – RADDHO)
 

 
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