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African Union, Senegal create special tribunal to try former Chad dictator

The African Union (AU) [official website, English] and the government of Senegal on Wednesday signed an agreement creating a special tribunal in Dakar to try 69-year-old ex-Chadian dictator Hissene Habre [JURIST news archive] for killing and torturing thousands of political opponents during his reign from 1982 to 1990. The agreement calls for "Extraordinary African Chambers" to be created inside the existing Senegalese court structure [HRW report] in Dakar that will have sections to handle investigations, trials and appeals. The trial and appellate levels will each have two Senegalese judges and a president from another African country. While Habre is the only individual expected to be tried before the new tribunal, its official mandate will be to prosecute those most responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990, including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. A 1992 truth commission report in Chad said that during his time in power Habre presided over up to 40,000 political murders [AFP report] and widespread torture. The newly created tribunal is expected to be operational by the end of the year.

Habre fled to Senegal after being deposed in 1990 and denies charges of killing and torturing tens of thousands of his opponents after coming to power in a bloody coup in 1982. The AU began talks with Senegal to come up with a plan for Habre's trial after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] ruled [JURIST report] in July that Senegal must either try Habre promptly or extradite him to Belgium for trial. The court's legally binding order also noted that Senegal had failed to make serious efforts to prosecute Habre, who has been been under house arrest there since 2005. In March lawyers for the Belgian government asked [JURIST report] the ICJ to force Senegal to bring Habre to trial in Belgium. In July 2011 Senegal reversed its decision to deport Habre [JURIST report] back to Chad after UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] warned of possible torture. That month Pillay issued the plea [JURIST report] to stay Habre's deportation to Chad after the nation's courts sentenced him to death in absentia.

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