Senegal's newly-created Extraordinary African Chambers officially opened on Friday to prepare for the prosecution of former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre [BBC backgrounder]. Senegal's national assembly adopted a law in December allowing for the creation of the special tribunal [JURIST report] with the support of the African Union (AU) [official website] and financial assistance from the European Union and the US [Bloomberg report]. The Extraordinary African Chambers will operate within the existing Senegalese court structure in Dakar and will have sections to handle investigations, trials and appeals. Habre is accused of administering thousands of political killings during his eight-year rule from 1982 to 1990. Seven victims filed a criminal complaint [complaint, in French] against him in January 2000, and a Senegalese court indicted him. However, the case was dismissed on appeal [ruling, in French] for a lack of jurisdiction. Habre's trial in the new tribunal will not begin until the prosecution completes its investigation, which will begin next week and is expected to last 15 months.
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) 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 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.