Arusha, December 20, 2012 (FH) – The Senegalese National Assembly Wednesday passed a law that will allow creation of a special African Union tribunal to try Hissène Habré. The former Chadian dictator is accused of crimes against humanity and torture during his eight years in power (1982-90).

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The law provides for special chambers to be created within the existing Senegalese court structure. This is in line with an agreement reached between Dakar and the African Union in August.

The move is welcomed by human rights groups. ‘‘The opening of the case against Hissène Habré has never seemed so close,” legal counsel for Human Rights Watch, Reed Brody, said in a statement. “In eight months Macky Sall’s government has accomplished more to reward the perseverance and tenacity of Habré’s victims than Senegal had over the course of two decades.”

Although Habré has been living in Senegal for 22 years, no proceedings against him were ever started under the previous president Abdoulaye Wade. He was charged in Belgium in 2005 with crimes against humanity and torture, but Senegal refused extradition requests.   The International Court of Justice ruled on July 21 that Senegal had breached its international obligations by failing to make immediately a preliminary inquiry into the facts relating to the crimes allegedly committed by Hissène Habré. It said Senegal must “without further delay, submit the case of Mr. Hissène Habré to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution, if it does not extradite him”.

President Sall, who was elected in April, promised to start proceedings against Habre before the end of the year. The BBC quotes an aide at the Senegalese justice ministry as saying the AU would now start appointing judges put forward by the justice ministry. The tribunal’s president would be from elsewhere in Africa and investigations into the case would last 15 months, after which a decision would be made whether to charge Habré, the justice ministry official is further quoted as saying.