War crimes and crimes against humanity were much at issue this week in courtrooms and elsewhere. Firstly in the historic trial of former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré, which has been taking place before a special court in Dakar since July.
Habré, exiled in Senegal, is on trial for crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture committed under his rule (1982-1990).
On Monday, Spanish former judge Baltasar Garzon, who obtained the London arrest of ex-Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, made a notable visit to the trial and spoke to the press.
Garzon hailed the existence of this special court, saying it is “a model that could well serve to complete regional justice in cases that have not been taken up by the International Criminal Court (ICC)”.
It seems that the provisional calendar the Court had set will not be respected given the numerous witnesses who still have to testify. The Court had planned that the testimonies of civil parties, presentation of the prosecution and defence cases take place between October 19 and 27. Habré is boycotting the trial.
A special court like the one trying Habré is one of the proposals put forward after the publication five years ago of a United Nations “mapping report” on crimes committed in the former Zaire, now Democratic Republic of Congo, between 1993 and 2003. This report examines serious crimes committed over that ten-year period, detailing cases of massacres, sexual violence and attacks on children, and other abuses committed by a host of armed groups, including foreign armies, rebels and Congolese government forces. The report concludes that most of these crimes could be classified as war crimes and crimes against humanity. When the report came out in 2010, several international organizations called for judicial follow-up. But five years later, nothing has happened. According to French lawyer Vincent Courcelle-Labrousse in an interview with JusticeInfo.Net, this constitutes “a tragic abdication of responsibility and wilfully turning a blind eye” by the international community, which has been intimidated by “emotional blackmail” on the part of Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Courcelle-Labrousse says this intimidation “still weighs heavily on any desire to bring justice for the massive crimes committed in the DRC in 1996-1997” by elements of the current Rwandan army.
Mass crimes were also committed after 2010-2011 elections in Côte d’Ivoire, where voters went to the polls Sunday for the first presidential polls since then.
Incumbent President Alassane Ouattara hopes to win a victory in the first round, in polls that could be marked by high abstention.
The 2010-2011 post-election violence stemmed from the refusal of then-president Laurent Gbagbo to recognize Ouattara’s victory. Gbagbo, whose shadow continues to hang over Ivorian politics, is currently detained by the ICC in The Hague, where he awaits the start of his crimes against humanity trial on November 10 this year.
Finally Germany, or at least the Germany of current Chancellor Angela Merkel, is not ready to forget or shake off responsibility for its role in the Nazi Holocaust. Berlin stressed this on Wednesday, following claims by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that it was the mufti of Jerusalem at the time who suggested to Hitler exterminating the Jews of Europe. “We don’t see any reason to change our view of history,” said Merkel. “Germany abides by its responsibility for the Holocaust.”