Week in Review: Habré judgment sets an example

Week in Review: Habré judgment sets an example©EAC
Habré before the Extraordinary African Chambers in Dakar
1 min 47Approximate reading time

The Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC) Appeals Court decision of April 27 confirming a life sentence on former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré for crimes against humanity was the major event of this week in transitional justice.

This verdict by the African court set up in Dakar, Senegal, by the African Union was hailed by defenders of human rights and justice both in Africa and the rest of the world.

Coming more than 30 years after the crimes were committed, the judgment has taken much time. But it vindicates the persistence and determination of Chadian victims who, with the help of NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and its legal adviser Reed Brody, have managed to overcome all the obstacles. It is also a validation for the principle of universal jurisdiction, applied for the first time by Africans in Africa against an African former Head of State. “This is a strong signal to other autocrats – I am thinking in particular of former Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh – that justice can be rendered even against former Heads of State,” says Philip Grant, director of Trial International, in an interview with JusticeInfo.net.  “Almost by definition, international justice leaves a sense of unfinished business, since the crimes are so terrible and widespread, and the perpetrators so many, remaining unpunished. But we will not hide our satisfaction today. It is by working patiently to build an international system that can bring concrete responses to crimes like those committed in Chad that tomorrow we will be able to try the Debys (Idriss Deby is current president of Chad), Bushes and Jammehs.”

Obstacles are even tougher for the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, a court created by the European Union which is struggling to get started. “Whereas the Extraordinary African Chambers enjoyed support from much of Chadian society and drew legitimacy from close cooperation of victims, the Kosovo Specialist Chambers do not have any of that and have only moderate cooperation from the European States that created them,” writes JusticeInfo’s editorial adviser Pierre Hazan. “The lesson is harsh: without the support of civil society and victims, in whose name justice is rendered, a criminal tribunal, even if it is regional, remains outside the country and remains faced with almost insurmountable obstacles.” 

Morocco is another example of how transitional justice and reconciliation processes can be handicapped by the authorities in place. “Reconciliation in Morocco reflects how the type of governance has not changed,” says anthropologist Zakaria Rhani in an enlightening interview with JusticeInfo.net. “It’s part of a continuing pattern. There has not been any regime change in our country, unlike in Tunisia, where the transitional justice process is taking place after deep political upheavals.” Hence the frustration and disappointment of victims in Morocco, where justice has been limited.

In other words, for there to be transitional justice, there needs to be a transition.