Africa can prove its case

20 July 2015 - 02:02 By Reuters

With many Africans denouncing the International Criminal Court as "white man's justice", the trial of Chad's former dictator in Senegal on charges of crimes against humanity offers the continent a chance to show it can hold its leaders to account. The start of the trial of Hissene Habre today concludes a 15-year battle by victims and rights campaigners to bring the former strongman to justice in Senegal, where he fled after being toppled in a 1990 coup.Habre, backed by Washington as a bulwark against Libya's Muammar Gaddafi in the 1980s, is blamed by rights groups for widespread torture and the killing of up to 40000 people during the eight years he ruled the impoverished central African nation.Though African presidents have been tried in their own countries for crimes committed in office, Habre's trial marks the first time that a court in one country has prosecuted the former ruler of another on rights charges, according to Human Rights Watch.It comes a month after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's escape from an international arrest warrant in South Africa marked a new low in relations between Africa and the International Criminal Court in The Hague.The court was embraced by many African governments when it was set up in 2002, but attitudes changed after it indicted only Africans, prompting many to label it a Western-controlled, neo-colonial institution."This is a chance to show that an African court can deliver justice for African victims for crimes committed in Africa," said Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch, who has pursued the Habre case since 1999.The case will be heard by a Special African Chamber set up in 2013 by Senegal and the African Union.The case turns on whether Habre ordered the large-scale assassination and torture of political opponents and ethnic rivals.But Habre and his lawyers intend to boycott the trial, saying there has been no due process. They say the 72-year-old has a heart condition, though the court could still oblige him to attend."In this affair from the outset it has been that Hissene Habre is guilty and let us find evidence that justifies this," said his lawyer Ibrahima Diawara. "None of the victims, if we are calling them that, ever saw Hissene Habre. They never met him."A credible verdict in the trial would strengthen African countries' case that they are best placed to try their own.

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