African Rights Court’s Disappointing First Decision

In its first ruling since being established by the African Union in 2006, the Tanzania-based African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights last week declared itself incompetent to rule
on a petition regarding the planned trial of former Chadian President Hissene Habré for crimes against humanity.

Chadian national Micholet Yogogombaye brought the suit in an effort to halt a planned trial in Senegal, where Habré has lived since losing power in 1990. Yogogombaye instead endorsed the idea of a South African-style truth commission to deal with charges related to the tens of thousands tortured and killed during Habré’s reign. The court concluded, “Senegal has not accepted the jurisdiction of the Court to hear cases instituted directly against the country by individuals or non-governmental organizations,” and therefore it lacked proper jurisdiction to hear the case.

“This is a situation that is not satisfactory but we cannot reach the top immediately. Things are expected to evolve,” Judge Jean Mutsinz, the court’s chairman, told Africa News after the decision was announced.

Senegal has repeatedly said it will take no legal action on any of the complaints against Habré until international funding to cover court costs is provided.

Habré ruled Chad from 1982 until he was deposed in 1990 by current President Idriss Déby Itno. He subsequently fled to Senegal. His one-party regime was marked by widespread atrocities, including campaigns of violence against ethnic groups, according to Human Rights Watch.

Human rights and survivors’ groups have been pushing for a trial against Habré for more than a decade.