by Allanah Leahy – EM TV Online
Experts have said democracy cannot be measured, but 40 per cent of the world’s population remain under dictatorships, many of them in the world’s second largest and second-most populous continent of Africa.
The trial of former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre, began today in Senegal, concluding a 15-year legal battle for justice. Rights groups hold Habre responsible for torturing and killing up to 40,000 people during his eight-year rule, which was backed by the United States and France in a stance against Muammar Gaddafi’s dictator regime in neighbouring Libya.
“This is a chance to show that an African court can deliver justice for African victims for crimes committed in Africa. It’s one thing to complain about having abusive African presidents sent to the Hague. It’s another thing to show that they can be prosecuted and get a fair trial here in Africa,” said Reed Brody, a Human Rights Watch counsel.
A critical part of the case will be determining whether Habre, who fled to Senegal after being overthrown in 1990, ordered a large-scale assassination and torture of political opponents and rival ethnic groups. 100 victims are to testify at the trial, but Habre’s lawyers announced that he would not appear at the trial due to a heart condition, while condemning its guilty outset.
“We think that if our client is to be judged, it should be in accordance with rules that apply to international tribunals respecting the highest standards including the presumption of innocence and the right to defence. But in this affair, from the outset, it has been ‘Hissene Habre is guilty and let’s go out and find evidence that justifies this guilt’,” said Ibrahima Diawara, one of Hissene Habre’s lawyers.
Human rights activists in Senegal are positive that the trial is fair, as it will be a model for African justice.