Time for Justice in Senegal

September 17, 2010

For more than 10 years, victims of former Chadian president Hissène Habré have been waiting for justice. Since he was chased from power in 1990, Habré has been living in Senegal, where, despite being charged by the Dakar regional court in 2000 for crimes against humanity, acts of torture and acts of barbarism, he continues to enjoy impunity for his crimes.

Habré’s role in the violation of human rights in Chad has been well documented. In 1992, a Truth Commission Report concluded that 40,000 political murders and 200,000 cases of torture occurred in Chad while Habré was president. And in 2005, Habré was indicted by a Belgian court for war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture.

While Senegal has taken some very positive steps towards ensuring Habré will face trial, such as arresting him in 2005 and subsequently reforming its laws to remove any legal obstacles to his trial, the fact that his trial still hasn’t begun is unacceptable. Every month, new victims, or relatives of victims, die without having seen Habré brought to trial. But Senegal’s president Abdoulaye Wade keeps making excuses, claiming a lack of funds to start the trial and demanding that the international community finance the trial before it can start.

Sadly, the story of struggle for justice in Senegal doesn’t stop here. The continuous postponement of Habré’s trial is just one example of the reticence of the Senegalese authorities to break the taboo of impunity in Senegal. Amnesty’s latest report, Senegal: Land of Impunity, explains in detail how the Senegalese justice system has made little improvements over the past three decades, letting human rights violators benefit from a deeply entrenched culture of impunity.

For common law detainees, groups arrested because of their alleged political opinions or sexuality and victims of Hissène Habré alike, victims find their way blocked by a wall of impunity. Until that wall is broken down, the people of Senegal can have no confidence in the country’s police, judiciary or government – Salvatore Saguès, West Africa researcher at Amnesty International

It is time for Senegal’s government to stop evading its international obligations to bring human rights violators to justice – and finally starting Hissène Habré’s trial would be a great first step.

Sign our petition today to ask Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade to try Hissène Habré. President Wade will be in Vermont on Sunday to meet with several high ranking state officials, including Vermont Governor Jim Douglas, so this is a perfect time to let him know Habré must be brought to justice.