On 18 November, The Hague Institute for Global Justice and Africa Legal Aid (AFLA) organized a side event to the 15th Session of the Assembly of States Parties on the trial of Hissène Habré, former President of the Republic of Chad. The recent withdrawal announcements made by certain African States raised concerns about the state of international criminal justice. However, as Ms. Evelyn A. Ankumah, Executive Director, AFLA, stated in her introduction, the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC) are proof that there is indeed hope for international criminal justice and of the important role Africa can play.
H.E. Mirjam Blaak-Sow, Ugandan Ambassador to the Benelux and the EU moderated the panel composed of the Honorable Mbacké Fall, Chief Prosecutor of the EAC; Reed Brody, former Spokesperson for Human Rights Watch; Jacqueline Moudeina Executive Director, Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights; and Kim Thuy Seelinger Director, Sexual Violence Program, Human Rights Center, Lecturer, Berkeley School of Law. Dr. Aaron Matta, senior researcher at The Hague Institute, was the event director.
Mbacké Fall gave an overview of the problems faced by the international criminal justice system and the place of the EAC therein. He reiterated the need for a strong message of support from the international community for the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Prosecutor discussed how, with complementarity, African States and the ICC could work together in order to combat impunity. He used the example of the EAC to demonstrate how African States themselves were able to make sure crimes did not go unpunished. For the future, the two main challenges, according to Fall, are the obtaining of funds in order to be able to prosecute and the relatively weak state of current international judicial cooperation.
Reed Brody and Jacqueline Moudeina then proceeded to examine the events leading up to the conviction of Hissène Habré. Both underlined the important role of the victims in making sure Habré was held accountable for the crimes he committed. Mr. Brody detailed the 20 years of political negotiations and judicial battles that were necessary before Senegal finally resolved to take the necessary measures for the prosecution of Habré. Ms. Moudeina explained how every stage of the prosecution faced major problems, however being able to convince rape victims to travel from Chad to Senegal in order to testify against Habré was a major achievement. Mr. Brody reminded the participants of the fact that Habré is the first head of state ever to be personally convicted of rape. Both experts emphasized that the final verdict was a major victory for Habré’s victims. Mr. Brody concluded that it is important that the innovations of the EAC are carried forward into the evolving regime of international criminal justice.
Ms. Seelinger added to the discussion by listing the “three surprise gifts” she considers the Habré trial produced. Firstly, the victims’ testimony and the importance thereof in convicting Habré. Secondly, the revision of the charges against Habré in order to include the acts of sexual violence committed. This requalification was made possible after Ms. Seelinger and her team presented the EAC judges with an amicus brief detailing the revision. The third surprise was the judgement itself, which is a step further in ensuring that sexually based crimes do not go unpunished.
All in all, despite the numerous challenges faced in bringing Habré to justice and despite the threats to the entire system of international criminal justice, the panelists agreed that the EAC is an important step in ending impunity and in the fight for international justice.