Earlier this year Hissène Habré, the long-time president of Chad who ruled from 1982 to 1990, was convicted of war crimes by an African court of justice. This made it the first time an African head of state was tried and convicted by an African Tribunal.
Recall that three African nations recently withdrew from the International Criminal Court, an international judicial institution which was set up to prosecute the world’s worst crimes.
Burundi, South Africa, and the Gambia made the decision to pull out of the ICC, citing neo-colonialist tendencies of the organization, which seems to target only African heads of state. The rancor began in 2015 when Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir, who was wanted for war crimes committed in Darfur, visited South Africa.
As a member of the ICC, South Africa was expected to arrest President Bashir while he attended the African Union summit and hand him over to the ICC, but South Africa refused. This turned into a diplomatic squabble that saw South Africa announcing to withdraw from the ICC.
Their decision to leave the Hague-based institution has caused two camps; one which supports their decision, and the other which believes they should remain and restructure the ICC.
The current African Union chairperson, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, seems to belong to the former, citing the Hissène Habré case as an example of what the African Union is capable of doing on its own – without the aid of the ICC.
The Chadian who prosecuted Hissène Habré, Jacqueline Moudeina, told Al Jazeera in a documentary that being able to try the former Chadian president was a “turning point”
In the forthcoming Al Jazeera documentary titled, Hissène Habré: Dictator on Trial, she said:
“Getting to a point where we can try Hissène Habré is a turning point for Africa… It’s a turning point in justice. Africa is taking its responsibilities seriously when it comes to its own children massacring their population.”
However, Moudeina does not link the success of the trial of Habre to the African Union.
“We were so naïve; today I laugh at our naivety. On our side, we had the legal base that was needed. It was the convention against torture. All the necessary conditions were met to put Hissène Habré on trial. But he was a former African head of state and the African Union is nothing but a union of African heads of state who cover for each other.”