Trial proceedings against former Chadian President Hissène Habré resumed this week at the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC) following postponement very shortly after the July 20, 2015 start date. Long-time observer of war crimes tribunals Thierry Cruvellier, who recently spoke at the Handa Center, described the trial as perhaps “the most important event in the field of international criminal justice this year.” The EAC is essentially a national Senegalese court, but it is also based on a treaty between the African Union and Senegal, manifested in the presence of two non-Senegalese African judges on the benches of the EAC. (Q&A from Human Rights Watch on the Habré case.)
In the summer of 2015, the Handa Center assisted University of Hawai’i Law Student Katherine Vessels with a two-month placement in Dakar to support trial monitoring efforts at the Extraordinary African Chambers. Together with Handa Center affiliate Christoph Sperfeldt, who visited Dakar for the opening of the trial, Vessels held a series of meetings with local and international partners, including Rencontre Africain pour la Défence des Droits de l’Homme (RADDHO), Coalition Sénégalaise pour le Jugement Equitable de Hissène Habré (COSEJEHAB), and Human Rights Watch (HRW).
As a result of these meetings, Vessels and the Handa Center began assisting local trial monitoring efforts by COSEJEHAB and RADDHO. With support provided by Trust Africa, a training for local trial monitors was organized in August. Drawing on over a decade of experience monitoring war crimes trials, the Handa Center provided training manuals, administrative planning documents, and note-taking and report templates for the Coalition’s trial monitoring team. After the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed interest in helping ensure the success of the EAC’s trial monitoring program, the Handa Center also provided the Coalition with Trial Monitoring Manual published by the OHCHR in French.
The training was conducted with 16 monitors selected from eight local NGOs. It involved a practical exercise in which the trainees observed recorded proceedings from the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) – a hybrid international tribunal in Southeast Asia where the Handa Center maintains a trial monitoring team – and took notes as if they were observing as trial monitors. To further prepare the 16 monitors and engage several students from local universities, Trust Africa, COSEJEHAB, and Vessels planned a second session of trial monitoring training. The students received the “Core Principles” training, and all of the monitors were able to engage in a mock reporting exercise.
The local trial monitoring team continues to work with the Handa Center, HRW, and the OHCHR as the tribunal continues and had monitors present this week as the proceedings at the EAC resumed.