The trial of Hissène Habré, former President of Chad, which opened in Dakar, Senegal, on July 20 marks a new step in trans-national law. Habré will be tried in a specially constituted court created by a treaty between the African Union and the State of Senegal. The court is modeled on the statues of the International Criminal Court (ICC), but is to deal only with cases concerning Africans. It will be important to see if this new African court will be a one-time institution for the Habré trial or if it becomes a permanent institution of world law.
The ICC has been criticized by some African leaders as being overly focused on Africans. Arrests and arrest warrants have been issued nearly exclusively against Africans. However, Africa is the only continent where state institutions have totally disappeared (Somalia, Central African Republic, Libya) or where vast areas of a State are not under the control of the central government (the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the northeast areas of Nigeria). In addition, there are a good number of African States where the court system is so under the control of the executive that “fair trials” are out of question.
Thus, if African leaders were reluctant to see the ICC take on new African cases, an “all-African” alternative had to be created, even if it is nearly identical in the types of crimes to be judged and the way that evidence is to be collected. The judges in Dakar have already interviewed some 2,500 persons even before the trial started.