What does it say about the way international justice works, when the accused has to be dragged into the courtroom by force?
Hissène Habré, the former president of Chad, is on trial for torture in a special court in Senegal. He refuses to accept the court’s legitimacy. He refused to turn up and had to be carried in. And he spent the first full day of his trial – according to tweets from Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch – shouting “shut up, shut up” while the clerk of the court read out the indictment against him.
Just refusing to listen to the charges isn’t the only way Habré is trying to challenge the court. His own lawyers – the ones he says are representing him, as opposed to the ones the court finally appointed – have filed complaint after complaint to the court, saying that Habré has been singled out as:
“the one who should be put on trial through a political decision on a mandate that violates judicial decisions in his favour handed down in Senegal in 2000 and 2001.”
They argue that this is a political show trial, rigged by a combination of Chad and Senegal, with the connivance of the African Union.
Habré is not the first political leader to say that international justice tribunals seem only to spring up when politically expedient. The Yugoslav tribunal was also challenged from its start in 1992 while the Bosnian war and other conflicts were still going on in the Balkans. That’s why the ICC was started – a permanent institution, which was meant to be able to make decisions relatively free from temporary biases.
But despite the ICC’s prosecutor’s continued declarations about impartiality, the reality still looks one-sided if you are based, for example, in Ivory Coast or Uganda, where either one party to a conflict is being put on trial or the most senior people seem to escape justice.
Having to pull someone kicking and screaming into a courtroom doesn’t in fact mean that the system is biased. In fact it’s more symbolic than that. Systems may be flawed. Justice may be delayed. It’s not perfect. But for those who suffered – for the 4,000 or so torture survivors who are taking part in the proceedings, some of whom have made it their life’s work to get to this stage, the fact that a man is being forced to hear the details of what was allegedly done in his name is the only important thing.
Emanuele del Rosso is a cartoonist for Justice Hub.