Claiming Universal Jurisdiction in Senegal

Hissène Habré, the former president of Chad, yesterday was detained and ordered to stand trial on charges that he engaged in war crimes, torture, and crimes against humanity that resulted in more than 40,000 deaths during his eight year presidency in Chad.The order marks the culmination of a 22-year struggle by former dissidents and victims of the Habré regime to bring the former president to justice.

The case is noteworthy for a number of reasons. But perhaps most notable is that fact that it represents the first use of universal jurisdiction by a member state of the African Union. Universal jurisdiction permits one state to prosecute crimes committed outside their normal legal jurisdiction—for example, in another state—under particular conditions. If successful, the exercise of universal jurisdiction by Senegal in this case may clear the way for similar cases to be launched in other African Union member states and by victims of other oppressive regimes.

What do you think? What are the advantages and disadvantages of using universal jurisdiction to bring former oppressive leaders to justice?

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