PluriCourts Lunch seminar: The Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegalese judicial system : Universal jurisdiction and the limits of institutional creativity

PluriCourts Lunch with Bernard Ntahiraja


On 8, February, 2013, following an agreement between the African Union and the Republic of Senegal, the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC) were created in the Senegalese judicial system. They were given the mandate ‘to try the person or persons most responsible for crimes and serious violations of international law, customary international law and international conventions ratified by Chad, committed in the territory of Chad during the period from 7 June 1982 to 1 December 1990.’ In concrete terms, the Chambers’ mission was to try Hissène Habré, President of the Republic of Chad from 1982 to 1990, for alleged crimes of mass atrocity  committed while in power. The crimes in question included violations of international humanitarian Law and torture. At the time the Chambers were created, Hissène Habré was in exile in Senegal where he had been living since he left power in 1990.

The trial has attracted a lot of political and scholarly attention. As the first trial of a former African Head of State by a Court of another African country, the trial was a historical event in itself. The context in which it took place increased its political interest. The uneasy relationship between, on the one hand, the African Union and some individual African states and the International Criminal Court, on the other, was already in its critical phase. The fact that Senegal’s jurisdiction was only based on the universality principle made the case even more interesting.

This paper is not about the trial as such. Its focus is the EAC as an institution. It has been suggested that the EAC model is the way forward as far as the implementation of universal jurisdiction in Africa is concerned. The purpose of this paper is to assess the merits of that claim.

In terms of structure, the paper firstly presents the legal context of the creation of the chambers. In other words, it discusses the circumstances which made its creation almost a legal necessity (I). Secondly, the paper attempts a characterisation of the Chambers as a judicial institution with criminal jurisdisdiction (II). Thirdly and lastly, it discusses the potential value added of such an institution for the implementation of universal jurisdiction in Africa (III).    


PluriCourts Lunch Seminars are a forum for pluridisciplinary discussion of core issues relating to international courts and tribunals. PluriCourts scholars or invited speakers present new and ongoing research or comment on current questions. The seminars are open to everyone.

Published Apr. 22, 2020 10:55 AM - Last modified Oct. 5, 2020 1:51 PM