Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Dictator Hunter

A new documentary called The Dictator Hunters is making its debut this week at the Toronto Film Festival. According to this article in the Toronto Star, The Dictator Hunters covers the search for deposed Chadian dictator Hissène Habré, and the efforts to bring him to trial for a mind numbingly long list of human rights violations, mass murders and outright massacres he ordered during his reign. Director Klaartje Quirijns focuses on a man named Reed Brody from Human Rights Watch who is now lobbying the Canadian government to get "more involved" with Habré's upcoming trial in Senegal. There's just one problem: the Senegalese have not asked Canada, or any other western nation, for assistance because they insist they don't need any.

As I noted back in July, justice ministry officials in Senegal have expressed confidence in their ability to bring Habré to trial, but have rejected the ruinously expensive and farcically long tribunal sort of trial of the sort that Slobodan Milošević was subjected to. Patiently, and not unreasonably, the government of Senegal has expressed their intention to have opted to try Habré in a regular criminal court.

Now, I will say straight off the bat that I haven't seen The Dictator Hunters. However, I've also seen absolutely no indication that Senegal has mysteriously changed its mind about their desire for the assistance of the industrialized world in conducting this trial. Frankly, it seems a little odd that Reed Brody is pressing Canada, a country with absolutely no expertise in the business of trying dictators, to assist in any way. What little assistance Senegal has asked for has in been in the form of obtaining documents that are, for the most part, already in Europe. In other words, they've asked for no special help, or financing, for the trial itself as far as I can determine.

Reed Brody's rationale that, as a non-colonial power, Canada is in some way "less tainted" than the other Western nations Senegal has already told to stop bothering them misses the point. Senegal is not rejecting Belgium's offers to put Habré in trial in Belgium because of their "colonial taint", as Senegal already has fairly warm relations with Belgium. Senegal rejected offers of assistance with the trial because they truly and genuinely believe that they are capable of conducting it themselves. The thought that a poor African nation can, with proper planning, conduct a criminal trial of a dictator may seem unspeakably farfetched to Reed Brody, but it's also fairly condescending. In the extremely unlikely scenario that the government of Senegal somehow begged Reed Brody to act as intermediary between themselves and Canada? Hey, I guess it wouldn't be so insulting after all.

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