France backs Senegal trial for 'Africa's Pinochet'

24th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

France will do all it can to see that the former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre is tried for crimes against humanity in Senegal, where he has spent a decade in exile, Paris' rights ambassador said.

Senegal was given a mandate to try the one-time warlord by the African Union in 2006, but the case has yet to begin with Dakar seeking 37 million dollars (27 million euros) from the international community to cover its costs.

Habre has also challenged Dakar's jurisdiction, with the Economic Community of West African States to decide in October whether it has the right to try him for allegedly overseeing up to 40,000 political murders in the 1980s.

"Senegal has the capacity to try Hissene Habre," French human rights ambassador Francois Zimeray told AFP late Wednesday in Chad. "France will do everything to encourage Senegal to take on this case," he said.

Rights groups accuse Senegal of dragging its feet in bringing to trial a man dubbed "Africa's Pinochet" by Human Rights Watch for his brutal reign.

A trial in Senegal would set a historical precedent for Africa which is loth for its own leaders to be tried in world tribunals such as the Hague-based International Criminal Court.

"You cannot all at once say the International Criminal Court has no business here (in Africa) and at the same time not judge a case when you have the ability to do so yourself," Zimeray warned.

"Unless you are opposed to the fight against impunity, which I know is not true of Senegal."

Habre rose to power in 1982 backed by the United States and France, who wanted to stop Libyan President Moamer Kadhafi from annexing northern Chad and spreading his influence in the region.

He fled to Senegal after being toppled in 1990 after a reign in which a 1992 truth commission report says he oversaw up to 40,000 political murders and often horrific tortures.

© 2010 AFP

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