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UN rights chief urges Senegal to reconsider Habre decision

Published on 10/07/2011

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay on Sunday urged Senegal to reconsider its decision to send Chad's former dictator Hissene Habre back to his home country to face justice for alleged atrocities.

Extraditing Habre to Chad, which has sentenced him to death in absentia for the torture and killing of political opponents, may violate international law, she said.

“I urge the government of Senegal to review its decision,” Pillay said in a statement, stressing the need for guarantees that Habre would not face torture or the death penalty and would get a fair trial.

“Extraditing Habre in the present circumstances, in which those guarantees are not yet in place, may amount to a violation of international law.”

Habre ruled Chad from 1982 until 1990, when he was overthrown by incumbent President General Idriss Deby Itno and fled into exile in Senegal.

A 1992 truth commission report in Chad said Habre had presided over 40,000 political murders and widespread torture. In 2008, a court there sentenced him to death for crimes against humanity following a trial held in his absence.

The former dictator has spent two decades in exile in Senegal, which announced last week it would send him home on a private plane on Monday.

Chad said it would consult with the African Union, human rights groups and Habre’s victims about organising a fair trial there, in a statement issued Friday as Senegal’s announced its decision.

But Pillay argued: “As a party to the Convention Against Torture, Senegal may not extradite a person to a state where there are substantial grounds for believing he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

“At the very least Senegal must obtain fair trial guarantees from the government of Chad before any extradition takes place.”

Clement Abayefouta, president of the AVRP association of victims of political repression, welcomed the UN statement.

“Senegal had committed itself to holding Hissene Habre until his trial.

“This about-turn must be of concern to international organisations. It is in Senegal’s interest to keep Hissene Habre until he can be legally judged,” he said.

Jacqueline Moudeina a lawyer representing victims of his rule said: “In Chad, there can be no guarantee of a fair trial.”

Habre, through his lawyer, has denounced his pending repatriation as a “kidnapping”.

The former ruler was charged in Senegal in February 2000, but the indictment was dismissed by a Dakar appeals court on the basis that crimes against humanity, of which he was accused, were not part of Senegalese criminal law.

Senegal subsequently amended its penal code, but no trial ever started in spite of an African Union mandate for the country to try Habre, partly because Senegal wanted guarantees that it would not have to foot the bill.

In September 2005, Belgium issued an international warrant for Habre’s arrest after several alleged victims of his regime filed complaints in Belgian courts, but Senegal refused to extradite him.

In 2009, Belgium lodged a case in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, seeking to compel Senegal to prosecute the former president or extradite him to Belgium for trial. A ruling is still pending.

On Sunday, Belgium’s foreign ministry issued a statement deploring Senegal’s decision to send Habre back to Chad.

“Taking count of the interests of the Belgian victims, our country has always asked for the extradition of Hissene Habre for judgement in Belgium,” the statement added.

It is not clear what awaits Habre, who has been living in an upscale suburb of Senegal’s seaside capital, on arrival in Chad.

“He should be taken into custody on arrival at the airport and taken to a judge who will charge him and place him in detention,” a judicial source close to the case told AFP.