(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Pressure mounts on Senegal to hand over ex Chadian president

[Chad] Former Chadian President Hissene Habre.
Human Rights Watch

Pressure is mounting on the government of Senegal to extradite former Chadian president Hissene Habre, who has lived in exile in the West African country for 15 years and is wanted for extensive human rights violations in his own country.

A group of Chadian citizens who say they were victims of torture under Habre's regime are planning to fly into the Senegalese capital of Dakar on Thursday to call for the former ruler to be arrested and extradited to a Belgium court for trial.

"The case of Mr Habre constitutes a symbol of impunity in Africa,” said Boucounta Diallo, the president of Senegal’s National Human Rights Organisation and coordinator of a group of alleged Chadian victims.

“Senegal can no longer avoid its responsibility in judging or extraditing Hissene Habre. If not, it will be violating the international convention against torture," he added.

The arrival of the group of Chadians comes in the wake of the issuing of an international arrest warrant by a Belgian judge on 19 September that was welcomed by Human Rights Watch as "a groundbreaking move reminiscent of Spain's arrest warrant for General Augusto Pinochet of Chile".

That indictment was issued under Belgium's "universal jurisdiction" law, enabling its judges to prosecute against crimes against humanity no matter where they are committed, or whom they are committed by.

Habre, now 63, headed a one party state in Chad from 1982, until he was deposed from power by current president Idriss Deby in 1990. Two years after taking flight to Senegal, a Chadian truth commission accused Habre of 40,000 killings and acts of systematic torture and of stealing more than US $11 million from state coffers.

Human rights activists are hopeful that the days of Habre's impunity are coming to a close.

In 2000, a Senegalese court charged Habre with torture and crimes against humanity, but he slipped free when the highest court in Senegal ruled that he could not stand trial for crimes committed outside the country.

When President Abdoulaye Wade began making moves to expel Habre, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stepped in to request Senegal hold Habre pending an extradition request.

Since then, Wade has repeatedly said that he has no objection to Habre's extradition to Belgium.

At a press conference on Monday, the Senegalese Foreign Minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio said that the final decision rests with the Senegalese judiciary.

"The authorities will have to wait to see what the judiciary decides," said Gadio.

"It's a very sensitive question as it poses the question of justice in Africa. I know what the government position is, but we must wait to hear what the judicial authorities have to say," he said.

Human rights activists have accused some Senegalese marabouts - Islamic religious leaders - of protecting Habre by putting pressure on the government and the judiciary.

"It's the victims [not Habre] that are deserving the protection of our religious leaders," said Alioune Tine of the pan African human rights group, Rencontre africaine des droits de l'homme (RADDHO). "These religious leaders who defend Habre are turning their backs on the precepts of Islam."

"The Senegalese are in horror of injustice. That's why we need our religious leaders to combat impunity and not to protect dictators," Tine said.

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