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Belgian court calls for extradition of former ruler Habre

[Chad] Former Chadian President Hissene Habre.
L'ex-président tchadien Hissène Habré (Human Rights Watch)

A Belgian court on Thursday issued a warrant for the arrest and extradition of the former Chadian president, Hissene Habre, on charges of torture and other atrocities committed during his eight-year rule.

Habre, who lives in exile in Senegal, is being pursued under Belgium’s “universal jurisdiction” law which allows for prosecution for crimes against humanity anywhere in the world.

Habre served as president of improverished Chad from 1982 until 1990 when he was ousted in a coup by the current president, Idriss Deby. In 1992 a truth commission accused the Habre administration of some 40,000 cases of political murder and torture.

“This decision is a further step in ensuring that those who commit these kinds of crimes can no longer rely on safe haven,” James Dyson, Amnesty International spokesperson, told IRIN from London on Thursday. “We urge Senegal to extradite him immediately.”

In 2000 a Senegalese court charged Habre with torture and crimes against humanity, but the following year the country’s highest court ruled that Habre could not be judged there for alleged crimes in another country.

Chadians living in Belgium filed suit against Habre in 2001.

Human Rights Watch’s Reed Brody, who has been working with Chadian victims’ groups for years, said the decision brings victims a step closer to justice being served.

“Habre’s crimes are serious and well-documented,” Brody said in a statement. "The governments of Chad and Senegal support Habre’s extradition. Justice, which the victims have never been able to get anywhere, will finally be done.”

Earlier this year Chadian human rights groups guardedly welcomed a move by the Deby government to sack some members of the Habre regime holding posts in the current administration. HRW says at least 30 officials suspected of torture and other crimes remain.

The groups said they want to see all officials from the Habre era ousted and those suspected of crimes against humanity brought before a judge.

Souleymane Guengueng, who spent five years as a political prisoner during the Habre regime and heads a victims’ rights group, said he was overjoyed at Thursday’s ruling, adding he is confident that Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade will honour the call for extradition.

“When I hear about the indictment of Habre, I am half-way healed. When he is in a jail cell as we were, that’s when I will be 100 percent healed.”

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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