(Dakar) - Senegal today arrested the former Chadian dictator, Hissène Habré, on an international arrest warrant from Belgium for atrocities committed during his eight-year rule. The Senegalese government must now fulfill its international legal obligations to extradite Habré to face trial in Belgium, Human Rights Watch said.
This morning, Habré was arrested, taken to jail, then brought before a prosecutor to be questioned and then transferred to the penitentiary wing of a hospital in the Senegalese capital Dakar, where he has lived in exile since 1990. On September 19, a Belgian judge issued an international arrest warrant for Habré under Belgium’s “universal jurisdiction” law, which allowed prosecution of the worst atrocities no matter where they were committed.
“Habré has been running away from his crimes and from his victims for fifteen years. Seeing him arrested and put in jail today, it looks like justice is finally catching up to him,” said Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch, who coordinates the international efforts of the Chadian victim plaintiffs, and was at the courthouse in Dakar. “But Habré’s arrest is just the first step. It’s now up to Senegal to live up to its treaty obligations and extradite Habré to Belgium where he can answer the charges against him in a fair trial.”
Extradition procedures in Senegal impose a series of tight deadlines following the arrest of a suspect. Within eight days, Habré must appear before the Indicting Chamber of the Court of Appeals in Dakar. If the court renders a favorable decision on the extradition request, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade will have one month to sign the extradition decree.
Habré took power in the former French colony of Chad in 1982 until 1990, when he was overthrown by the current president, Idriss Déby, and fled to Senegal. His rule was marked by permanent terror, serious human rights violations and widespread campaigns of violence against his own people. In 1992, the Chadian Ministry of Justice’s Commission of Inquiry established by his successor accused Habré’s government of 40,000 political killings and systematic torture.
The United States and France supported Habré, seeing him as a bulwark against Libya’s Mohamar el-Qaddafi. Under President Ronald Reagan, the United States gave covert CIA paramilitary support to help Habré take power.
In 2003, Belgium repealed its universal jurisdiction law, but the Habré case was allowed to continue because the investigation was already underway and three plaintiffs are Belgian citizens.