(Brussels)- The European Union should quickly implement the European Parliament's resolution calling for EU assistance to Senegal for preparing the trial of Hissène Habré, the exiled former Chadian dictator accused of crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said today.

Today in its annual report, "Human Rights in the World," the European Parliament invited the European Union "to encourage and assist the government of Senegal in preparing for the prompt and fair trial of Hissène Habré, in order to answer accusations of mass violations of human rights."

Habré, who lives in Senegal, is accused of thousands of political killings, systematic torture and waves of "ethnic cleansing" during his rule in Chad from 1982 to 1990. Last July, Senegal agreed to an African Union request to prosecute Habré.

"Senegal's decision to prosecute Habré marks the first time that a developing country has agreed to investigate and prosecute massive crimes committed by a foreign leader," said Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch, who works with Habré's victims. "The challenges are considerable. If the Senegalese government presents a reasonable plan for Habré's prosecution, European countries should help it prepare the trial."

In February, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade signed into law measures permitting Senegal to prosecute cases of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture, even when they are committed outside of Senegal, thus removing the primary legal obstacles to Hissène Habré's trial.

Senegal's ministry of justice has proposed creating a new court to try Habré, with a new building and 15 new judges paid at top United Nations salaries. President Wade reportedly found the plan - and its €66 million price tag - exorbitant and has asked for a more reasonable proposal.

Human Rights Watch believes that the trial could cost far less, even accounting for the complexity of investigating and prosecuting massive crimes committed many years ago in another country and the need to bring hundreds of witnesses to Senegal. The African Union previously rejected trying Hissène Habré before a new tribunal, in large part because of the costs involved.

Human Rights Watch warned that Senegal risked alienating potential donors and thus delaying any trial with an excessively expensive proposal.

In March 2006, the European Parliament called on Senegal to guarantee a fair trial to Habré.

Background

Hissène Habré ruled the former French colony of Chad from 1982 until he was deposed in 1990 by President Idriss Déby Itno and fled to Senegal. His one-party regime was marked by widespread atrocities. A 1992 Truth Commission accused Habré's regime of some 40,000 political murders and systematic torture.

Habré was first indicted in Senegal in 2000 before courts ruled that he could not be tried there. His victims then turned to Belgium and, after a four-year investigation, a Belgian judge in September 2005 issued an international arrest warrant charging Habré with crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture committed during his 1982-to-1990 rule. Pursuant to the Belgian extradition request, Senegalese authorities arrested Habré in November 2005.

The Senegalese government then asked the African Union to recommend how to try Habré. On July 2, the African Union, following the recommendation of a Committee of Eminent African Jurists, called on Senegal to prosecute Habré "in the name of Africa," and Senegalese President Wade declared that Dakar would do so.