(Geneva, May 16, 2008) – Two years after a United Nations committee requested that Senegal prosecute or extradite the former dictator of Chad, Hissène Habré, no action has been taken, six human rights organizations said today. Habré fled to Senegal after he was deposed in 1990.
Senegal has an unambiguous legal obligation to prosecute or extradite the former dictator to face charges of torture, said a joint statement by the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (ATPDH), the Chadian Association of Victims of Political Repression and Crime (AVCRP), the Chadian League for Human Rights (LTDH), the African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights (RADDHO), Human Rights Watch, and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).
Senegal indicted Habré in February 2000, but when it failed to prosecute him, victims sought justice in a Belgian court. In September 2005, a Belgian judge charged Habré with crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture during his 1982-1990 rule, and sought his extradition. Senegal arrested Habré in November 2005, before seeking the African Union’s advice. In July 2006, at the request of the African Union, Senegal agreed to prosecute Habré in Senegalese courts, but it has not yet done so.
On May 17, 2006, the UN Committee Against Torture ruled that Senegal, which is a party to the UN Convention Against Torture, was in violation of its treaty obligations by failing to bring Habré to justice. The UN committee called on Dakar to prosecute or extradite the former dictator.
“We have been fighting for 18 years to bring Hissène Habré to justice, and time is running out. Unless Senegal takes action soon, there won’t be any victims left at the trial,” said Souleymane Guengueng, founder of the Chadian Association of Victims of Political Repression and Crime (AVCRP), and the lead petitioner in the case that led to the UN ruling. “Senegal has mocked us for eight years and now it is mocking the United Nations.”
In November 2007, Senegal told the UN committee that it was prepared to try Habré, but that it needed international funding. The rights groups noted that the European Commission, France, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands had already agreed to help fund the trial. The European Union sent a mission to Senegal in January to determine what is needed for the trial, and proposed that Senegal define a prosecution strategy, work according to a precise calendar, and name an administrative and financial coordinator for the trial, none of which has been done.
“It’s not the money that is lacking, but Senegal’s political will,” said Alioune Tine of the Dakar-based African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights (RADDHO). “Nothing prevents Senegal from opening an investigation right away, which would be the best way to dispel the victims’ legitimate concerns.”
Senegal is in the process of amending its constitution to make clear that its courts can prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the past. But at the same time, it has appointed the former coordinator of Habré’s legal team, Madické Niang, as minister of justice – the government official heading the agency responsible for the organization of the trial.
In its May 2006 ruling in the case Guengueng v. Senegal, (http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/(Symbol)/aafdd8e81a424894c125718c004490f6?Opendocument), the UN committee found that Senegal had violated the Convention against Torture twice, first by failing to prosecute Habré when the victims first filed their case in 2000, and then by failing to prosecute or extradite him when Belgium filed an extradition request in September 2005. The committee ruled that Senegal was “obliged to submit the present case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution, or, failing that, since Belgium has made an extradition request, to comply with that request, or, should the case arise, with any other extradition request made by another State, in accordance with the Convention.” It asked Senegal to report back in 90 days on the measures taken to implement its decision.
Hissène Habré ruled 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, including waves of ethnic campaigns. Files of Habré’s political police, the DDS (Direction de la Documentation et de la Sécurité), which were discovered by Human Rights Watch in 2001, (https://www.hrw.org/justice/habre/habre-police.htm) reveal the names of 1,208 persons who were killed or died in detention. A total of 12,321 victims of human rights violations were mentioned in the files.
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 charged Habré with crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture.
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, 2006, 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 Abdoulaye Wade declared that Dakar would do so.