(Geneva) – The United Nations Human Rights Council should ask Senegal to move forward on the trial of the exiled former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré, five African and international human rights groups said today. On February 6, 2009, the council will examine Senegal’s human rights record as part of its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) procedure.
Habré, accused of mass atrocities during his 1982-1990 rule, has been living in Senegal since 1990. A Senegalese court indicted him in 2000, but higher courts blocked the prosecution. Belgium sought his extradition in 2005 to put him on trial, but Senegal refused. In May 2006, the United Nations Committee Against Torture found that Senegal had violated the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and called on Senegal to prosecute or extradite Habré.
In 2006, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade accepted an African Union mandate to prosecute Habré in Senegal “on behalf of Africa.” But Senegal has not even begun the legal proceedings, said the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (ATPDH), the Chadian Association of Victims of Political Repression and Crime (AVCRP), the African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights (RADDHO), Human Rights Watch, and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).
“Senegal has mocked us for 18 years and now it is mocking the United Nations,” said Souleymane Guengueng, founder of the Chadian Association of Victims of Political Repression and Crime, and the lead petitioner in the case that led to the UN ruling. “The Human Rights Council needs to tell Senegal to comply with the UN ruling and bring Habré to justice.”
On September 16, 2008, 14 victims filed new complaints with a Senegalese prosecutor accusing Habré of crimes against humanity and torture, in an attempt to get the case started, but the Senegalese authorities have refused to act on the complaints. In November 2008, the Committee Against Torture met with the Senegalese ambassador in Geneva to express its frustration that Senegal had not complied with its ruling.
Senegal has said that it will not move forward until it receives full international funding for all the costs of the trial, which Senegal puts at €27.4 million over three years, including €8 million to reconstruct a courthouse. The rights groups noted that the European Commission, Chad, France, Switzerland, Belgium, and the Netherlands have already agreed to help fund the trial, but are still waiting for Senegal to present a detailed budget, and that the normal procedure is to fund such trials year by year.
“It’s not the money that is lacking for Hissène Habré’s trial, but Senegal’s political will,” said Dobian Assingar, a Chadian activist with the FIDH.
“For my country to say that it won’t start proceedings until it gets three-years of funding upfront seems a lot like blackmail,” said Alioune Tine, president of the Dakar-based RADDHO.
The Universal Periodic Review is the Human Rights Council’s most innovative and ambitious instrument, with reviews of the human rights situations in all 192 UN member states over a four-year cycle. The February 6 review will be Senegal’s first.
In its May 2006 ruling in the case Guengueng v. Senegal, 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.” Failing that, it said, it should comply with Belgium’s extradition request, or with any other extradition request made by another country in accordance with the convention.
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 campaigns against ethnic minorities. 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, 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, but then its 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.
After Belgium made its extradition request, Senegalese authorities arrested Habré, in November 2005, but did not extradite him. 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 President Wade said that it would.
Senegal has amended its laws and constitution to allow its courts to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity, torture, and war crimes committed in the past. At the same time, however, it has appointed the former coordinator of Habré’s legal defense team, Madické Niang, as minister of justice – the government official heading the agency responsible for the organization of the trial.