(Brussels) - The Senegalese government should honor Chad's request to send former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré to Belgium for prosecution for crimes against humanity during his rule from 1982 to 1990, a coalition of Chadian victims' and African and international human rights organizations said today.
In a communiqué issued today, Chad's secretary of state for foreign affairs, Mahamat Bechir Okoromi, said that Chad would like to see Senegal send Hissène Habré to Belgium, which requested his extradition in 2005 and again this year. On July 10, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal reversed a decision announced two days earlier to expel Habré to Chad, where many feared he would be mistreated. Habré has lived in Senegal for 20 years. In recent weeks, the African Union (AU), the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, and Chadian victims' groups have called for a speedy trial or extradition for Habré.
In an interview with the French newspaper la Croix President Wade said that if a Senegalese court now considering Belgium's latest extradition request gave its approval, "Habré could be extradited to Belgium by the end of July."
"It's been 20 long years, and Senegal needs to give Habré's victims their day in court," said Jacqueline Moudeina, president of the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights and lawyer for the victims. "Since Senegal refuses to prosecute Habré and he shouldn't be sent home to Chad, the only real option is to extradite him to Belgium where he can receive a fair trial."
The groups supporting extraditing Habré to Belgium include the ATPDH; the Association of Victims of Hissène Habré (AVCRHH); the African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights (RADDHO); the Senegalese League for Human Rights; and Human Rights Watch. They noted that Belgium had already investigated the case, sending a judge and police team to Chad, and was ready to organize a trial within a short time. In 20 years, no African country has sought Habré's extradition, and even if one did now, it would take years to make the legal arrangements, find the financing, and carry out the investigation.
Habré was first indicted in Senegal in 2000 on charges of crimes against humanity and torture. In 2001, Senegalese appeals courts, in cases that UN experts said were marred by political interference, ruled that Habré could not be tried in Senegal. President Wade announced that year that "Senegal has neither the competence nor the means to try him. Chad doesn't want him. If a country capable of organizing a fair trial - Belgium has been mentioned - wants him, I don't see any obstacles." It was one of many statements by Wade suggesting a trial in Europe for Habré.
Habre's victims then sought to have him prosecuted in Belgium. After a four-year investigation, a Belgian judge in September 2005 issued an international arrest warrant for Habré, and Belgium requested his extradition. Senegal refused, however, and asked the AU to recommend a course of action. In July 2006, the AU called on Senegal to prosecute Habré "on behalf of Africa," and Wade accepted. For five years, however, Senegal threw up one obstacle after another before finally announcing on July 10 that it would not try Habré.
On July 12, Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, stated that the annulment of Habré's expulsion by Senegal "should not simply mean a return to the status quo, with Habré continuing to live with impunity in Senegal, as he has done for the past 20 years." She noted that, "it is a violation of international law to shelter a person who has committed torture or other crimes against humanity, without prosecuting or extraditing him."
The victims' and human rights organizations said they had always sought a trial for Habré in Africa, but there are now no realistic options on the continent. Even the AU Commission recently recognized that "due to the difficulty to finding an African solution," the Belgium option might have to be revisited. At its summit on July 1, 2011, the AU called on Senegal to "carry out its legal responsibility" and "to put Hissene Habré on trial expeditiously or extradite him to any other country willing to put him on trial."
"Of course we would have liked to see Habré tried by our African brothers," said Clément Abaifouta, president of the Association of Victims of Hissène Habré, who as a prisoner under Habré was forced to dig graves for more than 500 fellow inmates. "But the government of Senegal has played with our hopes for too long. We need to see Habré brought to trial before all the survivors are dead."
Habré ruled Chad from 1982 until he was deposed in 1990 by Déby and fled to Senegal. Habré's one-party rule was marked by widespread atrocities, including waves of campaigns of ethnic violence. Files of Habré's political police, the Direction de la Documentation et de la Sécurité (DDS), which were discovered by Human Rights Watch in 2001, reveal the names of 1,208 people who were killed or died in detention. A total of 12,321 victims of human rights violations were mentioned in the files.