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Senegal: US Urges Action on Chadian Ex-Dictator’s Trial

Clinton Says Hissène Habré’s “Victims Deserve Justice and Their Day in Court”

(Brussels) – A new report from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noting Senegal’s continued failure to bring former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré to justice, vindicates demands that Senegal should swiftly extradite Habré to Belgium to face trial, Human Rights Watch and Chadian victims’ groups said today.

In a report made public on June 20, 2012, Secretary Clinton said that, “After 20 years, the victims deserve justice and their day in court.” Clinton urged the Senegalese government to take “concrete steps” to prosecute Habré in Senegal or extradite him to Belgium.

Habré is accused of responsibility for thousands of political killings and systematic torture when he ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990. He has been living in exile in Senegal for more than 21 years but has yet to face justice there. Habré is wanted by Belgium on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture.

“Hillary Clinton has recognized the suffering of Habré’s victims and the need for justice as swiftly as possible,” said Jacqueline Moudeïna, lawyer for Habré’s victims and the president of the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights. “At this stage, the only realistic option for swift justice means Habré’s extradition to Belgium, where he can be tried quickly. Otherwise we will be stuck in Senegal for many more years.”

In December 2011, while approving US $50 million in development assistance to Senegal, the US Congress expressed “concern that Hissène Habré has not been extradited for prosecution” and asked the secretary of state to report on “steps taken by the Government of Senegal to assist in bringing Habre to justice.” Clinton delivered her report to the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 6.

Clinton urged the Senegalese government to “move quickly” in bringing Habré to justice. “If progress is not forthcoming on efforts to extradite or prosecute, the Department of State will continue to press vigorously for expedient action by Senegal in finally holding Habré to account,” Clinton said in the report.

Following Macky Sall’s defeat of Abdoulaye Wade in Senegal’s presidential elections in March, the new Senegalese government has indicated that it prefers to prosecute Habré in Senegal rather than extradite him to Belgium. However, victims’ groups have expressed concern that a trial in Senegal would require several more years and would undoubtedly put justice beyond the reach of more victims, many of whom have already died.

Secretary Clinton’s report noted that shehad sent a message to Wade, who was then the president, in September 2011 urging a trial in Senegal or extradition to Belgium but that efforts to hold Habré accountable had “effectively stalled.” Clinton expressed the hope that the new administration “may help to catalyze action” to bring Habré to justice.

Habré was first indicted in Senegal in 2000. The country’s courts said that he could not be tried there, however, so his victims filed a case in Belgium. In September 2005, after four years of investigation, a Belgian judge indicted Habré and Belgium requested his extradition, but a Senegalese court ruled that it lacked jurisdiction to decide on the extradition request.

Senegal then turned to the African Union (AU), which called on Senegal to prosecute Habré “on behalf of Africa.” President Wade accepted the AU mandate, but years of wrangling over the trial budget ensued. In November 2010, the international community pledged €8.6 million (US$11.4 million) for Habré’s trial.

A ruling by the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in November 2010 required trying Habré before a “special ad hoc procedure of an international character.” In May 2011, Senegal withdrew from negotiations with the AU over creation of the court.

In July 2011, Senegal threatened to expel Habré to Chad. The Chadian government then announced its support for extraditing Habré to Belgium to face trial.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is expected to rule by the end of the year on a suit Belgium filed against Senegal in February 2009, alleging that Senegal has violated the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment by failing to prosecute Habré or extradite him to Belgium.

Belgium submitted a new extradition request to Senegalese authorities in January 2012 following the dismissal of two earlier requests on technical grounds after the Senegalese government appeared to have failed to transmit the Belgian legal papers intact to the court. The latest extradition request is believed to be in the hands of the Senegalese national prosecutor’s office, which has yet to transmit the matter to the courts for adjudication.

Secretary Clinton’s report notes the new government’s intention to try Habré in Senegal and to comply with the forthcoming decision from the International Court of Justice. The report calls on Senegal not to wait for an ICJ ruling but to move forward quickly with his prosecution in Senegal or his extradition to Belgium.

“Time is running out for the survivors who are dying in growing numbers each year,” said Reed Brody, counsel and spokesperson at Human Rights Watch, who has worked with Habré’s victims for 13 years. “Belgium offers the most timely and realistic option of ensuring justice for Habré’s victims.”

Habré was deposed by President Idriss Déby Itno in 1990 and fled to Senegal. His one-party regime was marked by widespread atrocities, including waves of ethnic campaigns and systematic torture. 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 and 12,321 victims of different human rights violations.

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