The United Nations Committee against Torture has called on Senegal to comply with its obligation to prosecute or extradite Chad’s exiled former dictator, Hissène Habré, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
The Committee’s action came after Senegal announced that it would not prosecute Habré in Senegal, and Belgium introduced a new extradition request to try Habré.
“The UN has stood up for Habre’s thousands of victims who have been seeking justice from Senegal for 21 years,” said Reed Brody, counsel with Human Rights Watch, who represents the victims before the Committee. “Since Senegal refuses to prosecute Habré, it needs to extradite him to Belgium right away.”
Habré is accused of thousands of political killings and systematic torture when he ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990, before fleeing to Senegal. The government of Senegal over the years has refused, then agreed under pressure, and finally refused again to prosecute him.
The Committee consists of 10 experts elected by the 149 states that have ratified the UN Convention against Torture. In 2006, following a petition by Habré’s victims, the Committee found Senegal in breach of its legal duty to bring Habré to justice. In a letter to Senegal’s permanent representative in Geneva dated November 24, 2011,the Committee’s rapporteur, Fernando Mariño, recalled its 2006 decision and said that if Senegal was not going to prosecute Habré, it must, under the convention, extradite him to Belgium or another country that will prosecute him.
In the letter, the UN rapporteur noted that Senegal had failed to institute action against Habré and said that “the Committee wishes therefore to remind [Senegal] of its obligation under the Convention against Torture, to submit the 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 another extradition request made pursuant to the convention.
In July 2010, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and 117 groups from 25 African countries denounced the “interminable political and legal soap opera” to which Habré’s victims had been subjected over 20 years.
Habré was first indicted in Senegal in 2000, but following political interference, the country’s courts said that he could not be tried there. His victims then filed a case in Belgium. After years of investigation, in September 2005, a Belgian judge requested his extradition. Senegal asked the African Union (AU) to recommend a course of action, and in July 2006, the AU called on Senegal to prosecute Habré “on behalf of Africa.” Years of stalling ensued, however, even after international donors fully funded the US$11.9 million trial budget in November 2010.
In May, Senegal walked out of talks with the AU over the trial and made clear that it would not prosecute Habré in Senegal. On July 10, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal reversed a decision announced two days earlier to expel Habré to Chad, where he has been sentenced to death in absentia.
Belgium then made a new extradition request, which is pending. On July 22, the government of Chad announced that it was in favor of extraditing Habré to Belgium. Although Rwanda recently announced that it was also willing to try Habré in its courts, Human Rights Watch and Habré’s victims believe that this option would lead to many more years of delay before the trial could be held.