Arusha, January 19, 2011 (FH) - 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, a Human Rights Watch press release said today.

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Habré is accused of crimes against humanity, thousands of political killings and torture when he ruled Chad, from 1982 to 1990, before fleeing to Senegal.

He has been under house arrest in Dakar since 2000.

The Committee's action came in response to a statement by President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal that he had "had enough" of the Habré case and was "going to get rid of him."

"The UN has stood up for Habre's thousands of victims who have been seeking justice from Senegal for 20 years," said Reed Brody, counsel with Human Rights Watch, who represents the victims before the UN Committee against Torture. "President Wade can't simply ‘get rid' of the case; he has a legal obligation to ensure that Habré faces justice."

The United Nations Committee against Torture consists of 10 experts elected by the 147 states that have ratified the UN Convention against Torture. In 2006, the committee found Senegal in breach of its legal duty to bring Habré to justice.

In a letter to Senegal dated January 12, the committee's rapporteur, Fernando Mariño, recalled that decision and said that if Senegal was not going to prosecute Habré, it must, under the convention, extradite him to Belgium - which has issued an international arrest warrant in 2005 - or another country which will prosecute him.

Senegal had been putting off Habre's trial for years, saying it would not proceed until it received international funding for anticipated trial costs. A November 18 ruling of the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said that Senegal should prosecute Habré before a special jurisdiction. On November 24, international donors met in Dakar and fully funded the $11.7 million budget for the trial.

President Wade then appeared to backtrack yet again. In December he told French broadcasters that he wanted to return the case to the African Union, declaring:  "The African Union must take its case back (...) Otherwise I will send Hissène Habré elsewhere. I've had enough of it at this point (...) I am going to get rid of him, full stop."  

On January 12, an African Union delegation presented President Wade with a cost-neutral plan to respond to the ECOWAS decision by creating a special jurisdiction within the Senegalese justice system which would include the nomination of two judges by the AU.

The next day, however, President Wade told the Council of Ministers that he was "returning" the Habré case to the African Union.

The African Union is scheduled to discuss the Habré case at its summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on January 30 and 31.


© Hirondelle News Agency