Global Policy Forum

Senegal Pressed To Ensure Habre Faces Charges


By Alistair Thomson

June 29, 2006

The African Union must press Senegal to prosecute or extradite former Chad President Hissene Habre to face charges of mass murder and torture, a coalition of human right groups said. A Chadian official inquiry has accused Habre's government of 40 000 political killings and 200 000 cases of torture during his 1982-1990 rule. He denies all knowledge of abuse and now lives in exile in Senegal. Few former African strongmen have faced charges for past wrongs and many live comfortable lives in exile, but activists say the extradition of Habre would reflect a stiffening resolve on the continent to seek justice over impunity.

The African Union is expected to consider whether to try Habre in Africa or extradite him to Belgium in a summit in Banjul, Gambia this week after Senegal said last month the 53-member body should deal with the issue. The Coalition Against Impunity, a group of 300 African and international civil society bodies, said in a statement issued late on Tuesday the African Union must force Senegal to abide by its international obligations and ensure Habre faces justice.

"Habre's victims have been fighting for 16 years to see justice done," said Kolawole Olaniyan, director of Amnesty International's Africa Programme, which is part of the Campaign Against Impunity. "It is time for Habre to face trial for his alleged crimes." The pan-African organisation set up a panel of African jurists last year to decide what recommendation to make to AU heads of state when they meet in Gambia on July 1-2.

Ismail Hachim Abdallah, president of an association of victims of political repression in Chad, was imprisoned for two years under Habre's rule. Backing calls for the former president's extradition, he described how he was locked in a tiny cell and left to watch those around him die of asphyxiation. "It is a way of exterminating prisoners. Some of them were taken away to be executed, some were asphyxiated," he said on the sidelines of the AU meeting in Banjul.

Habre's extradition would follow the transfer of Liberia's former warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor last week for trial at The Hague on war crime charges stemming from his role in Sierra Leone's brutal civil war. "Habre's trial would be a milestone in the fight to hold the perpetrators of crimes under international law, such as torture, criminally responsible for their crimes," said Reed Brody, special counsel at Human Rights Watch, which is also part of the Campaign Against Impunity.

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