A new report from U.S. 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 (HRW) and Chadian victims' groups said on Thursday.
In a report made public on Wednesday, Clinton said "after 20 years, the victims deserve justice and their day in court." She urged the Senegalese government to take "concrete steps" to prosecute Habré in Senegal or extradite him to Belgium.
Habré is accused of being responsible 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," she added.
In December 2011, while approving $50 million in development assistance to Senegal, the U.S. 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 presented 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," she said in the report.
Following Macky Sall's defeat of Abdoulaye Wade in Senegal's presidential elections in March, the new Senegalese government 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 were already dead.
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.
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 U.N. 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.
Clinton's report notes the new government's intention to try Habré in Senegal and to comply with the forthcoming decision from the ICJ. 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 HRW, who has worked with Habré's victims for 13 years.
by RTT Staff Writer
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