Senegal has decided not to extradite Hissène Habré, the former dictator of Chad who stands accused of thousands of political murders and of mass torture, according to a statement released today by Human Rights Watch.
The statement calls on Senegal’s justice system to “stop stalling,” after refusing Belgium’s fourth request for extradition, saying that the documents were not in order.
“It’s time for the Senegalese government to stop playing games and to send Hissène Habré to Belgium to face trial,” said Jacqueline Moudeïna, a HRW lawyer, in the statement. “Habré’s victims have been fighting for justice for 21 years and all they have gotten from Senegal is the run-around.”
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Dubbed "Africa's Pinochet" by human rights organizations, Habré, 69, was president of Chad from 1982 to 1990, after seizing power from an elected leader, according to a BBC profile of the former dictator. Chad was then in throes of a conflict with Libya, and it is generally believed that Habré had the support of the U.S., as a counterpoint to Muammar Gaddafi.
Two years after he was deposed, a truth commission in Chad declared Habré responsible for 40,000 political murders and widespread torture, according to Agence France Presse. In 2008, he was sentenced to death in absentia by a court in Chad for attempting to overthrow the government.
The African Union, the United Nations and Amnesty International have repeatedly called upon Senegal to try Habré, or extradite him to a country that will, according to Amnesty International.
Habré was arrested six years ago after Belgium indicted him under a universal jurisdiction law that allows Brussels to prosecute human rights offences committed in any country. Habré remains in Senegal, and the court has repeadly refused his extradition, citing faulty paperwork.
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Amnesty’s list of accusations is long, depicting a barbaric leader with a terrifying security apparatus. The organization accuses the regime of torturing dissidents with electric shocks, cigarette burns and forcing exhaust pipes into prisoners’ mouths before starting vehicles, according to the BBC.
An 2001 Amnesty report quotes Senegal’s president, Abdoulaye Wade saying he was ready to extradite Habré, a view he still publicly holds:
“I was ready to send Hissein Habré anywhere, including to his own country, Chad, but Kofi Annan intervened and asked me to keep Hissein Habré in my country until he can be brought to justice in another country. I have agreed to this but do not want this situation to drag on. Senegal has neither the jurisdiction nor the resources to try him.”