Senegal: Court refuses to rule on Habre extradition


DAKAR, 25 Nov 2005 (IRIN) - A Senegalese court on Friday refused to rule on a request to extradite former Chad leader Hissene Habre to Belgium to face charges of mass murder and torture.

Habre was detained last week in Senegal, where he has been in exile for the past 15 years, pending a decision by the court on whether to extradite him for alleged human rights abuse during his 1982-1990 rule.

But after deliberations, the court stated that it was not qualified to make a decision, leaving Habre’s immediate fate unclear.

“The court has declared itself incompetent,” it said.

The bid to bring the former leader to trial has triggered fierce debate in Senegal, and there were cries of joy from his supporters and a stunned silence from alleged victims as the seafront court handed down its decision to waive the case.

A Chadian truth commission accused him in 1992 of responsibility for at least 40,000 political killings and mass torture.

“Today’s decision is a cruel blow to Hissene Habre’s thousands of victims,” said Reed Brody, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch who has been following the case.

“Victims are going to ask the UN to condemn Senegal for violations of its obligations and to demand that Senegal compensate them,” he added.

But Habre’s lawyers welcomed the decision. “The court has demonstrated that Hissene Habre is a head of state and that the charges he is accused of supposedly took place while he was head of state,” said his lawyer Doudou Ndoye.

Although the legal implications remained immediately unclear, Jacqueline Moudeina, a lawyer for Chadian torture victims and head of a Chadian rights association, said the battle to bring Habre to justice was not yet over.

“Today the court has declared itself simply incompetent. This means that the arrest mandate is still current. The court did not reject the extradition request,” Moudeina said.

There was no immediate confirmation however that Habre would remain under arrest.

His extradition would break ground in efforts to bring former leaders to trial as his alleged victims filed complaints under Belgium’s universal jurisdiction law, which allows Brussels judges to prosecute human rights offences carried out anywhere in the world.