Africa, Headlines, Human Rights

RIGHTS: Wade Urged to Extradite Ex-Chadian Leader

Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON, Nov 25 2005 (IPS) - Human rights groups called Friday for Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade to immediately extradite “Africa’s Pinochet”, former Chadian President Hissene Habre, to Belgium, where he faces trial for atrocities committed during his eight-year reign during the 1980s.

The appeal by New York-based Human Rights Watch and the Chadian Association of Victims of Political Repression and Crime followed this week’s decision by Senegal’s Court of Appeals that it had no jurisdiction to decide on the extradition request by Belgium, which initiated its own prosecution four years ago.

“Today’s ruling kicks the ball back to the (Belgian) prosecutor and to President Wade,” said Reed Brody, HRW’s director for international justice, who was in Dakar for the court’s proceedings. “Habre’s victims, who have been fighting for justice for 15 years, are not giving up now.”

Brody recalled that Wade had said on at least two occasions since 2001 that he would be inclined to approve the extradition of Habre, who has lived in Senegal since he was ousted from power in 1990. During the past week, however, Wade had said he would consult with other African leaders before making his decision.

Brody’s appeal was joined by Alioune Tine of the Dakar-based African Assembly for the Defence of Human Rights, which had mounted unsuccessful efforts to have Habre tried in Senegal, and by Ismael Hachim, president of the Chadian Association of Victims of Political Repression and Crime and a past victim of torture under the Habre regime.

“Now it is up to President Wade to make good on his word and sign the extradition decree so that Hissene Habre can be sent to Belgium and receive a fair trial,” said Tine.

Habre, whose human rights record has been compared to Gen. Augusto Pinochet, has been the target of Chadian and international rights groups since Britain arrested the former Chilean dictator on a Spanish arrest warrant in November 1998.

While Pinochet, now 90, eventually escaped extradition, he has been subject to a series of prosecutions in Chile since his return. Coincidentally, he was detained in Santiago this week after two new indictments against him were issued, one for alleged tax evasion and passport fraud in connection with overseas accounts secretly set up by him, and the other for his alleged responsibility in the disappearance and presumed killings of at least 119 dissidents in an operation conducted in 1975, two years after he led a violent coup d’etat against the elected government of former President Salvador Allende Gossens.

Now 63, Habre also took power in a coup d’etat, in 1982, initiating one-party rule that was marked by widespread abuse against various ethnic groups, particularly the Hadjerai and the Zaghawa, killing and arresting members accused of threatening his regime.

Like Pinochet, Habre received substantial backing from the United States which, with France, another major supporter, considered him a key bulwark against efforts by Libyan leader Moammar Qadhafi to spread his influence southward.

Under President Ronald Reagan, the U.S. gave covert CIA paramilitary support to help Habre take power in order, according to then-Secretary of State Alexander Haig, to “bloody Qadhafi’s nose”. Washington later provided Habre with tens of millions of dollars per year, as well as military intelligence and training.

Habre was eventually overthrown by the current president, Iddris Deby, who has also been accused of widespread human rights abuses, although not nearly on the scale allegedly committed under Habre.

HRW said the exact number of Habre’s victims is not known. But a Ministry of Justice truth commission established under Deby issued a 1992 report accusing Habre’s government of 40,000 political murders and 200,000 cases of torture.

Most were allegedly carried out by his dreaded secret police, the National Security Service (Direction de la Documentation et de la Sécurité, or DDS) composed of some 8,000 agents. HRW characterised his rule as one of “permanent terror”.

Just before Habre himself was ousted, his Presidential Guard allegedly killed more than 300 political prisoners who had been secretly detained at his headquarters in N’Djamena, the capital.

Without help from the Deby government, activists and torture survivors quietly collected evidence and affidavits during the 1990s and, after Pinochet’s arrest in Britain, persuaded a court in Senegal, where Habre was living, to initiate a case against him in 2000. The following year, however, the country’s highest court ruled that he could not be tried in Senegal for crimes committed elsewhere.

Habre’s victims announced that they would seek Habre’s extradition to Belgium, where 21 of them had already filed suit under that country’s “universal jurisdiction” law, which permits prosecution of the worst atrocities no matter where they were committed..

Although the Belgian parliament, under pressure from the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, repealed the law in 2003, the Habre case was allowed to go forward because the investigation was already underway, and three of the plaintiffs were Belgian citizens.

The investigating judge in the case originally traveled to Chad in 2002 when he began taking testimony from dozens of witnesses, visiting prisons and mass graves, and copying DDS files that had originally been discovered by HRW. In November 2002, the Chadian government, which had been standoffish about the prosecution, formally waived any immunity that Habre might try to assert.

The Belgian court finally issued an arrest warrant for Habre on Sep. 19 this year.

In addition to the rights groups, Habre’s extradition has gained widespread support among multilateral figures and institutions, including U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Armour, African Union President Alpha Oumar Konare, and the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak.

The court’s decision now moves Wade to the spotlight. HRW noted that the Senegalese president affirmed in 2001 and again in 2003 that, so long as prospects for trial in another country were fair, he would be inclined to respond favourably to an extradition request.

Backed by local rights groups, HRW has also led a campaign to persuade Deby to dismiss 41 Habre-era officials alleged to have actively participated in torture and repression. In a letter to the group last summer, the government promised to sponsor legislation that would lead to their dismissal, as well as provide some compensation to torture victims and build a memorial on their behalf.

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