'It's time to put Hissene Habre on trial'

Kampala- Uganda (PANA) -- Putting former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre on trial in Senegal will make history not just in the West African country but also in the continent, human rights activists and victims of Habre's dicatatorship said here Sunday.
President of the African Rally for the Defence of Human Rights (RADDHO) Alioune Tine told PANA in an exclusive interview, on the sidelines of the 15th African leaders' Summit in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, that the time was ripe to practise 'universal jurisdiction' like trying a former head of state in another country other than his.
"We believe that the time is up for the trial to start, thereby giving an African country (Senegal) an opportunity to practise universal jurisdiction," Tine said.
Tine was commenting on the long-awaited Habre trial after the African Union's Legal Counsel, Ben Kioko, said that the continental body was very close to an agreement with donors on the trial budget.
Victims of Habre's alleged crimes against humanity have waited for nearly two decades to see justice done after Habre was granted refuge by Senegal.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) counsel and spokesperson Reed Brody told PANA that the evidence against Habre was very strong, saying that ex-dictator not only constructed a prison in the presidential residence in Ndjamena, the Chadian capital, where he was personally involved in the torture of political inmates, but had also set up a political police force known as the DDS exclusively comprising members from his ethnic community.
Habre, now aged 68, is accused of thousands of political killings and systematic torture from 1982 to 1990.
Victims of his regime, many of whom have died, have been working for 20 years to bring him to justice.
At its July 2006 summit in Banjul, The Gambia, the AU raised the victims' hopes by mandating Senegal to prosecute Habre "on behalf of Africa" and directed the AU Commission "to provide Senegal with the necessary assistance for the effective conduct of the trial".
Senegal, however, had been reluctant to proceed with the trial on the grounds of its budgetary implication.
Initially, Dakar asked for 66 million euros and later cut it down to 27 million euros as cost of putting Habre on trial.
Now, President Abdoulaye Wade is likely to accept less than half of the latest figure.
According to Brody, Habre's victims have been treated to "an interminable political and legal soap opera.
" He recalled that a senior Senegalese judge indicted Habre in 2000 but, after political interference, denounced by the United Nations, Senegalese courts said they had no jurisdiction to try the case.
When the victims turned to Belgium, and a Belgian judge, after a four-year investigation indicted Habre in 2005, Senegal rejected his extradition.
The UN Committee against Torture in 2006 condemned Senegal for its failure to act and called on the country to prosecute or extradite Habre.
Senegal has not respected that decision.
During the last three years, Senegal maintained that it would not begin any pre-trial investigation until it received up-front 27 million euros from the international community as its estimate of the cost of the trial.
"A fair trial of Habre in Senegal should be a milestone in the fight to hold the perpetrators of atrocities in Africa accountable for their crimes," said Brody.
"At a time when many deplore the spectacle of African leaders pursued by courts abroad, his trial in another country would show that African courts are sovereign and capable of providing justice for African victims for crimes committed in Africa if this trial is successfully conducted," he added.
Both Brody and Tine insisted that Senegal must live up to its 'tradition' of respect for international law and human rights.
Similarly, the AU's credibility is also at stake.
It must ensure that the mandate given to Senegal is carried out and take the necessary measures for the trial to take place.
Clement Abaifouta of Chadian Victims Association, who spent four years in Habre's jail without charge, said his main expectation was to see the ex- dictator face justice.
"If Habre is successfully tried, that will be enough compensation to his victims," added Abaifouta who lamented the way Habre cut short his university education and forced him to bury dead bodies of fellow inmates every day.

25 july 2010 17:23:00




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