- The Dakar appeal court has decided that it is "incompetent" to rule on whether Senegal should extradite Chad's ex-Dictator Hissène Habré to Belgium to stand trial there. Mr Habré's lawyers see the decision as a total victory, human rights groups world-wide have expressed their "indignation", while Belgian law experts hold there are still possibilities to have Mr Habré extradited.
The Senegalese Court of Appeal yesterday afternoon handed down a decision awaited with much attention by African state leaders, the entire Chadian nation, international law experts and human rights activists all over the world. The indecisive ruling came as a disappointment to all parties and reflected the court's insecurity faced with so much international attention.
Had the court ruled in favour of the Belgian extradition bid, it would have written history in international law, creating precedence for decades to come. Ex-dictators accused of crimes against their citizens would not longer be safe from legal consequences abroad. Had it ruled against extradition, it would have weakened international law and sent a signal that ex-Dictators may continue to seek a safe haven in African countries.
Faced by this heavy burden, the Dakar court decided it was "not competent in the case of the extradition of Hissène Habré." The now 63-year-old Chadian ex-Dictator, who was imprisoned earlier this month following a Belgian extradition petition, now is being released. His lawyer told the press in Dakar that he saw the court's decision as a total victory for Mr Habré and held that the case was now closed.
The vague ruling of the Dakar court came as a great disappointment to international human rights originations, which have worked for a trial against Mr Habré since 2000, when the ex-Dictator first appeared in Senegalese court rooms. In March 2001, Senegal's highest court of appeal ruled that it had no jurisdiction to try Mr Habré in Senegal. An extradition to Belgium, where residents of Chadian descent have denounced Mr Habré, seemed the last chance.
The International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH), which organises groups all over the world, today expressed its "indignation" over the Dakar ruling. FIDH holds that the Court of Appeal should have taken its responsibility seriously, given its earlier statements referring to demands from authorities such as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour, African Union President Alpha Konaré and the European Parliament.
According to FIDH, Senegal has signed international conventions obliging the country to either "judge" or to "extradite" persons suspected of torture or crimes against humanity. Mr Habré is accused of both these crimes. The human rights organisation therefore holds that the Habré case cannot be totally closed yet.
"It now falls on Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade to cut through the case by endorsing the decree of extradition," FIDH demanded. If the President does not end the judicial mess surrounding the Habré case, Senegal "in an obvious way violates its international obligations" declared FIDH President Sidiki Kaba. "Neither judging nor extraditing" would give impunity to Mr Habré and discredit the Senegalese judiciary, Mr Kaba adds.
While not wanting to condemn the Senegalese judiciary, the Belgian law experts and lawyers involved in the Habré case come to much of the same conclusions as Mr Kaba. The case is not yet closed, they told journalists in Dakar. The last word is with President Wade, who has experienced strong pressure from the UN, EU and AU. The extraditing order would have had to be signed by the President himself in any case.
Mr Habré ruled Chad with an iron fist from 1982 to 1990. He is accused of being responsible of some 40,000 political murders and systematic torture 200,000 people, as well as of stealing US$ 11.6 million from the Chadian treasury. Victims' organisations in Chad and in Europe have tried to drag him to a court since 1999.
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