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UN High Court Rejects Belgian Request to Keep Habre In Senegal

The United Nation's highest court rejected a bid by Belgium to force Senegal to keep Hissene Habre in custody -- after Dakar vowed it would not let the former Chadian dictator go. But the ruling still leaves open when -- if ever -- Habre will face trial for alleged human rights violations.

The ruling by The Hague-based International Court of Justice essentially leaves the fate of Mr. Habre hanging. The former Chadian president remains in Senegal, where he has been for nearly two decades. Senegalese authorities have promised they will not let him go.

Reed Brody, a lawyer for Human Rights Watch who works with victims of Habre's regime, said he was satisfied with the ruling.

"The court said it saw no urgency to issue these preliminary measures but if there was a danger in Hissene Habre leaving the court invited Belgium to come back and make its demand again. So the result is a very good one. Which is Senegal has promised not to let Hissene Habre escape by leaving Senegal," he added.

But prospects for trying Habre appear uncertain. Critics like Human Rights Watch claim that thousands of people were allegedly tortured and killed in Chad during his eight-year presidency. In 1990, the ex-Chadian dictator fled to Senegal after being toppled from power.

Although Dakar has the authority to try Habre, the sum it is asking the international community to pay for the trial is considered excessive. And as the years go by, Brody said, justice continues to elude the victims of Habre's regime.

"The problem is that the victims and survivors of Habre's regime continue to die. They've been fighting for 19 years for justice, so many of the people I work with on this case have already died and we want this trial to happen before there are no victims left," he said.

In 2005, Belgium filed a case at the Hague court arguing Dakar must either prosecute Habre or extradite him to Belgium for trial. The court has not yet ruled on the matter.