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US Human Rights Lawyer Seeks to Bring Chad's Ex-Ruler to Justice


A U.S. human rights lawyer, known for campaigning for the prosecution of ex-dictators, is in Senegal on a quest to bring Chad's former ruler to justice for alleged crimes against humanity. A Belgian court is seeking the extradition of Chad's former president.

A Belgian judge last month issued an international arrest warrant for Chad's ex-ruler, Hissene Habre, over allegations he was responsible for torture and mass murder during his time in power.

Now, a special council for New York-based Human Rights Watch, Reed Brody, is in Senegal, where Mr. Habre has been living in exile since his 1990 ouster, pressuring the government there to hand him over.

"We are in Senegal, because Belgium has sought the extradition of the former dictator of Chad, Hissene Habre, from Senegal," Mr. Brody explained. "And we are here with the Chadian victims to talk to the Senegalese people and explain who Hissene Habre is, the crimes that he has committed, and why Senegal should live up to its international obligations and give him a fair trial in Belgium, rather than protect this alleged mass murderer."

Belgium has what is called a universal jurisdiction law that allows non-Belgians to be tried there on accusations of human rights violations no matter where they occurred.

More than 20 plaintiffs have filed complaints against Mr. Habre. The allegations stem from the eight years Mr. Habre ruled Chad, from 1982 when he seized power, until 1990 when he was deposed by current President Idriss Deby.

In 1992, a Chadian truth commission accused Mr. Habre of tens of thousands of killings, systematic torture and ethnic-based persecution.

Mr. Brody's Human Rights Watch has been involved in the documentation of Mr. Habre's reign of terror.

"Four years ago, we discovered in Chad the files of Hissene Habre's political police," he said. "They include the names of 12,000 victims of arbitrary arrest, torture, et cetera. They include the names of 1,208 detainees, who died in the jails of N'Djamena alone, a fraction of the total who died."

Now that an extradition request has been issued, Mr. Brody, who also pushed for the prosecution of Chile's former ruler, Augusto Pinochet, hopes Senegal is ready to hand over the man they granted asylum to 15 years ago.

"The response of the government is that they are going to allow the legal procedure to run its course," Mr. Brody said. "I have confidence in the Senegalese goodwill. Senegal has an obligation, having ratified the International Torture Convention to either prosecute or to extradite Hissene Habre. Having not prosecuted Hissene Habre, it is now Senegal's legal obligation to extradite him to a country that is willing to try him, like Belgium."

It is not yet certain that Senegal will honor the request for extradition. Mr. Brody says his organization will stay in Senegal until their job is done.

"We will be here until the end of the procedure, which will hopefully be when Hissene Habre is put on a plane to Belgium, where he can get a fair trial," he said.

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