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Senegal Court Denies Habre Extradition

A court in Senegal has said it has no jurisdiction in the extradition case of Chad's former ruler, Hissene Habre. Authorities in Belgium have issued an international arrest warrant for Mr. Habre, accusing the deposed president of grave human rights abuses during his stint in power.

The head of the Senegal's appeals court, which heard the extradition case against Chad's ex-president, Hissene Habre, said Friday his court was not competent to make a ruling on lifting the immunity of a former head of state.

At the courthouse Friday, supporters of Mr. Habre cheered the court's decision. One of his Senegalese lawyers, Doudou Ndoye, said it was a victory for the country's legal system.

"I am not Chadian," Mr. Ndoye said, "and I was not in Chad from 1982 to 1990, during Mr. Habre's time in power. It is not my business to know what he has done, he says. It is my business to know if Senegal respects its own laws. "

Mr. Ndoye added that as his client is a former head of state, he should be treated as such and not as a common criminal.

Mr. Habre is being sought by Belgian authorities under what is called a universal jurisdiction law that allows non-Belgians to be tried there for human rights violations no matter where they occurred. More than 20 plaintiffs filed complaints against Mr. Habre.

In September, an international warrant was issued for his arrest. And later, prosecutors began a process to have him extradited from Senegal, where he has lived in exile for the past 15 years.

The charges against Mr. Habre date from his eight years in power. Two years after his ouster, a truth commission in Chad accused him of tens-of-thousands of killings, systematic torture and ethnic-based persecution. Police files later revealed widespread abuses carried out in the jails of Chad's capital NDjamena.

Mr. Habre has always maintained he had no knowledge of any abuses committed under his rule.

A lawyer for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, Reed Brody, who has been in Senegal pushing for the extradition, says he is not ready to give up.

"The case is not over in Senegal,” said Mr. Brody. “The court today said that Hissene Habre has the immunity of a former head of state, and its not up to this court to lift that immunity. And they've asked the prosecutor to go before another court to try to lift that immunity."

Mr. Brody says there are no grounds upon which to continue to grant Mr. Habre immunity in Senegal. Earlier this week, Chad's current president, Idriss Deby, called upon his Senegalese counterpart, President Abdoulaye Wade, to grant the extradition.

"The immunity of a former head of state clearly belongs to the state in question, and not to the individual,” added Mr. Brody. "And Chad, in this case, has formally, by letter, waved Hissene Habre's immunity in order that he be tried in Belgium."

It was not immediately clear after Friday's decision what the next step in the process would be.