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UN Panel Seeks Trial or Extradition of Ex-Chad Leader

A U.N. human rights committee has said Chad's former ruler, Hissene Habre, must be tried or extradited to Belgium, under the 1984 Convention against Torture. Chad's ex-president, who has lived in exile in Senegal for the past 16 years, is accused of mass murder and torture.

The decision of the United Nations Committee Against Torture says that by not trying Chad's ex-President Hissene Habre, or allowing his extradition, Senegal is breaking international human rights law.

Hissene Habre, who sought exile in Senegal after being deposed in 1990, is being sought by a court in Belgium for alleged human rights offenses committed during his eight-year reign.

In November, a Senegalese appeals court declined to rule on the extradition request, saying it had no jurisdiction in the case.

But the U.N. committee Friday accused Senegal of not fulfilling its obligations under the U.N. Convention against Torture, which the West African nation ratified in 1986.

A 1992 Chadian inquiry accused the Habre regime of some 40,000 political killings and around 200,000 cases of torture.

A human rights lawyer for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, Olivier Bercault, who has worked on the case against the former Chadian president, says victims are fed up and want justice.

"They have been waiting for 15 years," he said. "They don't understand why Senegal doesn't want to extradite him. They have been victims of massive human rights violations, atrocities, torture, and nothing is done. We have a court that has jurisdiction. So, why don't we want to extradite him to Belgium?"

Belgium has what is called a universal jurisdiction law, allowing cases of human rights violations to be tried there, no matter where they were committed.

Bercault of Human Rights Watch says Senegal no longer has any excuse not to hand over Hissene Habre.

"It is clarifying the legal situation. Senegal is either to try Hissene Habre, or extradite him to Belgium," he added. "That is something we have kept saying for the last years, and, now, it is official, it is legal. It is the direct application of the torture convention."

Some African human rights activists say they are against extraditing the former Chad leader, saying African leaders should not be tried outside of Africa.

Senegal's president, Abdoulaye Wade, has called for a special commission of African lawyers to be set up to decide how to handle the Habre case, but, so far, no such panel has been established.

Despite Senegal's adherence to the Convention against Torture, the decision of the U.N. committee has no binding legal power.