Former Chadian President Hissene Habre (file)
Former Chadian President Hissene Habre (file)

A new study shows that former Chadian President Hissene Habre knew about hundreds of deaths in prisons operated by his political police. 

Mr. Habre has been under house arrest in Senegal since 2000.  He fled to Senegal after being deposed in 1990 and has since been accused of thousands of political killings and cases of torture during his eight years in power.

An international coalition of human-rights organizations has announced a new study of abandoned files from the state security force that operated prisons under President Habre shows he was well-informed of its actions.

Demba Cire Bathily, a Dakar-based lawyer for the victims, says these findings could be critical for the case against Mr. Habre.

He says this study looked at 2,700 administrative reports and established a direct link between Hissene Habre and the state security force, responsible for acts of torture.  He says the evidence shows Mr. Habre was aware of what was going on and received reports of deaths.

More than 12,000 victims are mentioned in the documents, including 1,208 who died in detention.  Analysts also say the study confirms reports of deplorable conditions in the prisons.

Under international law, individuals can be found criminally responsible for human-rights violations, if they knew or should have known that forces under their control were committing crimes and failed to act to prevent them or punish those responsible.

In 2006, the African Union called for Senegal to try Mr. Habre on behalf of Africa.  Since then, Senegal has adopted laws that would allow it to do so, but the case is at a standstill.

Senegal has said it wants all $38 million of a trial's proposed three-year budget up front, a demand the international community is reluctant to agree to, especially because Senegal has not offered a clear plan on how it will conduct the trial.

Wednesday marks the 10-year anniversary of the first Habre's indictment in Senegal.  In those 10 years, many of the the victims have died.  And, human-rights advocates worry that Senegal does not have the political will to try him.

Bathily says Habre's victims have also become victims of time and Senegal's inertia.

He says those victims who have already died will never receive justice.  It is a deplorable situation, he says, that is made even worse by the fact that Senegal has all the judicial measures in place to prosecute someone for these serious crimes but still does nothing.  He says Chad's former president is charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of torture, but he walks free and Senegal says it will not judge him until it receives the money.

In October 2008, Mr. Habre filed a complaint with the court of the Economic Community of West African States to block his trial for crimes against humanity in Senegal, citing violations of his rights.  The ECOWAS court ruled in November 2009 that victims may not take part in those proceedings, but has not yet determined whether it has jurisdiction to hear the Habre case.

European Union and African Union representatives visited Senegal in December, 2009 and are expected to propose a revised budget for bringing Mr. Habre to trial in Senegal.

Human-rights advocates have called on the African Union to take this week's AU summit in Ethiopia as a chance to prod Senegal to move forward.