Senegal backtracks on Habre expulsion
Dakar - Senegal reversed a decision to send former dictator Hissene Habre to Chad, where he faces the death penalty for alleged rights abuses, after the UN rights chief said he could be tortured there.
Hours before he had been due to board a plane back to the Chadian capital N'Djamena in what Habre, through his lawyer, had described as a "kidnapping", his west African hosts eventually caved in to mounting international pressure.
"Senegal has decided to suspend the expulsion measure against Hissene Habre," Senegal's Foreign Minister Madicke Niang said on Sunday.
Niang said Dakar would launch urgent talks with the United Nations, the African Union and the European Union to seek a solution.
The UN human rights chief Navi Pillay had urged Senegal to reconsider its decision to send the 69-year-old home to face justice for alleged atrocities, arguing there were insufficient guarantees of a fair trial.
"I urge the government of Senegal to review its decision," Pillay said. "Extraditing Habre in the present circumstances, in which those guarantees are not yet in place, may amount to a violation of international law.
"As a party to the Convention Against Torture, Senegal may not extradite a person to a state where there are substantial grounds for believing he would be in danger of being subjected to torture."
Habre ruled Chad from 1982 until 1990, when he was ousted by incumbent President General Idriss Deby Itno and fled into exile in Senegal, where he has been living since.
A 1992 truth commission report in Chad said Habre had presided over 40 000 political murders and widespread torture.
In 2008, a court there sentenced him to death for crimes against humanity following a trial held in his absence.
Chad meanwhile expressed its "profound regret" over the U-turn saying "all measures had been taken to ensure Hissene Habre's security and a fair trial."
Government spokesperson Kalzeube Pahimi underscored the need for a trial "to render justice to the memory of the victims and to console" their families.
One of Habre's lawyers, Francois Serres, reacted to the suspension of his client's expulsion by stressing that he would pursue all legal procedures to ensure that repatriation was definitively ruled out.
Before the latest development, Habre had told him "he would only return to Chad in a coffin... and fight his expulsion with every last drop of blood."
Habre was charged in Senegal in February 2000, but the indictment was dismissed by a Dakar appeals court on the basis that crimes against humanity were not part of Senegalese criminal law.
Senegal subsequently amended its penal code. But no trial ever started in spite of an African Union mandate for the country to try Habre, partly because Senegal wanted guarantees that it would not have to foot the bill.
In September 2005, Belgium issued an international arrest warrant for Habre after several alleged victims filed complaints in Belgian courts, but Senegal refused to extradite him.
In 2009, Belgium lodged a case in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, seeking to compel Senegal to prosecute the former president or extradite him to Belgium for trial. A ruling is still pending.
Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch welcomed Senegal's latest decision in a statement late Sunday.
"We are glad that President [Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal] has called off this ill-conceived transfer, but it can't be a pretext to continue denying Habre's victims their day in court," he said.
"Senegal has shielded Habre from justice for 20 years. Habre's extradition to Belgium is now the only option for ensuring that he responds to the charges against him in a fair trial."