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AFRICA: Habre will face trial in Senegal

banjul, 2 July 2006 (IRIN) - The African Union has decided that former Chadian president Hissene Habre will take the stand in Senegal to face charges of crimes against humanity, and Senegal's president Abdoulaye Wade has promised that the trial will go ahead.

"All the legal provisions will be made so that Habre can be tried in Senegal. It is the African Union which has taken ownership of this dossier and has decided that Habre be tried in Senegal," said African Union president Denis Sassou Nguesso.

President Wade, quoted by Agence France-Presse, said: “We thought that Senegal was the best-placed country to judge him and I believe we will not shirk our responsibility.”

The African Union's ruling, made during its weekend-long summit in the seafront Gambian capital Banjul, ends months of speculation over whether Habre would be extradited to Belgium to face charges under the country's universal jurisdiction laws, or would go free in Senegal, where he fled when a coup deposed him in 1990.

After a Belgian court demanded Habre be sent to Brussels last year, Senegal, which was examining the affair for the second time, referred the case to the AU. It in turn appointed an expert panel to rule on the case. The panel recommended to the AU this weekend that Habre face trial but in an African not a European court.

Habre ruled Chad throughout the 1980s. His accusers say he is responsible for thousands of tortures and murders in the north-central African country at that time.

Reed Brody of the campaigning NGO Human Rights Watch said he was concerned Senegal might drag its feet on the case.

"If Senegal which refused to try Habre seven years ago agrees to try him now and commits itself to moving rapidly then that's good. But they do have to act swiftly. The victims have been waiting for seven years, two of the plaintiffs are already dead," he said.

The AU's Sassou Nguesso promised that would not happen, saying the case was not "buried".

"On the contrary, we have put it on the right track," he said.

According to the text of the African Union's decision seen by IRIN, the AU "mandates the Republic of Senegal to prosecute and ensure that Habre is tried on behalf of Africa, by a competent Senegalese court with all the guarantees for his defence, with the requisite transparency".

nr/ccr

Theme (s): Human Rights,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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