U.N. rights boss in last-minute plea to Senegal on Habre

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 10, 2011 7:38 AM
U.N. rights boss in last-minute plea to Senegal on Habre

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - The top U.N. human rights official called on Senegal on Sunday not to extradite former Chadian President Hissene Habre to his homeland unless he is guaranteed to get a fair trial and not face torture or execution.

The appeal from Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, comes just one day before Habre, who has been sentenced to death in absentia in Chad on other charges, is due to be flown home on a Senegalese-chartered flight, according to Chadian authorities.

"I urge the Government of Senegal to review its decision and to ensure that Habre's extradition is carried out in a way that ensures his fair trial rights will be respected and he will not be subjected to torture or the death penalty," Pillay said in a statement.

Habre, 69, who was ousted in a coup in December 1990 by current President Idriss Deby, has been accused of thousands of killings and other atrocities during his 8-year rule over the Central African state. He has lived in Senegal since the coup.

He was sentenced to death in absentia in August 2008 along with 11 leaders of eastern rebel groups who attacked the Chadian capital that year and besieged Deby's presidential palace before being driven back by Deby's army. The 12 were convicted of threatening constitutional order and state security.

Major human rights groups including Amnesty International urged Senegal on Saturday not to extradite him on the grounds that he might not get a fair trial.

Senegal, which has ratified the U.N. Convention against Torture, may not extradite a person to a country where there are substantial grounds to believe that he may be subjected to torture, according to Pillay, a former U.N. war crimes judge.

"At the very least Senegal must obtain fair trial guarantees from the Government of Chad before any extradition takes place," she said. "Extraditing Habre in the present circumstances, in which those guarantees are not yet in place, may amount to a violation of international law."

It was essential that Habre be tried in line with due process and the right to a free trial, said Pillay, who is from South Africa. His physical safety must also be ensured at all times.

There has been wrangling over where he should stand trial, with Senegal first complaining it did not have the jurisdiction and then after laws were changed, that it lacked the funds. Belgium has also sought his extradition.