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BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle
Human rights activists inspired by Pinochet case
 real 28k

Ibrahim Kane, Senegalese human rights activist
"It was best to put him on trial in Senegal"
 real 28k

Saturday, 5 February, 2000, 10:45 GMT
UN backing for Habre charges

Hissen Habre Hissen Habre denies the charges


United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson, has praised Senegal's action in indicting the former President of Chad, Hissene Habre, on charges of complicity in torture.

In a statement issued by the UN in New York, Mrs Robinson said the indictment warned human rights abusers - even the highest representatives of the state - that they could no longer count on a quiet retirement.

She said: "Those who commit, order or tolerate torture and other gross human rights violations can no longer be sure of a peaceful retirement.


Mary Robinson UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson

Habre has lived in exile in the Senegalese capital since he was overthrown in a French-backed coup in 1990 after eight years in office.

Seven human rights groups have filed a criminal complaint on behalf of tens of thousands of people they say were tortured or killed by Habre's men.

They said they had been inspired by the legal battle in Britain for the extradition of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet to face torture charges in Spain stemming from his rule from 1973 to 1990.

International crime

Mrs Robinson said the decision to indict Habre is "further confirmation that torture is an international crime subject to universal jurisdiction.

"Survivors of human rights abuses the world over can take heart in knowing that impunity for torture and other human rights violations is no longer the norm, even when those accused are the highest representatives of the state.''

The indictment sets the stage for Africa's first Pinochet-style human rights trial.


Habre on trial
Evidence of 97 killings
Claims of 40,000 murders
Habre regime was backed by US

It is the first time a former African head of state has been brought to court in another country on human rights offences.

Lawyers said it could be a test case on a continent where such abuses of power have been rife.

"He has been indicted and placed under house arrest for acts of torture and barbarity," said Boucounta Diallo, a lawyer acting for human rights groups that brought the case. o date has been set for the trial.

US backing

Hissen Habre ruled the Sahara Desert state with the backing of the United States, which at the time saw him as a counterbalance to Colonel Gaddafi of Libya.



Ibrahim Kane, a Senegalese human rights activist, said Chad's current rulers "were working with Habre so it was really difficult for them to try him in his own country, so the best way was to try him in Senegal.

But the present Chad government last week claimed credit for unearthing the evidence again the former ruler.

It said it had wanted to try Habre at home but had failed to persuade the Senegalese authorities to extradite him.

'Murders'

A commission it set up in 1991 accused Habre's administration of being responsible for 40,000 political murders and 200,000 cases of torture.

Human rights groups say they have detailed 97 cases of political killings, 142 cases of torture and 100 "disappearances".

Habre's case opened in a regional Dakar court on January 28.

He made no comment on leaving the court, but his lawyer has said the former leader denies the charges, blaming them on "political machinations".

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See also:
21 Jan 00 |  The Pinochet file
Special report: The Pinochet file
04 Feb 00 |  Africa
'Africa's Pinochet' charged with torture

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