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Senegal amends constitution to allow war crimes trial of former Chad dictator

[JURIST] The National Assembly of Senegal [official backgrounder, in French] on Tuesday amended the Senegalese Constitution [text, in French] to give Senegalese courts jurisdiction over the trial of former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre [HRW materials; JURIST news archive], who is accused of crimes against humanity. Habre was accused in 1992 by a Chadian Truth Commission of committing some 40,000 acts of murder and torture of political opponents during his rule from 1982 to 1990. He has been living is Senegal since he was deposed in 1990, and the Senegalese courts dismissed an action against him in 2001 [HRW case backgrounder], claiming that they lacked jurisdiction over crimes committed elsewhere. Recent pressure from the African Union and the UN Committee Against Torture [official websites] have prompted Senegal to revisit its position on Habre, and the constitutional amendment now gives Senegalese courts the jurisdiction to try him for crimes he is accused of having committed in Chad.

Senegal courts have long refused to extradite Habre, despite the issuance of an international arrest warrant [JURIST reports] issued by Belgium pursuant to its universal jurisdiction laws [HRW backgrounder]. Under growing international pressure to either try Habre locally or extradite him to Belgium, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade [official profile, in French; BBC profile] agreed in April 2006 to try him in Senegal and the government later determined [JURIST reports] he would face charges in a criminal court, rather than in front of a special tribunal. Human rights groups, however, have still criticized Senegal for its lack of progress. In January, an EU official sent to Senegal to advise the court where trial should take place reported that the trial would not begin in 2008 [JURIST report]. BBC News has more. Reuters has additional coverage.

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