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Senegal adopts constitutional amendment to allow trial of former Chad dictator

[JURIST] Senegal [JURIST news archive] has formally adopted a constitutional amendment giving the nation's courts jurisdiction over the trial of former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre [HRW materials; JURIST news archive], according to a Thursday statement [text] by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. The group expressed doubt that the nation has the political will to prosecute Habre, who has been accused of involvement in the murder or torture of more than 40,000 political opponents during his rule from 1982 to 1990. Habre has been living is Senegal since he was deposed from Chad 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. In April, the National Assembly of Senegal approved the amendment [JURIST report] giving Senegalese courts jurisdiction over Habre's trial. Also Thursday, Senegalese Justice Minister M. Madické Niang said that three judges and two prosecutors had been appointed to the Habre case after a coalition of human rights groups last month criticized Senegal for delays [statement, in French; JURIST report] in prosecution. Radio Netherlands has more. News24 has additional coverage.

Senegal courts have long refused to extradite Habre, despite the issuance of an international arrest warrant [JURIST reports] 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 [Africa Union report] and the government later determined [JURIST report] he would face charges in a criminal court, rather than in front of a special tribunal. In January, an EU official sent to Senegal to advise the court where a trial should take place reported that the trial would not begin in 2008 [JURIST report].

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