[JURIST] Senegal reversed its decision Sunday to send former Chad dictator Hissene Habre [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] back to Chad after UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] warned he could be tortured. Senegal suspended plans late Sunday [AFP report] just hours before Habre was set to board a plane. The decision came after Pillay issued a plea [JURIST report] not to return Habre to Chad, which has already sentenced him to death in absentia and where she fears he will be tortured. Senegal had announced Friday it was deporting Habre to Chad [JURIST report] to face charges for war crimes. However, Pillay warned [press release] that Habre would not receive a fair trial in Chad and that extradition may violate international law:
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. As a party to the Convention Against Torture, Senegal may not extradite a person to a state where there are substantial grounds for believing he would be in danger of being subjected to torture. At the very least Senegal must obtain fair trial guarantees from the Government of Chad before any extradition takes place. … Extraditing Habre in the present circumstances, in which those guarantees are not yet in place, may amount to a violation of international law. … Justice and accountability are of paramount importance and must be attained through a fair process in accordance with human rights law.
Habre is also wanted in Belgium under a universal jurisdiction law that allows Belgian courts to here cases over violations of international law, but Senegal has long refused extradition. Habre has been accused of involvement in the murder or torture of more than 40,000 political opponents during his rule from 1982 to 1990. He later fled to Senegal after being removed from power in 1990.
Senegal government spokesman, Moustapha Guirassy, said Friday that the decision to deport Habre was based on a desire to be in compliance with the African Union [official website]. Senegal has been under pressure to send Habre to a country where he will face trial for his alleged war crimes committed during his rule of Chad. Last year, an Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] report [JURIST report] cited the case of Habre as a prime example of Senegal’s “contempt” for the rule of law. In 2009, the African Court on Human and People’s Rights (AfCHPR) [official website] found that it lacked jurisdiction [JURIST report] to hear a case against Senegal on whether charges against Habre should be dropped. Also in 2009, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] denied [JURIST report] Belgium’s request to compel Habre’s extradition. Belgium had accused Senegal of violating international law, including Article 7 of the Convention Against Torture, by not trying Habre in Senegal, where he has lived under house arrest since 1990. The ICJ found that assurances made by Senegal that Habre would remain in custody until trial were sufficient and that “the risk of irreparable prejudice to the rights claimed by Belgium is not apparent.”