Junio 14, 2007

Senegal finalising budget for landmark Habre trial

By Daniel Flynn

DAKAR, June 13 (Reuters) - Senegal is finalising a budget for the trial of former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre on charges of mass political killings and torture and will seek international aid to pay for this test case for African justice.

Habre, who has lived in the West African state since his overthrow in 1990, is accused of ordering 40,000 killings and 200,000 cases of torture during an iron-fisted nine-year rule over his own landlocked country.

His long-delayed trial is billed by rights campaigners as a landmark case for human rights in Africa, where leaders have rarely been brought to account for abuses of power.

The trial of former Liberian strongman Charles Taylor, which convened this month in The Hague, has revived debate on prosecuting rights abuses in Africa. Taylor is accused of crimes against humanity for backing rebels in Sierra Leone.

But nearly a year after the African Union mandated Senegal to bring Habre to trial, human rights campaigners accuse the government of dragging its feet.

Sources close to the case said Senegal's Justice Ministry initially proposed a 66 million euro ($88 million) budget for the trial, including a new court building and a panel of 15 judges, but this was rejected by President Abdoulaye Wade.

"President Wade has asked the national commission working on this dossier to limit costs to the maximum, without damaging the judicial process and the rights of the accused and witnesses," Foreign Minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio said late on Tuesday.

"Once the budget has been finalised it will be submitted to the international community," he said, adding that European Union countries had expressed interest in contributing.

Rights campaigners reacted with dismay in January when Gadio estimated it could take three years to bring Habre to trial. He said on Tuesday his comments were misconstrued.

"If with international cooperation we arrive at a budget acceptable to everyone, and the African Union mobilises resources, we are determined to bring this case to an end."


Many Africans remain hostile to having the continent's leaders tried overseas. An African Union summit last year rejected an extradition request for Habre from Belgium, a former colonial power in Africa, and mandated Senegal to try him.

Although African presidents have been tried by their own nations for crimes committed in office, such as Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic and Ethiopia's Mengistu Haile Mariam, Habre's trial would be the first time one African state has tried a leader for crimes committed in another.

Seven years after Habre was first arrested in Dakar on human rights charges, campaigners warn that unless the trial is held soon many witnesses may be unable to testify.

"Time is running out. Survivors continue to die -- including two who filed the case against Hissene Habre in Dakar in 2000," said Reed Brody, a lawyer for Human Rights Watch.

Senegal's justice system ruled then that it was not competent to try the case. But in February, Senegal remedied this by approving legislation enabling it to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture even when they are committed outside the country.

The wealthy ex-dictator keeps a low profile in Dakar but still wields considerable influence. Two of Habre's lawyers currently hold ministerial posts in the Senegalese government.

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