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Originally published Friday, July 20, 2012 at 12:41 AM

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UN court to rule on Belgium bid to prosecute Habre

The United Nations' highest court was ruling Friday on a bid by Belgium to prosecute one of Africa's most notorious dictators, or force Senegal, the country where he went into exile, to try him.

Associated Press

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands —

The United Nations' highest court was ruling Friday on a bid by Belgium to prosecute one of Africa's most notorious dictators, or force Senegal, the country where he went into exile, to try him.

Habre has become a symbol of Africa's inability to try its own tyrants. He is accused of torturing hundreds of his opponents to death during his 1982-1990 rule in the Central African nation before fleeing to Senegal, where he now lives in a luxury villa.

Lawyers for Belgium have asked the International Court of Justice to order Senegal to hand over former Chad President Hissene Habre for trial in Brussels on charges of crimes against humanity and torture. Failing that, it wants Senegal to prosecute him.

Reed Brody, a Human Rights Watch expert who has long campaigned for Habre to be brought to justice, said survivors of Habre's brutal regime would like to see world court judges send the case to Belgium.

"For the victims who have been fighting for 21 years it would be a real recognition of their right to justice," Brody said. "It would also be a vindication of Belgium for having had the courage to bring their case to the International Court of Justice."

Authorities in Brussels indicted Habre in 2005 following complaints by survivors of his brutal eight-year rule now living in Belgium.

But Senegal has so far failed to turn him over to Belgium for trial, leading Brussels to ask the world court to intervene. Rulings by the court, the U.N.'s highest judicial organ, are binding.

Belgium argued at public hearings in March that Senegal is in breach of its obligations under an international convention outlawing torture that says countries holding people accused of torture have a binding duty to either prosecute or extradite them.

Senegal lawyers responded by arguing that the case is unnecessary as the west African nation is preparing to put Habre on trial.

However, Senegal has dragged its feet for years, arguing it needs outside help to fund the case.

After initially saying a trial would cost up to (EURO)29 million, Senegal agreed at a donor's conference in 2010 to a budget of (EURO)8.6 million.

According to a Human Rights Watch report, Habre seized power in 1982 and violently stamped out any opposition. He was finally toppled from power in 1990.

A Chadian commission of inquiry concluded Habre's regime killed and tortured tens of thousands of political opponents.

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