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Belgium/Senegal: World Court to Hear Habré Trial Dispute

International Court of Justice Schedules Hearings in Case of Chad’s Ex-Dictator

(The Hague) – The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has set arguments to begin on March 12, 2012, in a case between Belgium and Senegal over the fate of the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré. The case could result in a binding legal order compelling Senegal to extradite Habré to Belgium if it does not prosecute him, Human Rights Watch said today.

Habré, who has been living in Senegal for more than 20 years, is wanted by Belgium on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture for acts committed during his rule, from 1982 to 1990. Belgium recently filed its fourth request seeking Habré’s extradition after Senegal rebuffed the others.

“This is the case that could finally force the Senegalese government to allow Habré to be brought to trial,” said Reed Brody, counsel and spokesperson at Human Rights Watch, who has worked with Habré’s victims for 13 years. “Senegal's legal obligation to prosecute or extradite Habré is clear.”

Belgium filed suit against Senegal at the ICJ in February 2009 after Senegal failed to prosecute Habré domestically but also refused to extradite him. In May 2009, the ICJ accepted Senegal's formal pledge not to allow Habré to leave Senegal pending its final judgment.

Habré was first indicted in Senegal in 2000, but after political interference by the Senegalese government that was denounced by two UN human rights rapporteurs, the country’s courts said that he could not be tried there. His victims then filed a case in Belgium. After four years of investigation, a Belgian judge requested his extradition, in September 2005. A Senegalese court ruled that it lacked jurisdiction to decide on the extradition request.

Belgium made a second extradition request on March 15, 2011. On August 18, the Dakar Appeals court declared the request inadmissible, saying that the Belgian arrest warrant did not accompany the extradition request. On September 5, Belgium filed a third extradition request. However, on January 10, 2012, the Court of Appeals again declared the request inadmissible, saying that the arrest warrant attached to the extradition request was not an authentic copy. On January 17, Belgium filed a fourth request for Habré’s extradition, and alleged that it was the Senegalese government that was not transmitting the papers properly to the court.

“Belgium has stood by the victims from the beginning,” said Clement Abaifouta, president of the Association of Victims of the Crimes of Hissène Habré, who as a prisoner under Habré was forced to dig graves for more than 500 fellow inmates. “We hope that the world court will see through the Senegalese government’s charades and will order Senegal to hand Habré over to Belgium to face trial.”

The ICJ, which sits in The Hague, is the United Nations' highest court. The court deals generally with cases between UN member states and it has no jurisdiction to prosecute individuals. Its rulings can be legally binding on states.

Belgium's application charges that Senegal has violated the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment by failing to prosecute or extradite Habré, and has breached its obligations to bring to justice those accused of crimes against humanity.

In May 2006, the United Nations Committee against Torture found that Senegal had violated the Convention against Torture and called on Senegal to prosecute or extradite Habré, but Senegal has not complied with that ruling. In July 2011, Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, reminded the Senegalese governments that “[i]t is a violation of international law to shelter a person who has committed torture or other crimes against humanity, without prosecuting or extraditing him.”

The public hearings at the ICJ will extend until March 21. A ruling is not expected for a few months.

Hissène Habré ruled Chad from 1982 until he was deposed in 1990 by President Idriss Déby Itno and fled to Senegal. His one-party regime was marked by widespread atrocities, including waves of ethniccampaigns. Files of Habré's political police, the Direction de la Documentation et de la Sécurité (DDS), which were discovered by Human Rights Watch in 2001, reveal the names of 1,208 people who were killed or died in detention. A total of 12,321 victims of human rights violations were mentioned in the files.

News articles on the Habré case at the International Court of Justice:

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