The Case against Hissène Habré, an “African Pinochet”

Case Summary

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Human Rights Watch has been working since 1999 with the victims of Chad's exiled former president, Hissène Habré, to bring him to trial.

Mr. Habré was first indicted in Senegal in 2000 before courts ruled that he could not be tried there. His victims then turned to Belgium and, after a four-year investigation, a Belgian judge in September 2005 issued an international arrest warrant charging Mr. Habré with crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture committed during his 1982-90 rule and requested his extradition.

Senegal then asked the African Union to recommend a course of action. On July 2, 2006, the African Union called on Senegal to prosecute Hissène Habré "on behalf of Africa," and President Abdoulaye Wade declared that Senegal would do so.

In 2007-2008, Senegal amended its constitution and laws to permit the prosecution of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture no matter when and where the acts occurred.

On September 16, 2008, fourteen victims filed complaints with a Senegalese prosecutor accusing Habré of crimes against humanity and torture. Senegal has said, however, that it will not process the complaints until it receives €27 million from the international community for all the costs of the trial. President Wade said in October 2008 that if Senegal did not receive the funding he would make Mr. Habré "leave Senegal."

Faced with Senegal's inaction, Belgium on February 19, 2009 asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to order Senegal to prosecute or extradite Mr. Habré. Belgium also asked the ICJ immediately to order Senegal not to allow Habré to leave Senegal pending the court's judgment on the merits. On May 28, the court accepted Senegal's formal pledge not to allow Habré to leave Senegal pending its final judgment.

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