International Court of Justice rules on Hissène Habré case

date: 20 July 2012

Hissène Habré case - The International Court of Justice has ruled that Belgium’s appeal is receivable whereby Senegal is not meeting its obligations, ensuing from the United Nations Convention Against Torture, to prosecute Hissène Habré, unless it extradites him to Belgium.

Today, 20 July 2012, the International Court of Justice ruled in the case “Questions relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium vs. Senegal)” that Belgium had submitted to the International Court of Justice against Senegal in 2009 with regard to the proceedings instituted against former Chadian President Hissène Habré.

In its ruling, the International Court of Justice states that Senegal is not complying with its obligation ensuing from the Convention to take Hissène Habré to court, unless it extradites him to Belgium as it is obliged to pursuant to the applicable articles of the United Nations Convention Against Torture of 1984.

According to the Belgian government, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Didier Reynders and Minister of Justice Annemie Turtelboom are delighted with the decision of the International Court of Justice, which will be recorded in the history of international law as a ruling of principle. This ruling is the first to establish the obligation of States to fight against impunity concerning the most serious international offences at the level of the International Court of Justice, i.e. the highest level with regard to international relations.

Belgium had requested that the International Court establish that Senegal is obliged to immediately bring the Hissène Habré case before the competent authorities with a view to prosecuting him or, if not, to hand Hissène Habré over to Belgium without delay.

In view of the Statute of the International Court of Justice, the ruling is final and not subject to appeal. Furthermore, it is binding for the parties to the proceedings. If Senegal does not extradite Hissène Habré to our country, then it must prosecute him without delay.

In this respect, Belgium recalls the commitment Senegal undertook and that was recently reconfirmed by the new President, Macky Sall, whereby Hissène Habré can be tried without delay in a Senegalese court. Belgium maintains its offer, which it has already repeatedly made to Senegal, with regard to judicial cooperation, according to which the rules regarding mutual legal support between both countries will be respected. Belgium also recalls its pledge to financially support the organisation of the trial against Hissène Habré in Senegal.

Finally, Belgium takes note of the fact that the International Court of Justice has not expressed itself regarding the obligation to prosecute or to extradite laid down in international common law. This nevertheless has no impact on the crucial importance of today’s ruling.

Background

  • Between November 2000 and April 2001, several complaints were filed in Belgium by victims, some of them with Belgian nationality as they are recognised as political refugees by our country, against Hissène Habré for war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of genocide. It is suspected that Hissène Habré committed these crimes between 1982 and 1990, when he was President of Chad.
  • After a thorough preliminary investigation carried out by the Belgian judicial authorities not only in Chad but also in Senegal, where Hissène Habré found asylum in 1990 after his regime fell, the Belgian’s examining magistrate issued an international arrest warrant on 19 September 2005. On 22 September 2005, the Senegalese authorities were once again requested to extradite him, pursuant to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 10 December 1984, which contains the aut dedere aut judicare (extradite or prosecute) legal principle.
  • As Senegal was not prosecuting, Belgium filed a claim on 19 February 2009 with the International Court of Justice in order to have the legal principle of aut dedere aut judicare enforced, not only based on international convention law (Convention against Torture, the Geneva Conventions, etc.), but also on international common law.
  • Furthermore, Belgium is also requesting precautionary measures to prevent Hissène Habré from leaving Senegal and trying to avoid justice before the International Court of Justice has ruled on the substance of the case.
  • In its decision of 28 May 2009, the International Court of Justice took note of Senegal’s formal pledge to the International Court of Justice following the hearings on the request for precautionary measures. Senegal undertook to not authorise Hissène Habré to leave Senegalese territory as long as the case was pending with the International Court of Justice.
  • At these hearings, Senegal informed Belgium of the fact that it would not accede to Belgium’s extradition request. In view of the standstill, since Senegal did not request its judicial authorities to institute proceedings against Hissène Habré, Belgium made a second and a third request for extradition on 15 March 2011 and 5 September 2011 respectively. Both requests were turned down. The reason invoked was that the required documents were missing, but Belgium has always contested this. A fourth request for extradition followed on 17 January 2012. Until now, the competent Senegalese authorities have not acted on this request.
  • In the case pending before the International Court of Justice, written statements have been exchanged between the Belgian and Senegalese authorities and hearings were held from 12 to 21 March 2012 on the substance of the case. The Court’s decision in this case was pronounced on 20 July 2012.