Last Friday, July 20, 2012, the International Court of Justice delivered its Judgment in the case concerning Questions Relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal).
The Court unanimously held that “the Republic of Senegal must, without further delay, submit the case of Mr. Hissene Habre to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution, if it does not extradite him.”
Mr. Hissene Habre was the President of the Republic of Chad between June 1982 and 1990. It is alleged that during his time in power, large-scale violations of human rights were committed, and he is accused of being responsible for thousands of killings and systematic torture. After Mr. Habre was overthrown by Idriss Deby on December 1, 1990, he sought, and was granted, political asylum from the Senegalese Government and has remained there ever since.
Since January 2000 several proceedings have been launched before both Senegalese and Belgian courts by nationals of Chad, persons of dual Belgian-Chadian nationality, Belgian nationals of Chadian origin and an association of victims, alleging gross violations of human rights and breaches of the Convention Against Torture. On September 19, 2005, the Belgian investigating judge issued an international warrant in abstentia for the arrest of Mr. Habre, indicting him as the perpetrator or co-perpetrator of serious violations of international humanitarian law, torture, genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Belgium requested the extradition of Mr. Habre from Senegal, supported by an Interpol ‘red notice’, which has been followed by three more extradition requests in March 2011, September 2011 and January 2012.
On February 19, 2009, Belgium instituted proceedings against Senegal before the ICJ alleging that Senegal had failed to uphold its obligations under the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and customary international law to prosecute Mr. Habre for crimes of torture and crimes against humanity. During the oral proceedings, Belgium submitted that Senegal had breached its international obligations by failing to incorporate provisions into Senegalese domestic law which would enable the Senegelese judicial authorities to exercise universal jurisdiction in accordance with Article 5(2) of the Convention Against Torture. Belgium also alleged that Senegal was obliged under international law to prosecute or extradite Mr. Habre for criminal proceedings for those acts characterized as torture, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide under Article 6(2) and 7(1) of the Convention Against Torture, and that their failure to do so was a breach of international law. Belgium requested that Senegal cease its wrongful acts either by trying Mr. Habre within Senegal or by extraditing him to Belgium to face trial there.
Senegal argued, firstly that there was no dispute to answer and the court lacked jurisdiction, and alternatively, that Senegal was not in breach of its international obligations.
In its judgment, the International Court of Justice found that it did have jurisdiction to entertain the dispute concerning the interpretation and application of Article 6(2) and 7(1) of the Convention against Torture, but that it did not have jurisdiction to entertain claims relating to Senegal’s alleged breaches of customary international law.
With regard to the specifics of the case, the Court found, by fourteen votes to two, that because Senegal had failed to immediately make a preliminary inquiry into the facts relating to crimes allegedly committed by Mr. Habre, it had breached its obligation under Article 6(2) of the Convention against Torture, and that by failing to submit the case to competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution it had breached its obligations under Article 7(1) of the Convention against Torture. The Court held that “In failing to comply with its obligations under those provisions, Senegal has engaged its international responsibility. Consequently, Senegal is required to cease this continuing wrongful act…[and] must take, without further delay, the necessary measures to submit the case to is competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution, if it does not extradite Mr. Habre.”
The full text of the judgment can be read here.