The United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled today that Senegal must either prosecute former Chadian President Hissène Habré for war crimes or extradite him “without further delay.”
The decision by the Court, based in The Hague, Netherlands, is in response to a request by Belgium to prosecute Mr. Habré, who has been accused in a Senegalese court of massive human rights abuses committed by his regime during the 1980s.
Belgium had also sought to have him extradited to face charges in Belgium, citing among other things procedural delays in Senegal’s handling of the case. Senegal had maintained that its judiciary is competent to carry out the prosecution.
In its judgment, which is final and binding, the Court found, unanimously, that Senegal “must, without further delay, submit the case of Mr. Hissène Habré to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution, if it does not extradite him.”
He was charged in February 2000 by a lower court in Dakar, the Senegalese capital, but an appeals court later ruled that Senegalese courts did not have the legal competence to try such cases if they were perpetrated in another country.
In April 2008, however, Senegal’s National Assembly adopted an amendment to the constitution that together with previous changes allowed the country’s legal system to deal with such cases.
Mr. Habré ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990, when he was overthrown and went into exile in Senegal. It is alleged that during his rule thousands of Chadians were tortured and unlawful killings and other serious human rights violations took place.
The ICJ, often referred to as the ‘world court,’ is the UN’s principal judicial organ. It settles legal disputes between States through its judgements, which are final and binding upon the States involved, and gives advisory opinions on legal questions that have been referred to it by other authorized UN organs.