Questions relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal): The case of Hissène Habré before the International Court of Justice

International Court of Justice (Photo by United Nations Photo - Creative Commons License Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Hissène Habré (1942, Chad), former President of the Republic of Chad, who seized power in 1982 and held in power until 1990, is the target of the Kingdom of Belgium. Belgium filed an application instituting proceedings against the Republic of Senegal in respect of a dispute concerning “Senegal’s compliance with its obligation to prosecute Mr. Hissène Habré, former President of the Republic of Chad, or to extradite him to Belgium for the purposes of criminal proceedings”.

The bases to do this are the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment as well as other norms regarding international crimes and human rights. According to Belgium, Senegal has not started any proceedings to prosecute Habré in Senegal, where he lives since he fled from Chad. The acts that are attributed to the former president of Chad, who allegedly got to govern in this African country with the help of the CIA, are crimes of torture and crimes against humanity.

The African Union and the UN have been pushing to continue the case, urging Senegal to prosecute him themselves or to send it to any country that would do it. There is to be taken into consideration, however, that as BBC acknowledges Habré was sentenced to death in abstentia despite the fact human rights organisations believed he wouldn’t have a fair trial in Chad.

The International Court of Justice has had six hearings where the case has been exposed. Within these days, Belgium has explained how even after several requests of extradition and the fact of the serious allegations against Habré, little has been done to overcome this situation, having thus to claim in the ICJ that there is base to believe that there is no intention to prosecute the former president of Chad. Before the case arrived to the ICJ, the African Court on Human and People’s Rights also had the opportunity to deal with this issue, although it was unsuccessful since the Court claimed lack of jurisdiction. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also studied this case and decided that although the crimes allegedly committed by Hissene Habré “did not constitute criminal offences under national law in Senegal . . . they were held to be so under international law”1 and that “in accordance with international custom”, the proceedings against Hissène Habré should be conducted before an ad hoc international judicial body2.

Called by Human Rights Watch as the “African Pinochet”, Habré’s judicial future will be decided after it is decided whether Senegal breached international law obligations to prosecute those who commit crimes against humanity. Either prosecuted or extradited, victims hope that the process will take less time than for the ICC reach the first conviction in their decade of existence.


1- ECOWAS Court of Justice, Hissène Habré v. Republic of Senegal, Judgment, 18 November 2010, General List No. ECW/CCJ/APP/07/08, para. 58, CMS, Vol. II, Ann. 2.

2- Ibid., para. 61.


Diego J. Naranjo Barroso


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