Belgium takes Senegal to top UN court over ex-Chad leader

23rd February 2009, Comments 0 comments

Court said Belgium had sought an order compelling Senegal to put Habre on trial.

THE HAGUE - Belgium has filed a case against Senegal in the UN's highest court to compel it to prosecute Chad's former president Hissene Habre for torture or to extradite him for trial, the court said Friday.

The court said Belgium had sought an order compelling Senegal to put Habre on trialSenegal's failure to prosecute Mr Habre, if he is not extradited to Belgium to answer for the acts of torture that are alleged against him, violates the (UN) Convention against Torture," Belgium said in documents filed Thursday, according to a statement from the International Court of Justice.

The , failing which it must extradite him to Belgium "so that he can answer for his crimes."

Brussels also asked the court for an interim ruling on measures to stop Habre from fleeing.

Were his house arrest to be lifted, "there is a risk Mr Habre would leave Senegalese soil and withdraw himself from justice," the Belgian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Brussels had therefore asked the court to order Senegal to take "all the steps within its power to keep Mr Habre under the control and surveillance of the judicial authorities of Senegal."

Contacted by AFP, the Senegalese ministry of justice, which is in charge of overseeing the process of putting the former dictator on trial, declined to comment on the Belgian move.

Habre was toppled from power in 1990 and fled to Senegal after an eight-year reign during which thousands of Chadians were allegedly tortured.

An official truth commission report in 1992 accused Habre's regime of committing some 40,000 political murders.

He was charged in Senegal in February 2000 but the indictment was dismissed by the Dakar Court of Appeal five months later on the grounds that crimes against humanity did not form part of Senegalese criminal law.

Between November 2000 and December 2001, a Belgian national of Chadian origin and several Chadian nationals filed complaints in Belgian courts, and in September 2005, Belgium issued an international warrant for Habre's arrest.

In July 2006, the African Union gave Senegal the green light to prosecute Habre for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The country has since amended its penal code to include the offences of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity but no trial has yet started as Dakar claims it needs 27 million euros (38 million dollars) -- a sum international donors say is excessive.

Brussels said it had sought the UN court's intervention as a measure of last resort after "neither negotiation, nor arbitration succeeded."

Souleymane Guengueng, founder of the the Chadian Association of Victims of Political Repression and Crime, also welcomed the move, saying: "Long live Belgium!

"So many survivors have already died," he said in a statement. "Unless Senegal can be made to bring Hissene Habre to justice soon, there won't be any victims left at his trial."

Alioune Tine, president of the Dakar-based African Assembly for the Defence of Human Rights, said it was "an embarrassment that my country has to be forced to live up to its word and to its legal obligations.

"It is now time for Senegal to show that African courts are capable of delivering justice for crimes committed in Africa."

Meanwhile US-based group Human Rights Watch said the Belgian would help put pressure on Senegal, "which has delayed and delayed, finally to provide justice to Hissene Habre's victims who have been fighting for 18 years to have their day in court."


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