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UN court dismisses Belgian bid to force Senegal to hold Chad’s Habre

THE HAGUE – "The risk of Irreparable prejudice to the rights claimed by Belgium is not apparent," judge Hisashi Owada of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in The Hague.

Belgium had asked the court in April to compel Senegal to keep Habre in its custody, but the court said it was satisfied with Dakar’s assurances that it had no intention of letting him go.

Habre had been living in Senegal since being toppled from power and fleeing his own country in 1990 after an eight-year reign during which thousands of his political opponents, their family members, and members of certain ethnic groups, were allegedly tortured and killed.

An official truth commission report in 1992 accused Habre’s regime of having committed some 40,000 political murders.

Belgian lawyers had argued in the ICJ that Habre was likely to go into hiding if Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade carried out threats to lift his surveillance unless foreign donors cough up funds for the trial.

But the judges found that Wade’s statements to the press, though giving rise to concern, were subsequently clarified by Dakar which said it would not allow Habre to leave its territory.

Habre was charged in Senegal in February 2000, but the indictment was dismissed by the Dakar Court of Appeal on the ground that crimes against humanity, of which he is accused, were not part of Senegalese criminal law.

Senegal has since amended its penal code, but no trial has yet started as Dakar claims it needs 27 million euros (38 million dollars) — a sum international donors say is excessive.

In September 2005, Belgium issued an international warrant for Habre’s arrest after several alleged victims of his regime filed complaints in Belgian courts.

And in February this year, Brussels lodged a case in the ICJ seeking to compel Senegal to prosecute the former president or to extradite him to Belgium for trial.

Pending that decision, which could take several years, Belgium asked the court to issue provisional measures to force Senegal to keep Habre under surveillance.

Dismissing that bid on Thursday, Owada noted that Senegal "gave a formal assurance on several occasions during the hearings that it will not allow Mr Habre to leave its territory before the court has given its final decision."

Senegal had assured the court that Habre did not possess any valid travel documents and that his surveillance was being carried out by an elite unit of the Senegalese military forces.

It had also stated that negotiations with the European Union and the African Union, to obtain the funding necessary for the trial, were "proceeding well".

Human Rights Watch spokesman Reed Brody said the important thing now was for a speedy trial in Senegal.

"What has to happen now is for Senegal to roll up its sleeves and get down to the real work before it is too late and all of the survivors have died."

The ICJ settles disputes between states.
Mariette le Roux