On Thursday, Belgium initiated proceedings at the International Court of Justice against Senegal over the state’s refusal to prosecute Hissène Habré, the former president of Chad. Habré was the leader of Chad from 1982-1990 and his government was notorious for massacring various ethnic groups and ordering the torture and murder of political opponents. He was deposed in 1990 and went into exile in Senegal.
Belgium alleges that since that time Senegal has denied a number of requests to prosecute Habré. A complaint was filed in Senegal in 2000, which led to Habré being placed under house arrest after being indicted for “crimes against humanity, acts of torture, and barbarity.” However, he has not been criminally prosecuted; Senegalese officials claim that it is a lack of funds that has prevented a trial from moving forward. A similar complaint was raised against Habré in Belgian courts in 2001. Belgium issued an international arrest warrant in 2005, but Senegal has taken no action on that warrant.
After repeated attempts at negotiation and arbitration over the last several years, Belgium brought its case to the ICJ, citing a violation of the UN Convention against Torture. Belgium requested that the Court require Senegal to bring criminal proceedings against Habré, or to extradite him to Belgium. Additionally, Belgian officials asked the ICJ to take provisional measures to ensure that Habré remains under police supervision. Senegalese President Wade has made public comments stating that if the money could not be found for Habré’s trial, he would be released from house arrest.
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