World Court accepts Senegal’s assurances on Habre


The World Court has declined to issue an order to prevent exiled former Chadian president Hissene Habre from leaving Senegal, denying a request from Belgium aimed at bringing him to trial.

The court said it accepted Senegal‘s pledge to keep the former ruler of Chad, who was charged in Belgium in 2005 with crimes against humanity and torture, from leaving its borders, Reuters adds.

Belgium, whose legal system allows it to prosecute serious crimes committed abroad, had sought a quick provisional ruling to ensure Habre would not be able to leave Senegal while it tries to force Dakar to either try him or extradite him to Belgium for trial there.

In April it asked the court in The Hague, formally known as the International Court of Justice, for a ruling because it feared that Habre might be allowed to leave.

“There does not exist, in the circumstances of the present case, any urgency to justify the indication of provisional measures by the Court,” World Court Judge Hisashi Owada said, adding the court had agreed to this decision by 13 votes to 1.

Though it rejected Belgium‘s request, the court said the decision did not prejudge the World Court‘s jurisdiction in the case. It said Belgium could submit a fresh request for an order banning Habre from leaving Senegal, if based on new facts.

“This keeps the pressure on Senegal,” Reed Brody at Human Rights Watch said, because the door was still open for Belgium to revisit the matter with the World Court.

“If there is a danger Hissene Habre would leave the country Belgium can come back,” he said.

“The important thing now is that Hissene Habre will stay in Senegal and what we’re hoping is that Senegal will move forward finally and begin the case against him.”

Senegal, which has also indicted Habre and has him under house arrest, has argued that a trial in Senegal should only take place when sufficient financing is in place. Senegal says the trial will cost 28 million euros ($39 million).

“Senegal has asserted on several occasions that it is not contemplating lifting the surveillance and control imposed on the person of Mr Habre either before or after the funds pledged by the international community are made available,” Judge Owada said.

The decision demonstrated confidence in Senegal‘s ability and willingness to try Habre, Senegalese Justice Minister Madicke Niang said.

“That Hussein Habre will be judged in Senegal is a victory for Africa,” he told journalists.

“If you tell me that the Africa Union has the money in place, I can say that the trial will start tomorrow.”

Belgium had argued there was a risk Habre could leave Senegal and avoid prosecution if Senegal were to lift his house arrest if it fails to find a budget for the trial.

Habre, who ruled Chad between 1982-90, is regarded as being close to leading marabouts, or Muslim teachers, who are highly influential in Senegalese politics.

Senegal, where Habre has lived since his overthrow in 1990, was ordered by the African Union two years ago to put him on trial.