Final hearings of the trial initiated by Belgium to force Senegal to extradite Hissene Habre took place at The Hague International Court of Justice (ICJ) in March. This was the last episode of a 12 years saga. It began by the action before the Belgian courts launched by three Belgian citizens of Chadian origin in November 2000. The three men accused Habre of being responsible for human rights violations, tortures, genocide and crimes against humanity. The file included strong evidence. Beside testimonies of victims who survived, it included documents from Habre’s dreaded political police, the “direction de la documentation et de la sécurité” (DDS). It mentioned the names of 1,208 persons who died in custody and those of more than 12,000 other people who were victims in one way or another of human rights violations and crimes against humanity under Habre’s regime. The complaint was filed with a Belgian court because earlier complaints filed in Senegal did not bring concrete results, explains Human Rights Watch’s Counsel and Spokesperson Reed Brody. Accordingly, for the victims this is «the last chance» to hold Habre’s trial.
In September 2005, a Belgian judge issued a warrant of arrest against Hissene Habre and an extradition request was sent to the Senegalese embassy. In November of that year, the Senegalese justice declared that the case did not come within the jurisdiction of the Senegalese courts.
Since Senegal failed to organise Habre’s prosecution and trial, despite a first indictment in 2000, Belgium decided to bring the case to the ICJ on the base of Article 30 of the United Nations Convention against Torture. Article 30 is based on an International Law principle that makes it an obligation for a state to either prosecute or extradite alleged perpetrators of torture. Therefore, last Mach, the counsels of the Belgian state asked the ICJ to certify that Senegal violated its international obligations and to take immediate measures to remedy the situation. During the hearings at The Hague, Belgian lawyers and International Law specialists argue that the Dakar authorities failed to fulfil their commitment to judge Habre.
This is the second time that the ICJ is being asked to rule over the case. In 2009, it refused to take an injunction against Senegal because the Dakar authorities did not show their intention to put an end to Hissene Habre’s house arrest. During the March 2012 hearings, Senegal’s Foreign Ministry director for legal affairs, Cheikh Tidiane Thiam denied it was trying to escape from its international obligations by not extraditing Habre. Beside this, Prosecutor Oumar Gaye, who pleaded in his capacity of adviser of the Senegalese state, declared that his country was introducing some reforms which would enable the Senegalese courts to carry out a fair trial of Hissene Habre.
At the same time, the Dakar government explained that it was bound by a decision of the Economic Community of Western African States Court of Justice of November 2010, which ordered Senegal to make sure Hissene Habre is judged by an ad-hoc international court. According to the Senegalese officials, the Dakar authorities have already started consultations to set up such special court. But the lawyers of the victims believe these moves are only part of a delaying tactics game.
It is difficult for them to trust the Senegalese authorities. At The Hague, Senegalese officials claimed that the Dakar government is willing to prosecute Habre but on several occasions, former President Abdoulaye Wade and ex-Foreign Minister Madické Niang said that Habre would never be judged in Senegal. Moreover, Madické Niang and his colleague, the former Minister of Justice are not neutral, since both were part of Hissene Habre’s team of lawyers, argues the chairman of a Ndjamena-based association of victims, Clément Abafouta. Indeed, in March and in September 2011 and then again in January 2012, the Dakar Court of Appeal reiterated its refusal to prosecute Habre.
Now that Malick Sall is the new president of Senegal, plaintiffs hope that the attitude of the Dakar authorities might be less obstructive. But Jacqueline Moudeïna, the Chadian lawyer of the victims has serious doubts, because, she says, Hissene Habre who left Chad in 1990 with the money of the State Treasury, has invested a lot in Senegal to build up protection networks, including within the influent Islamic mouride and tidiane brotherhoods.
At the court session in The Hague, last March, the director of Belgium’s Foreign Affairs legal department, Paul Rietjens pleaded in favour of an immediate opening of the Habre trial in Belgium, because time elapses and victims grow older, some of them have even died already, accordingly. The Belgian professor of International Law, Eric David also stressed before the ICJ that one of the pretexts which were raised by Senegal in order not to judge Habre, namely the lack of financial resources, was removed in November 2010, when the Brussels government alongside with the European and the African Unions made clear that they were ready to finance the trial up to EUR 8.6 million. Over a month, after the hearings at the ICJ, the suspense remains. Nobody knows yet whether Habre will be extradited or not. Nobody knows what will be the end of this case once dubbed as an “interminable political and legal soap opera” by the South African Anglican archbishop and Nobel Prize Desmond Tutu. But the suspense should not last forever: in principle, the ICC should take a decision before the end of the year.