Belgium takes Senegal to court over fugitive
Bid pursued at highest UN court for West African nation to turn over former Chad president for crimes against humanity.
|Belgium indicted former Chad president in 2005 for crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture [AP]|
Belgium has launched a bid in the United Nation’s highest court to force Senegal to bring Hissene Habre, dubbed “Africa’s Pinochet”, to trial for crimes against humanity.
The former Chad president, offered a safe haven in Senegal after his overthrow in 1990, deserved to be prosecuted for the terrible torture visited on his victims, Belgium’s representative Paul Rietjens told the court on Monday.
The case brought before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the most serious international attempt to date to put Habre, 69, on trial for alleged atrocities committed during his eight-year rule.
Senegal, under pressure from the 54-member African Union, agreed as long ago as 2006 to try Habre, but has since been dragging its heels.
“These victims, who accuse him of crimes that deserve to be prosecuted, deserve justice” Rietjens said. “Many of them were tortured, incredibly tortured.”
Belgium took up the case under its “universal jurisdiction” law after a complaint was lodged by a Belgian of Chadian origin, but Senegal has blocked three extradition requests since 2005 and another request is pending.
Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade has repeatedly said that while Dakar has never refused to prosecute Habre, it did not have either the “ad hoc” jurisdiction or the funds.
Wade has been Senegal’s leader since 2000 but polls suggest he is likely to lose his bid for re-election later this month.
Brussels now argues that Dakar’s refusal to prosecute Habre or have him extradited “violates the general obligation to punish crimes committed under international humanitarian law”. It took its case to The Hague-based ICJ in 2009.
“The organisation of a trial in Senegal has not progressed one iota,” Rietjens, a director general of legal affairs in the Belgian government, told the 14-judge bench.
“It is not enough to ratify the conventions against torture and make fine speeches about the obligations they imposed,” he said.
The head of Belgium’s central authority on judicial cooperation, Gerard Dive, told the court how a victim described the brutal way in which a relative was murdered under the Habre regime.
“They let him ‘carry his guts’ into a village, where he then passed away,” he said.
Habre faces allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture. A 1992 truth commission report in Chad said he presided over up to 40,000 political and ethnic-related murders. At least one victim attended Monday’s opening.
“Belgium is our last hope. Senegal will never try Hissene Habre, given he had bought his protection over there,” Souleymane Guengueng told the AFP news agency. “What are we waiting for, for not a single victim to be alive?”
Senegal’s representative said the West African country was cooperating.
“Senegal is doing its best within the actions considered to be reasonable,” Cheikh Tidiane Thiam, a director general in the Senegalese government, said.
Public sittings will be held until March 21 at the city’s Peace Palace, where representatives from both countries are to present their arguments in six hearings. Senegal’s representative will open its case on Thursday.