The Hague, July 20, 2012 (FH) - The International Court of Justice ruled on Friday that Senegal had breached its international obligations by failing to make immediately a preliminary inquiry into the facts relating to the crimes allegedly committed by Hissène Habré. According to the ruling, Senegal must “without further delay, submit the case of Mr. Hissène Habré to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution, if it does not extradite him”.

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The court’s ruling is legally binding.

In March 2012, Belgium argued before the 15 judges of the ICJ that Senegal had violated the international Convention against Torture by not bringing Habré to trial. Brussels asked the court to order Dakar to try Habré or extradite him to Belgium, where he has been indicted since 2005 for crimes against humanity and torture. Habré has been living in exile in Senegal since 1990.

Senegal's lawyers argued that it had not breached its obligations, and that if Habré had not been brought to trial in 21 years it was because of all the political and legal complications. The most recent was a decision of the ECOWAS Court of Justice in November 2010 which came just after a donor pledge of 8.6 million Euros to Senegal to organize the trial. The ECOWAS court called on Dakar to “look at ways of setting up, under the auspices of the African Union, an ad hoc international court to try Hissène Habré”. Senegalese prosecutor general Ibrahim Bakhoum said his country must respect the ECOWAS court decision and had undertaken a series of talks on this point with the African Union.

In its ruling, the Court considered that “Senegal’s duty to comply with its obligations under the Convention cannot be affected by the decision of 18 November 2010 of the ECOWAS Court of Justice”. It added that “the financial difficulties raised by Senegal cannot justify the fact that it failed to initiate proceedings against Mr. Habré and that the referral of the matter to the African Union cannot justify Senegal’s delays in complying with its obligations under the Convention”.

The case was brought following a request to the ICJ from Belgium on February 19, 2009.

President Macky Sall, who came to power in March, had indicated that he would be willing to prosecute Hissène Habre in a special tribunal.

Amnesty International called on Senegal to abide by Friday's ruling by the ICJ. "This is a victory for victims

The International Court of Justice is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, established under the UN Charter of 1945. (It should not be confused with the International Criminal Court, which is also based in The Hague.) The ICJ's main role is to settle legal disputes between states. Its judgments have binding force and are without appeal for the parties concerned.