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Questions relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal)

Overview of the case

On 19 February 2009, Belgium filed an Application instituting proceedings against Senegal relating to Mr. Hissène Habré, the former President of Chad and resident in Senegal since being granted political asylum by the Senegalese Government in 1990. In particular, Belgium submitted that, by failing to prosecute Mr. Habré for certain acts he was alleged to have committed during his presidency, including acts of torture and crimes against humanity, or to extradite him to Belgium, Senegal had violated the so‑called obligation aut dedere aut judicare (that is to say, “to prosecute or extradite”) provided for in Article 7 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and in customary international law.

On the same day, Belgium filed a Request for the indication of provisional measures, asking the Court to order “Senegal to take all the steps within its power to keep Mr. H. Habré under the control and surveillance of the judicial authorities of Senegal so that the rules of international law with which Belgium requests compliance may be correctly applied”.

In its Order of 28 May 2009, referring to the assurances given by Senegal during the oral proceedings that it would not allow Mr. Habré to leave its territory while the case was pending, the Court concluded that there was no risk of irreparable prejudice to the rights claimed by Belgium and that there did not exist any urgency to justify the indication of provisional measures.

In its Judgment dated 20 July 2012, the Court began by examining the questions raised by Senegal relating to its jurisdiction and to the admissibility of Belgium’s claims. It found that it did have jurisdiction to entertain Belgium’s claims based on the interpretation and application of Article 6, paragraph 2, and Article 7, paragraph 1, of the Convention against Torture. The Court further determined that it did not have jurisdiction to entertain the issue whether there existed an obligation for a State to prosecute crimes under customary international law allegedly committed by a foreign national abroad.

With respect to the admissibility of Belgium’s claims, the Court ruled that once any State party to the Convention against Torture was able to invoke the responsibility of another State party with a view to ascertaining the alleged failure to comply with its obligations erga omnes partes, i.e., obligations owed toward all States parties, Belgium, as a party to the said Convention, had standing to invoke the responsibility of Senegal for the alleged breaches of its obligations under Article 6, paragraph 2, and Article 7, paragraph 1, of that Convention. The Court thus found that Belgium’s claims based on those provisions were admissible.

As regards the alleged violation of Article 6, paragraph 2, of the Convention against Torture, which provides that a State party in whose territory a person alleged to have committed acts of torture is present must “immediately make a preliminary inquiry into the facts”, the Court noted that Senegal had not included in the case file any material demonstrating that it had carried out such an inquiry. In the present case, the establishment of the facts had become imperative at least since the year 2000, when a complaint was filed in Senegal against Mr. Habré. Nor had an investigation been initiated in 2008, when a further complaint against Mr. Habré was filed in Dakar, after the legislative and constitutional amendments made in 2007 and 2008, respectively. The Court concluded from the foregoing that Senegal had breached its obligation under the above‑mentioned provision.

With respect to the alleged violation of Article 7, paragraph 1, of the Convention against Torture, the Court first examined the nature and meaning of the obligation laid down in that provision.

It concluded from the foregoing that Senegal’s obligation to prosecute pursuant to Article 7, paragraph 1, of the Convention did not apply to acts alleged to have been committed before the Convention entered into force for Senegal on 26 June 1987, although there was nothing in that instrument to prevent it from instituting proceedings concerning acts that were committed before that date. The Court found that Belgium, for its part, was entitled, with effect from 25 July 1999, the date when it became party to the Convention, to request the Court to rule on Senegal’s compliance with its obligation under Article 7, paragraph 1, of the Convention.

Finally, the Court examined the question of the implementation of the obligation to prosecute. It concluded that the obligation laid down in Article 7, paragraph 1, of the Convention required Senegal to take all measures necessary for its implementation as soon as possible, in particular once the first complaint had been filed against Mr. Habré in 2000. Having failed to do so, Senegal had breached and remained in breach of its obligations under Article 7, paragraph 1, of the Convention.

The Court found that, by failing to comply with its obligations under Article 6, paragraph 2, and Article 7, paragraph 1, of the Convention, Senegal had engaged its international responsibility. Therefore, it was required to cease that continuing wrongful act and to take, without further delay, the necessary measures to submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution, if it did not extradite Mr. Habré.


This overview is provided for information only and in no way involves the responsibility of the Court.

Institution of proceedings

Written proceedings

Oral proceedings

Verbatim record 2009/8

Public sitting held on Monday 6 April 2009, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Owada presiding, in the case concerning Questions relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal)
Procedure(s): Provisional measures
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Verbatim record 2009/9

Public sitting held on Monday 6 April 2009, at 3 p.m., at the Peace Palace, President Owada presiding, in the case concerning Questions relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal)
Procedure(s): Provisional measures
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Verbatim record 2009/10

Public sitting held on Tuesday 7 April 2009, at 4.30 p.m., at the Peace Palace, President Owada presiding, in the case concerning Questions relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal)
Procedure(s): Provisional measures
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Verbatim record 2009/11

Public sitting held on Wednesday 8 April 2009, at 4.30 p.m., at the Peace Palace, President Owada presiding, in the case concerning Questions relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal)
Procedure(s): Provisional measures
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Verbatim record 2012/2

Public sitting held on Monday 12 March 2012, at 10.20 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Tomka presiding, in the case concerning Questions relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal)
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Verbatim record 2012/3

Public sitting held on Tuesday 13 March 2012, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Tomka presiding, in the case concerning Questions relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal)
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Verbatim record 2012/4

Public sitting held on Thursday 15 March 2012, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Tomka presiding, in the case concerning Questions relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal)
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Verbatim record 2012/5

Public sitting held on Friday 16 March 2012, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Tomka presiding, in the case concerning Questions relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal)
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Verbatim record 2012/6

Public sitting held on Monday 19 March 2012, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Tomka presiding, in the case concerning Questions relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal)
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Verbatim record 2012/7

Public sitting held on Wednesday 21 March 2012, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Tomka presiding, in the case concerning Questions relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal)
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Other documents

Orders

Order of 9 July 2009

Fixing of time-limits: Memorial and Counter-Memorial
Available in:
English French Bilingual

Order of 11 July 2011

Extension of a time-limit
Available in:
English French Bilingual

Judgments

Summaries of Judgments and Orders

Summary 2009/3

Summary of the Order of 28 May 2009
Available in:
English French

Summary 2012/4

Summary of the Judgment of 20 July 2012
Available in:
English French

Press releases

Press release 2009/13

19 February 2009
Belgium institutes proceedings against Senegal and requests the Court to indicate provisional measures
Available in:
English French

Press release 2009/14

12 March 2009
Proceedings instituted by the Kingdom of Belgium against the Republic of Senegal - Request for the indication of provisional measures - The Court to hold public hearings from 6 to 8 April 2009
Available in:
English French

Press release 2009/16

8 April 2009
Questions relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal) - Conclusion of the public hearings on the request for the indication of provisional measures submitted by the Kingdom of Belgium
Available in:
English French

Press release 2009/21

22 May 2009
Questions relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal) - Request for the indication of provisional measures - Court to deliver its Order on Thursday 28 May 2009 at 10 a.m.
Available in:
English French

Press release 2009/22

28 May 2009
Questions relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal) - Request for the indication of provisional measures - The Court finds that the circumstances, as they now present themselves to it, are not such as to require the exercise of its power to indicate provisional measures
Available in:
English French

Press release 2009/26

17 July 2009
Questions relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal) - Fixing of time-limits for the filing of the initial pleadings
Available in:
English French

Press release 2011/23

22 July 2011
Questions relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal) - Extension of the time-limit for the filing of Senegal's Counter-Memorial
Available in:
English French

Press release 2012/10

16 February 2012
Questions relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal) - The Court to hold public hearings from Monday 12 March to Wednesday 21 March 2012 - Live web streaming
Available in:
English French

Press release 2012/12

8 March 2012
Swearing-in of Mr. Gaja and Ms Sebutinde, new Members of the Court - The Court will hold a public sitting on Monday 12 March 2012 at 10 a.m. before the public hearings in the case concerning Questions relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal)
Available in:
English French

Press release 2012/13

21 March 2012
Questions relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal) - Conclusion of the public hearings - Court to begin its deliberation
Available in:
English French

Press release 2012/23

16 July 2012
Questions relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal) - The Court to deliver its Judgment on Friday 20 July 2012 at 3 p.m. - Reading to be broadcast live on the Court's website
Available in:
English French

Press release 2012/24

20 July 2012
Questions relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal) - The Court finds that the Republic of 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
Available in:
English French

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