Belgium on Monday asked the International Court of Justice, the highest United Nations legal body for disputes between nations, to order Senegal to put former Chad President Hissene Habré on trial or to extradite him to face charges of torture and crimes against humanity.
A ruling by the International Court of Justice will be closely watched for a precedent by other countries seeking the extradition of war crimes suspects. Belgium, whose legal system allows it to prosecute serious crimes committed abroad, accused Habré of the crimes in 2005, but he had fled his homeland to Senegal. Courts there have denied Belgium's extradition requests.
Senegal under pressure
Senegal, which will make its plea for the court later this week, is under pressure to allow Habré to face justice, with the African Union recently urging it to either try the former leader itself or send him to a country that would.
Habré ruled Chad between 1982-90 and has lived under house arrest in Senegal since being overthrown. Belgium has requested Habré's extradition four times before deciding in 2009 to bring the case to the The Hague-based court.
"We have no other choice," Belgian lawyer Paul Rietjens told the court in hearings Monday expected to last several weeks. Some of the victims of the crimes were Belgian nationals, Rietjens added. Cheikh Tidiane Thiam, director-general of legal affairs at Senegal's Foreign Ministry, told reporters: "Senegal is doing the best it can in a time frame we consider reasonable."
Habré, 69, was ousted in a coup by current President Idriss Deby and has been accused of thousands of killings and other atrocities during his eight-year rule of the Central African state. He is regarded as being close to leading Muslim teachers, who are highly influential in Senegalese politics.
Proceedings at the world court can take up to several years, but are legally binding on the states.