Belgium has taken Senegal to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for what it says is Senegal's failure to prosecute former Chadian President Hissene Habre for crimes against humanity and torture. A Chadian court last year convicted Habre in absentia and sentenced him to death for crimes against the state.
The African Union gave Senegal the right to judge Habre. But Belgium reportedly said Senegal's failure to prosecute Habre so far violates international law.
Legal counsel for Human Rights Watch Reed Brody told VOA his organization supports Belgium's claims against Senegal.
"Hissene Habre has been in Senegal for 18 years; it's been eight years since he was first indicted in Senegal on charges of crimes against humanity and torture. In two and a half years since Senegal accepted a mandate from the African Union to prosecute Hissene Habre and nothing has happened. And Belgium is asking the ICJ to say to Senegal the torture convention obliges you either to prosecute or to extradite Hissene Habre. For the victims who have been fighting for so long, this could be trigger that finally brings Hissene Habre to justice," he said.
A Chadian court last year convicted Habre in absentia and sentenced him to death for crimes against the state. Senegalese Justice Minister Madicke Niang reportedly said Habre could not be tried twice on the same charges.
Brody said Habre was never tried in Senegal on the same charges for which he is being wanted.
"It's true that he was convicted in absentia in Chad for totally different acts for allegedly having participated or helped the rebellion that is under now in Chad. But the minister of justice has retracted that statement, and has said that once he got the information from Chad that these are separate incidents, and that one doesn't preclude the other," Brody said.
Habre's Senegal-based lawyer El Hadj Diouf reportedly criticized Belgium's ICJ appeal, describing it as a "new kind of judicial imperialism." He reportedly said Belgium needed to respect the African Union which gave Senegal the right try Habre.
Brody said Senegal has a legal obligation under the Torture Convention and other conventions to either prosecute him or extradite Habre.
"Belgium is not saying we want Habre extradited to Belgium to stand trial. They are saying Senegal has an obligation either to extradite him or to prosecute him. Hissene Habre is accused of systematic torture, of thousands of political killings. The documents say his political police which provide a roadmap to how Hissene Habre organized his repression in Chad and lists the names of 1,208 people who died in detention. So there's a very strong against Hissene Habre for torture and crimes against humanity. Senegal has legal obligation under the Torture Convention and other conventions to either prosecute or extradite him," Brody said.
Belgium's action against Senegal comes at a time when the International Criminal Court is on the verge of issuing an arrest warrant against Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir.
Brody dismissed accusations by some Africans that the international justice system has been targeting only Africans.
"For Africans who complain that African leaders are being target by international justice, I think there's a need to show that Africans are capable of delivering justice when crimes are being committed in Africa. In this case, I think Senegal should take the lead and show the world that African courts are capable of bringing to justice Africans who are alleged to have committed these crimes," Brody said.