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Hissène Habré

Court Court of Appeal of Dakar, Senegal
Decision title Opinion of the Court of Appeal of Dakar on the Extradition Request for Hissène Habré
Decision date 25 November 2005
  • Hissène Habré
  • Belgium
Categories Crimes against humanity
Keywords crimes against humanity, jurisdiction, torture
Other countries involved
  • Belgium
  • Chad
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Hissène Habré was the President of the Republic of Chad from 1982 until 1990. During that time, he established a brutal dictatorship which, through its political police, the Bureau of Documentation and Security (Direction de la Documentation et de la Sécurité (DDS)), caused the deaths of tens of thousands of individuals.

Residing in exile in Senegal, victims of Habré’s regime instituted proceedings against him in Belgium on the basis of Belgium’s universal jurisdiction law. In order to try Habré, Belgium requested Senegal to extradite him. By the present decision, the Court of Appeal of Dakar held that it was incompetent to grant the request as Habré enjoys immunity from jurisdiction by virtue of his position as the former Head of State of the Republic of Chad. This decision is the precursor to a line of litigation that will culminate in the decision of the International Court of Justice regarding Senegal’s obligation to prosecute or extradite Habré.

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Procedural history

On 8 May 2003, other victims of Habré instituted proceedings against the latter before the Belgian courts in application of a law providing for universal jurisdiction in the country.

In September 2005, Belgium issued an arrest warrant for Habré and requested his extradition from Senegal.

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Related developments

On 15 August 2008, the criminal court in N’Djaména, Republic of Chad tried Habré in absentia and sentenced him to death for crimes against humanity.

In October 2008, Habré requested a declaration of the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of States of West Africa (ECOWAS) to the effect that Senegal had violated his human rights by disregarding fundamental legal principles. By a decision of 18 November 2010, the Court replied that Habré must be treated in accordance with international law and customs.

In February 2009, Belgium introduced proceedings against Senegal before the International Court of Justice requesting the Court to order the Senegalese authorities to maintain Habré under house arrest.

By a decision of 20 July 2012, the ICJ ordered Senegal to either prosecute or extradite Habré so that he may stand trial without further delay. 

On 22 August 2012, Senegal and the African Union signed an agreement to establish the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal to prosecute, amongst others, Habré for crimes committed by his regime in Chad.

Habre (again) brought a suit at the ECOWAS Court seeking an order for the immediate suspension of all investigations and proceedings, alleging that the EAC were an illegitimate court and that his trial would be unfair. However, on 5 November 2013, the Court held that since the EAC was established pursuant to a treaty between Senegal and the AU, it had no jurisdiction to rule on the case. The case was dismissed, clearing the way for the trial to start.

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Legally relevant facts

Hissène Habrè was the President of Chad from 1982 until 1990 and he imposed a brutal dictatorship in his country, characterised by a persistent violation of human rights. Its political police, the Bureau of Documentation and Security (DDS) is alleged to have caused the deaths of tens of thousands of individuals in the country.

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Core legal questions

  • Does the Court of Appeal have the competence to grant or refuse the extradition request for Hissène Habré in light of his unique position as the former President of the Republic of Chad?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

  • Article 101 of the Constitution of Senegal.
  • Law Nº 2002-10 of 22 February 2002.

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Court's holding and analysis

Article 101 of the Senegalese Constitution and the Law of 22 February 2002 introduced a special procedure, separate to the common law, in case of proceedings against the President of the Republic. The Indictments Chamber of the Court of Appeal of Dakar being a common law court of law is therefore incompetent to pronounce on acts of investigation and prosecution who have as their object a Head of State for conduct allegedly committed whilst in office, in the exercise of his functions. This incompetence extends to requests for extradition of a Head of State for acts allegedly committed whilst in office. Hissène Habré is therefore entitled to immunity from jurisdiction. The request is remanded to the Public Prosecutor.

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Instruments cited

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Related cases

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Additional materials