skip navigation

Ely Ould Dah

This case summary is being revised and will be updated soon

Court Cour d'assises du Gard, France
Decision date 7 January 2005
Categories Torture
Keywords amnesties, Jreida death camp, torture, universal jurisdiction
Other countries involved
  • Mauritania
back to top

Procedural history

On 4 June 1999, the two victims, political refugees in France, lodged a complaint with the support of the FIDH (Fédération internationale des droits de l’homme) and of the LDH (Ligue des droits de l’Homme) and were further supported by the Human Rights Association of Mauritanian Victims. Ely Ould Dah was arrested in France on 2 July 1999, while attending a training program in Montpellier. Indicted for torture by the French authorities, Ely Ould Dah was placed in pre-trial detention the same day.

After having rejected a first release request on 22 July 1999, French judicial authorities authorised his release under judicial control (his passport was confiscated and he was put under house arrest), on 28 September 1999. On 5 April 2000, Ely Ould Dah escaped to Mauritania where he continues to benefit from the protection of the local authorities despite an international warrant issued against him by a French judge on 7 April 2000.

After several legal wrangles, on 8 July 2002, the Nîmes Appeals Court finally confirmed that he should be tried before the Cour d’assises du Gard.

The appeal lodged by Ely Ould Dah against the decision of the Nîmes Appeals Court was rejected by the French Cour de Cassation on 23 October 2002. The rejection of Ely Ould Dah’s appeal on 23 October 2002 is particularly important. The decision refers to Article 689, paras. 1 and 2 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The decision reaffirms the universal jurisdiction of the French courts to judge the crime of torture through the application of the 1984 Convention Against Torture, without consideration to the place where the crimes were committed or the nationality of the presumed perpetrator.

The trial in absentia opened on 30 June 2005 before the Cour d’assises of Nîmes/du Gard.

back to top

Related developments

On 30 June 2006, Ely Ould Dah was still living in Mauritania, when the FIDH, LDH and the AMDH appealed to the French authorities that they officially request Ely Ould Dah’s extradition to France to serve his sentence.  

On 17 March 2009, the European Court of Human Rights declared that France had exercised its jurisdiction according to the European Convention on Human Rights. Moreover, the court considered the prohibition of torture as a peremptory norm under international law (jus cogens) so the Mauritanian amnesty law did not preclude France from trying Ely Ould Dah. 

back to top

Legally relevant facts

Between 1989 and 1991, the Senegalese-Mauritanian conflict was fought along the Senegal River bordering the two countries. For several centuries the Senegal River region has been inhabited by both indigenous black populations and white populations, first Berber and Arab, from the north. In 1990, and under the pretext of a hypothetical conspiracy, several thousands of African Mauritanians were arrested and tortured. In May 1993, an amnesty law prohibited any legal proceedings to be taken against those responsible for these acts. Captain Ely Ould Dah, who was intelligence officer at the Jreida prison base close to Nouakchott at the time, was charged for having ordered acts of torture carried out against two black Mauritanian soldiers, Mamadou Diagana and Ousmane Dia, and to have participated in these acts.

back to top

Court's holding and analysis

On 1 July 2005, Ely Ould Dah was sentenced by the Cour d’assises of Nîmes/du Gard to ten years in prison, the maximum term for having directly committed, ordered or organised acts of torture at the “Jreida death camp”.

back to top

Additional materials

Free University Brussels, Competence Universelle (universal jurisdiction), information sheet (in French).

Le Monde, 'Un tribunal français condamne un officier mauritanien à 10 ans de réclusion', 2 July 2005.

FIDH, 'Ely Ould Dah convicted after six years of proceedings. Our perseverance paid off!', 2 July 2005.