Joanna Harrington is an Associate Professor with the Faculty of Law at the University of Alberta in Canada, where she teaches constitutional law, international law, and international criminal law. Her scholarship often examines the interplay between international human rights law and criminal law, and international law and constitutional law in general. She has written previously on matters of interim measures, arguing for the application of the ICJ’s jurisprudence to requests arising within the context of communications before the international human rights treaty monitoring bodies: see “Punting Terrorists, Assassins and Other Undesirables: Canada, the Human Rights Committee and Requests for Interim Measures of Protection” (2003) 48 McGill LJ 55.
I wish to thank Dapo Akande, the editor of EJIL Talk!, for the invitation to express my initial (and perhaps hasty) thoughts on yesterday’s decision by the International Court of Justice (see here) concerning Belgium’s request for the indication of provisional measures in the proceedings lodged against Senegal concerning the “obligation to prosecute or extradite” Hissène Habré, the former President of Chad (1982-1990), for the commission of serious international crimes, including crimes of torture and crimes against humanity. Habré has been living in Senegal since he was overthrown in 1990; however, in light of recent statements made by the Senegalese head of state intimating that Habré may be allowed to leave the territory, Belgium sought an order from the ICJ requiring Senegal to ensure that such a departure did not occur. Senegal opposed Belgium’s request, challenging Belgium’s interpretation of the statements made by its President as well as the general admissibility of Belgium’s case, while also arguing that such an order was not needed given the existing controls concerning Habré. By 13 votes to one, the Court declined to make the requested order, finding that:
A key factor contributing to the Court’s decision were the solemn assurances provided by Senegal, both on its own initiative and in response to a direct question put by a Member of the Court during the hearings, that it will not allow Habré to leave its territory before the Court has given its final decision. Credit goes to Judge Greenwood, a recent appointment to the Court, for asking Senegal at the end of the first round of the oral observations whether it would be prepared to give a solemn assurance to the Court that it will not allow Habré to leave while this case is pending. Although Senegal had said as much in its submissions, the question prompted Senegal to solemnly confirm in its closing statement to the Court that:
“Senegal will not allow Mr. Habré to leave Senegal while the present case is pending before the Court. Senegal has not the intention to allow Mr. Habré to leave the territory while the present case is pending before the Court.”
With this solemn declaration, the denial of Belgium’s request for the indication of provisional measures was a likely result, notwithstanding Belgium’s efforts to suggest that a “clear and unconditional” assurance “could be sufficient” but the need for certain “clarifications” made an order from the Court preferable. The ICJ’s decision may thus be viewed as a non-result in terms of the actual request that was put before the Court, and the fact that the parties were generally in agreement as to the law governing the indication of provisional measures. Nevertheless, the reasoning behind the Court’s order is worth consideration, as are the issues raised in the relatively lengthy dissent of Judge Cançado Trindade, another new appointment to the Court.
The Existence of a Dispute and the Involvement of the African Union
In addressing a request for the indication of provisional measures, the Court must first satisfy itself that it has prime facie jurisdiction as regards the merits of the case. Read the rest of this entry…