Ely Ould Dha was arrested in France on 2 July 1999, when he was participating in a training programme in Montpellier
Proceedings were triggered on 4 June 1999 when a complaint was lodged by the two victims who by then had become political refugees in France. The complaint was lodged with the support of the FIDH (Fédération internationale des droits de l’homme) and of the LDH (Ligue des droits de l’homme) and further supported by the Human Rights Association of Mauritania and the Association of Mauritanian Victims.
Indicted for torture, Ely Ould Dah was placed in pre-trial detention on 2 July 1999. After having rejected a first release request on 22 July 1999, the French judicial authorities authorised his release on 28 September 1999, under judicial control (his passport was confiscated and he was put under house arrest).
This decision made reference to a potential difficulty in applying criminal law, based on the fact that torture had not been included as a separate crime under French legislation until March 1994. This argument however was in contradiction to Article 55 of the French Constitution which asserts the primacy of ratified treaties over domestic laws. As it is, the 1984 Convention against Torture, on which the complaint was based, came into force in France in 1987. Furthermore torture was already regarded under the previous penal code as constituting an aggravating circumstance in sequestration cases.
According to the FIDH, all the necessary dispositions had not been taken to avoid what was the foreseeable escape of Ely Ould Dah to Mauritania on 5 April 2000. Today, he continues to benefit from the protection of the local authorities despite there being an international arrest warrant issued against him by a French judge on 7 April 2000. An enquiry has been opened up in France to determine the circumstances behind his evasion.
On 25 May 2001, the examining magistrate ordered that Ely Ould Dah be sent before the “Cour d’assises” to be tried. 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”.
An appeal lodged by Ely Ould Dah against the decision was rejected on 23 October 2002.
The trial in absentia, as a result of Ely Ould Dah’s escape, opened on June 30, 2005, before the Nîmes “Cour d’assises”.
On July 1st, 2005, the Nîmes Cour d’assises took a historic decision by sentencing the Mauritania Captain Ely Ould Dah to ten years in prison, the maximum term. The Court acknowledged all the charges concerning acts of torture that Ely Ould Dah had committed directly, ordered or organised at the “Jreïda death camp”.
Ely Ould Dah is currently serving in Mauritania in the national army. On June 30, 2006, FIDH, LDH and AMDH appealed to the French authorities that they officially request Ely Ould Dha’s extradition to France, so that he could serve his prison sentence in that country.
On 17 March 2009 the European Court of Human Rights declared that France had not violated the European Convention on Human Rights’ prohibition on retroactivity by trying Ely Ould Dah. The Court held that France had universal jurisdiction in certain cases. What is more, according to the Court, the prohibition on torture was a peremptory norm under international law (jus cogens) so that the Mauritanian amnesty law did not preclude France from trying Ely Ould Dah.