After 25 years of running from the law, former Chadian dictator, Hissène Habré, will now face trial for crime against humanity, war crime and torture, a Senegalese court has ruled.
The ruling is the first of its kind to allow a country to prosecute the ruler of another country for alleged human rights crimes and ultimately shows that there might be no hiding place for former dictators who seek refuge in other countries after being deposed from power.
Mr. Habre ruled Chad between 1982 and 1990 and was accused of widespread human rights abuses, extrajudicial killings and systemic torture. He received massive support from the United States and France which provided him weapons and training and used him in their fight against late Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.
In 1992, the Chadian Truth Commission accused Mr. Habré’s government of political murder and systematic torture of 40,000 people. Most of the abuses were carried out against mainly two ethnic groups, Hadjerai and the Zaghawa, whose leaders were perceived as threats to Mr. Habre’s government.
The judgement came after 22 years of campaign by victims of his brutality. The Extraordinary African Chambers, which were established in February 2013 to prosecute the worst crimes during his rule, indicted Mr. Habré in July 2013. He has been in pre-trial detention since then.
“After so many years, Habré’s victims are now on the verge of seeing justice done for what they have endured,” said Jacqueline Moudeina, lead lawyer for the victims and president of the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (ATPDH).
“Getting Hissène Habré before a court is an enormous victory for justice,” he added.
During the 19-month pre-trial investigation, the judges carried out four missions to Chad and interviewed about 2,500 victims and witnesses. They analysed thousands of documents from the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS), Mr. Habre’s political police and seized papers and effects from his two homes in Dakar. The judges also uncovered mass graves.
“This case shows that it is possible for victims with tenacity and perseverance to bring a dictator to justice,” said Reed Brody, counsel for Human Rights Watch who has worked with Habré’s victims since 1999.
“A fair and transparent trial for Hissène Habré would now demonstrate that courts in Africa can be empowered to provide justice for African victims of crimes committed in Africa,” he said.
His victims have welcomed the announcement of his prosecution with satisfaction.
“I have been waiting more than two decades to see Hissène Habré in court,” said Clément Abaifouta, president of the Association of Victims of the Crimes of Hissène Habré’s Regime (AVCRHH), who, as a political prisoner during Habré’s rule, was forced to dig mass graves and bury hundreds of other detainees. “We are finally going to be able to confront our main tormentor and regain our dignity as human beings.”