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Chad’s Former Dictator Threw a Fit During His War Crimes Trial in Senegal

Former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre had to be carried into court and restrained by masked security guards at the re-start of his trial for crimes against humanity.
September 7, 2015, 7:02pm
Imagen vía Reuters

Former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre had to be carried into court and restrained by masked security guards on Monday as charges were read at the re-start of his trial in Senegal for crimes against humanity.

The trial was suspended in July after his lawyers refused to appear before the special African Union-backed court. The case marks the first time that the former head of one African nation will be tried by a court in another. A successful trial, conducted to high standards and leading to a credible verdict, would strengthen African countries' argument that they can try their own leaders. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has been criticized for indicting only Africans.


Habre, accused of responsibility for thousands of killings and cases of torture during his eight-year rule from 1982 to 1990, has refused to recognize the legitimacy of the court.

"Shut up! Shut up!" Habre shouted at the clerk as the indictment was read, according to images transmitted on state broadcaster RTS. Habre had to be restrained in his seat by three balaclava-wearing police officers as he shouted abuse at the court.

"Hissene Habre can make all the noise all he wants, but he doesn't get to decide whether he should be tried, or if the victims get justice," said Reed Brody, a counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with Habre's victims since 1999.

The trial caps a 15-year battle by victims and rights campaigners to bring the former strongman to justice in Senegal, where he fled after being toppled in a coup in his central African nation. A reported 40,000 people were killed and 200,000 were tortured under his regime, though Habré denies the claims.

The 72-year-old, who faces charges of war crimes, torture, and crimes against humanity, could face a maximum of life in prison. More than 4,000 people have registered as civil parties to the case, and 100 witnesses are expected to give evidence during the trial, which will last an estimated three months. Dozens of victims will fly to Dakar to testify at the trial, thanks to the cooperation of the Chadian government.

Related: [After 25 Years, Former Chad Dictator Accused of Killing 40,000 Goes on Trial](http://After 25 Years, Former Chad Dictator Accused of Killing 40,000 Goes on Trial)


"Hissene Habre was the absolute king in Chad, throwing people in jail, having them tortured as he pleased, and now he's acting like a spoiled child," said Fatimé Sakine, 53, a secretary who was tortured during 15 months in prison from 1984 to 1986. "He's just afraid of us and afraid of the truth."

When the trial initially opened in Dakar in July, despite threats from Habre that he would boycott the proceedings, the former president managed to cause quite a scene ahead of opening remarks.

"[The trial] is a farce by rotten Senegalese politicians!" Habré shouted while waiting for the initial proceedings to start back in July. "African traitors! Valet of America!" The former Chadian leader was then escorted off the premises and returned to Dakar's Cap Manuel prison.

Habré's political career in Chad began in 1971, when he returned to his native country after studying political science in Paris. According to journalist Michael Bronner, who profiled Habré for Foreign Policy in 2014, Habré soon relocated to northern Chad "to build a militia and lay the groundwork for his political future."

In 1979, Habré was appointed defense minister in an interim government formed by Chad's neighbors in an attempt to unite 11 warring Chadian factions ahead of future elections. In 1982, Habré and 2,000 of his fighters took control of Chad's capital, N'Djamena, and declared the founding of the Third Republic of Chad.


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Habré ruled with an iron fist from the start, executing prisoners of war and political opponents, and enforcing a violent crackdown on civilians suspected of being opposition sympathizers.

Habré was particularly ruthless with two Chadian ethnic groups — the Hadjerai and Zaghawa. In 1987, he launched a campaign of ethnic violence against the Hadjerai after a military officer from the tribe started an opposition movement against the government. Under Habré's direction, the regime's secret police — the Direction of Documentation and Security — targeted civilians and dignitaries alike.

Two years later, the dictator turned his attentions toward the Zaghawa tribe for similar reasons, and again, civilians were targeted. Then, in 1990, forces loyal to current President Idriss Déby took N'Djamena, and Habré fled to Senegal with, allegedly, a share of the national treasury.

When the victims first brought their case in Senegal in 2000, courts ruled they did not have the authority to try crimes committed in Chad. The African Union later refused to extradite Habre to face trial in Belgium, and asked Senegal to pass legislation giving its courts jurisdiction for foreign crimes.

It was not until President Macky Sall took office in Senegal in 2012 that the process picked up speed, with the creation of the Extraordinary African Tribunal a year later.

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