Chad’s former dictator Hissene Habre will stand trial in Senegal over charges of torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity during his rule in the 1980s. Habre, who has been in custody in Senegal since June 2013, will be tried in the Senegalese capital city of Dakar on Monday by the Extraordinary African Chambers, a special criminal court established by the African Union (AU) under an agreement with Senegal.
A judge from Burkina Faso will lead the tribunal, which is expected to hear accounts from 100 witnesses over a time span of three months. Chief Prosecutor Mbacke Fall said his team has heard from nearly 2,500 victims and 60 witnesses since the opening of Habre’s case in July 2013.
Habre’s government was responsible for some 40,000 deaths between 1982 and 1990, according to a report by a truth commission formed by Chad’s current President Idriss Deby. If convicted, the ex-Chadian ruler will face anything from 30 years in prison to life imprisonment with hard labor.
Assane Dioma Ndiaye, a lawyer for the civil parties to the case, described the hearing as “historic,” adding, “There could have been no impunity in this case.” Chadian lawyer Jacqueline Moudeina had earlier said that the trial would be “a turning point” for justice in Africa, noting that documents demonstrating a direct link between Habre and the country’s secret police were “solid.”
However, Ibrahima Diawara, a lawyer representing Habre said that his client has rejected the legitimacy of the court and thus decided not to appear in the hearing. Habre, who had the backing of France and the United States, was ousted by Deby in 1990. After his ouster, Habre fled to Senegal, where he sought refuge. He was placed under house arrest in 2005 until his detention in June 2013.