Former Chad dictator hears atrocities case

The 72-year-old dictator Hissene Habre – once backed by France and the United States as a bulwark against Libya’s Moamer Kadhafi – is accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture between 1982 and 1990.

He has refused to recognise the authority of Dakar’s Extraordinary African Chambers and was escorted by force into the dock as the court reconvened after a 45-day adjournment.

Dressed in his trademark robe and a white turban, Habre dismissed the court as an “illegal organisation” before shouting “down with imperialism”. 

“At the moment, it is judging you, whether you are consenting or not,” retorted Gberdao Gustave Kam, the Burkinabe president of the chambers.

The proceedings were interrupted by several interjections from Habre and the expulsion of several of his supporters. 

For more than three hours, two clerks read out a document setting out the circumstances of Habre’s alleged crimes.

Much of the material related to the country’s feared Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS), described as the “political police” and main “instrument of terror” of Habre’s regime.

‘Even a fly could not be swatted’
“With Hissene Habre, even a fly could not be swatted without his order,” said one former DDS officer quoted in the document. 

Some 40 000 Chadians were killed under a regime of brutal repression of opponents and rival ethnic groups Habre perceived as a threat to his grip on the Sahel nation, according to a Chadian commission of inquiry and human rights groups. 

Haoua Brahim Faraj, arrested aged 13 and jailed for four years, said she was “very happy” to see Habre in court.

“I was relieved when I saw that he was carried in like a child. Today, he is diminished,” she told Agence France-Presse.

Habre has never accepted the legitimacy of the Dakar prosecution, the first time a despot from one African country has been called to account in another. 

He was similarly forced into the dock on July 20 when his trial – a landmark in African judicial history – got underway.

The court has appointed three attorneys to defend him after he refused legal representation. It adjourned in July to give the lawyers time to prepare the defence, but Habre wants nothing to do with them.

After he was overthrown, Habre fled to Senegal, where he was arrested in June 2013 and has since been in custody. 

Delayed for years, the trial sets an historic precedent as African leaders accused of atrocities were previously tried in international courts. 

Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with the victims of Habre’s regime since 1999, said it was clear that the court was “fed up with Hissene Habre’s antics”.

“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 Brody, who was present in court.

A small group of family members and victims of the regime had gathered to see Habre brought to trial.

“I am quite calm. The whole world, and in particular Chadians, have been waiting for this trial,” Clement Abaifouta, of the Association of Victims of Crimes of the Regime of Hissene Habre, told AFP.

Chadian lawyer Jacqueline Moudeina, a spokeswoman for the legal team representing the victims, said the prosecution was “confident”.

“Habre has decided once again to choose theatrics but this attitude is not honorable and will not stop justice,” she said. – AFP

Subscribe to the M&G for R2 a month

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

And for this weekend only, you can become a subscriber by paying just R2 a month for your first three months.

Related stories

Lawyers appeal ex-Chad ruler Habré’s life sentence

Former Chadian military ruler Hissène Habré's defence team have appealed his life sentence for war crimes, torture and sexual slavery.

Habré trial a victory for hearing crimes against humanity in Africa

The trial of the Chad dictator in Senegal shows that war and other similar crimes need not be heard in The Hague.

Victims of Habre’s Chad were starved, trial hears

Hunger was a much bigger killer of prisoners under the regime of Chadian ex-dictator Hissene Habre than torture, his war crimes tribunal heard.

Chad trial is a warning for Africa’s tyrants

In a landmark case, the country's ex-ruler, Hissène Habré, is being tried in Senegal for human rights abuses.

Trial of Chad’s Habre suspended after boycott by his lawyers

The trial of Hissene Habre was suspended on Tuesday until September after the court named new lawyers because his defence team shunned the session.

Chad’s torture victims seek justice in trial of Hissene Habre

Hissene Habre faces charges of torture and crimes against humanity in the first trial of an African leader outside his nation by a continental court.

Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: Frank Chikane on the rainbow where colours never...

Reverend Frank Chikane has just completed six years as the chairperson of the Kagiso Trust. He speaks about corruption, his children’s views and how churches can be mobilised

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

More top stories

‘Where the governments see statistics, I see the faces of...

Yvette Raphael describes herself as a ‘professional protester, sjambok feminist and hater of trash’. Government officials would likely refer to her as ‘a rebel’. She’s fought for equality her entire life, she says. And she’s scared of no one

Covid-19 stems ‘white’ gold rush

The pandemic hit abalone farmers fast and hard. Prices have dropped and backers appear to be losing their appetite for investing in the delicacy

Al-Shabab’s terror in Mozambique

Amid reports of brutal, indiscriminate slaughter, civilians bear the brunt as villages are abandoned and the number of refugees nears half a million

South Africa’s cities opt for clean energy

Efforts to reduce carbon emissions will hinge on the transport sector

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…