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There has been a major breakthrough in the case against the former Chadian dictator Hissèe Habré who has been living in comfortable exile in Senegal since he left power in 1990. In January 2000, Human Rights Watch, working with Chadian groups, initially convinced a Senegalese judge to arrest Habré on charges of torture and crimes against humanity - until Senegalese appeals courts, under pressure from a new president, dismissed the case. As a fallback, HRW helped the Chadian victims file criminal charges against Habré in Belgium, whose courts have broad jurisdiction over serious human rights crimes. From February 26 to March 7, a Belgian investigating judge and a police team visited N'Djamena, Chad, with the cooperation of the Chadian government. The visit was front-page news in Chad and transformed the abstract case against Habré in far-off courts into a concrete reality, touching off a firestorm in a country where Habré's most brutal henchman still occupy most of the key security posts. The team visited the five N'Djamena jails as former inmates demonstrated how they were held and tortured. Ex-prisoners led the judge to the sites where they were forced to dig mass graves for those who died in detention. The judge also took the testimony of a number of Habré's aides, and even allowed former victims to confront their torturers. The victims now hope that the judge will indict Habré and seek his extradition from Senegal, which has so far heeded pressure not to let Habré flee pending such a request.

Find out more about the case against Habré at
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