Former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre is escorted by military officers after being heard by judge in Dakar, Senegal on July 2, 2013.

(Dakar, April 27, 2015) – Human Rights Watch on April 27 issued an updated questions and answers document about the upcoming trial in Senegal of the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré.

“The Hissène Habré trial shows that it is possible for victims, with tenacity and perseverance, to bring a dictator to court,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with the survivors since 1999. “In a case which looked dead so many times, the victims made it clear that they were never going away until they got justice.”

Habré will stand trial on charges of crimes against humanity, torture, and war crimes before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system. The chambers were inaugurated by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute the “person or persons” most responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990, the period when Habre ruled Chad. The president of the Trial Chamber is Gberdao Gustave Kam of Burkina Faso, who will sit with two senior Senegalese judges, Amady Diouf and Moustapha Ba, and Pape Ousmane Diallo of Senegal as an alternate.

The judges were inaugurated on April 23, and Senegal’s minister of justice Sidiki Kaba said that the trial would begin in June.

Habré’s trial will be the first in the world in which the courts of one country prosecute the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes. It will also be the first universal jurisdiction case to proceed to trial in Africa. Universal jurisdiction is a legal basis in international law that allows national courts to prosecute the most serious crimes even when committed abroad, by a foreigner and against foreign victims.

The question-and-answer document includes information about the history of the case and details about the trial and the Extraordinary African Chambers.

Habré is accused of thousands of political killings and systematic torture during his rule, from 1982 to 1990, when he was deposed by the current president, Idriss Déby Itno, and fled to Senegal. After a 22-year campaign by his victims, the chambers indicted Habré in July 2013 for crimes against humanity, torture, and war crimes and placed him in pretrial custody. After a 19-month investigation, judges of the Extraordinary African Chambers found that there was sufficient evidence for Habre to face trial. 

On March 25, 2015, a court in Chad convicted 20 top security agents of Habré’s government on torture and murder charges.