(Dakar) – The trial in Senegal of the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré, set to begin July 20, 2015, will mark the culmination of a two-decade campaign for justice.
“It took 24 years, but justice has finally caught up with Hissène Habré,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with the survivors since 1999. “This case warns despots everywhere that they will never be out of the reach of their victims.”
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. Judge Gberdao Gustave Kam of Burkina Faso, president of the Trial Chamber, will hear the case along with two senior Senegalese judges.
Habré’s trial will be the first 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.
Survivors of Habré’s government greeted the news of the trial date with satisfaction.
“I want to look Hissène Habré in the face and ask him why I was kept rotting in jail for three years, why my friends were tortured and killed,” said Souleymane Guengueng, who nearly died of mistreatment and disease in Habré’s prisons, and later founded the Association of Victims of Crimes of the Regime of Hissène Habré (AVCRHH).
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.