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He stood up, he shouted, he waved his arms about... but everything he did just reminded everyone in the courtroom that he’s not in charge anymore and doesn’t call the shots.

Clement Abaifouta, Souleymane Guengueng and Abdourahmane Guèye, stand outside of the courthouse where the trial of Hissène Habré will be held in Dakar, Senegal. © 2015 Human Rights Watch

This morning saw the dramatic re-opening of the trial against Chad’s former president, Hissène Habré, here at the Extraordinary African Chambers in Dakar, Senegal. After an adjournment of 45 days so court-appointed lawyers could familiarize themselves with the case and play an effective role in ensuring a fair trial (his own lawyers refused to appear), it was like six and a half weeks had never happened.

Habré’s ranting is apparently an attempt to play the victim. He wants people to think that he’s somehow been wronged, that a dark conspiracy is plotting against him.

But Habré is no victim.

For eight years (1982-90), he held absolute power in Chad and is accused of being responsible during that time for tens of thousands of political killings as well as systematic torture.

There are real victims in the court today, however: some of the survivors of prisons under his rule. They watched in satisfaction, knowing that their day in court has finally come. Some 70 such survivors will testify here in the coming months.

If Habré has a sense of decency he will cease his theatrics and look them in they eyes as they tell the stories of the horrific things that happened to them. 

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