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June 30, 2013

Senegal Detains Former Chad Dictator Habre

by Jennifer Lazuta

Former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré was taken into police custody in Senegal Sunday.  While Human Rights Watch says this is a "milestone" in the long campaign to bring him to justice, a lawyer for the ex-ruler said its Habré’s rights who are being violated.

Former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré was detained by Senegalese authorities on Sunday.  Habré, who has been accused of crimes against humanity, has been living under house arrest in Dakar since 1990.

Reed Brody is a lawyer for the New York-based Human Rights Watch who has been working with Habré’s victims since 1999.

"This is an amazing day for Hissène Habré’s victims, who have been fighting for 22 years with tenacity and perseverance for their day in court.  With this step, it looks like justice is finally happening.  What we expect now is that Habré will be formally indicted for crimes against humanity and torture.  The judges will then investigate the charges, and we look forward to a trial - a fair trial - in which Hissène Habré’s right are respected and the victims have their day in court," he said.

Habré, who ruled Chad from 1982 until he was deposed in a military coup in 1990, is believed to be responsible for tens of thousands of political killings, systematic torture and human rights violations.

He was first indicted in Senegal back in 2000, but little progress was made under the former government of Abdoulaye Wade.

It wasn’t until February that a special tribunal to judge Habré for crimes against humanity, known as the Extraordinary African Chambers, finally became operational.  The prosecution team is currently conducting a pre-trial investigation.

Habre’s detention comes just weeks after an investigation team traveled to Chad to gather evidence, and three days after U.S. President Barack Obama, visiting Dakar, praised Senegal’s efforts to bring Habré to justice.

A lawyer for Habré, El Hadji Diouf, says the detention of the former Chadian leader is a violation of the law.  

He says the police took Habré from his house Sunday morning and are currently holding him in an undisclosed location.  He says that Hissène Habré is a hostage.  He says Habré was taken away from his home and is being sequestered from his family and his lawyers.  The lawyer says he still doesn’t know where Habré can be found, and that all of Habre’s rights have been violated.

According to Senegalese law, police can detain someone for up to 48 hours for investigation purposes if there is evidence to suggest they have committed a crime.

Human Rights Watch says it is likely the Extraordinary Chambers’ chief prosecutor will bring charges before the judges within the next two days, with the hopes of indicting Habré.

If Habré is indicted, he could remain in custody for the remainder of the pre-trial investigations, which are expected to last 15 months.