DAKAR — Chadian justice officials are questioning and arresting associates of ex-Chadian president Hissene Habre who are accused of torturing and killing political opponents during Habre's eight years in power. Habre fled to Dakar in 1990 after being ousted in a military coup. The flurry of activity in Chad comes just months after Senegal launched a long-awaited special tribunal to try the former president for crimes against humanity "on behalf of Africa."
Chadian justice officials have arrested former police chief Mahamat Djibrine.
He served under ex-Chadian president Hissene Habre, as head of the feared political police, the Directorate of Documentation and Service, or DDS. Human rights activists say the DDS was involved in the brutal torture and killing of opponents of the Habre regime, as well as other atrocities including waves of ethnic cleansing.
Chadian human rights activist and attorney Jacqueline Moudeïna says Djibrine's name was part of a list of 47 Habre associates that she filed with authorities on Oct. 26, 2000, as part of 17 official complaints by victims of abuses under the Habre regime.
She says it is that lawsuit that was the basis of Djibrine's arrest Wednesday, almost 13 years later.
Moudeïna says they are welcoming this recent action not so much with joy, because there haven't been any judgments yet, but rather with a sort of satisfaction that at least something is being done. Better that the accused be brought in for questioning, that they be worried, she says, than nothing at all.
Chadian officials have reportedly issued international arrest warrants for four other Mr. Habre associates and continue to question more.
But why now?
Some say it reflects a renewed political will within Chad to heal the wounds of the past. Others say the establishment in February of the special tribunal in Senegal to try Habre, who was first indicted in 2000, was a catalyst to the start of judicial proceedings back home.
However, human rights lawyers working on the Habre case in Senegal say investigations into his accomplices in Chad are not directly linked to the case being prepared against the former president in Dakar.
Moudeïna says this has always been the strategy: to go after Hissene Habre on the international stage and to focus within Chad on going after his accomplices, who she says should be tried in Chad to send a strong message against impunity.
Activists say the case against Habre in Senegal would set a landmark legal precedent of African courts judging African leaders.
But Moudeïna says they can't stop there.
She says thousands of people worked in Habre's repressive machine. She says investigations into Habre's regime point to 40,000 people killed and that was not the work of just a few people.
Habre denies the charges against him. No date has been announced for the start of the Habre trial in Senegal.