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Former Chadian Leader Is Arrested in Senegal

Chad’s former president Hissene Habre was arrested on June 30, at his home. He is presently in the custody of the Senegalese police. Habre is accused of killing and torturing tens of thousands of political opponents during his eight-year reign from 1982 until1990. That’s when he was deposed in a coup by current President Idriss Deby.

Habre then fled into exile to Senegal where he had been living a relatively stable life.

Reed Brody, legal counsel for Human Rights Watch (HRW,) has been working closely with Habre’s victims. He has been campaigning for almost fifteen years to have Habre prosecuted. Brody said with this arrest, Habre’s victims can finally see the light of justice at the end of the tunnel.

“Well Hissene Habre’s victims have been fighting for 22 years with tenacity and perseverance to see this day in court,” he said. “So many of them, survivors of this regime, have died along the way. So finally it looks like we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and that there may finally be a trial for Hissen Habre after all of these years.”

Habre, who was indicted over 13 years ago by a Senegalese judge, has been able to remain free in Senegal due to lack of political will, according to Brody.

“The government of Abdoulaye Wade threw up just one obstacle after another and forced the victims to go to courts all around the world, until finally last year the International Court of Justice, the World court in the Hague, ordered Senegal to bring Habre to justice without further delay,” he explained.

The attorney added the election of Macky Sall as President of Senegal also changed the dynamics, where Mr. Sall said he would seek justice and organize a fair trial just after he was elected. Accordingly, Senegal and the African Union joined forces to form a special court within Senegal’s judiciary to look at the crimes of Habre.

Brody said the change of government in Senegal has allowed for the possibility of justice to prevail.

“Under the new government there is clearly a political will, which President Obama recognized in his recent visit (Senegal) to be a leader in the fight for justice, in the fight against corruption, in the fight against impunity. They see the Habre case as part of that campaign against official corruption,’ said Brody.

The human rights campaigner said the case also highlights an important development -- the courts of one country trying the former leader of another nation for human rights crimes.