The war crimes trial of Chad’s former President Hissene Habre in Senegal's capital, Dakar, was delayed today when he refused to appear in court. Habre was brought in by force.
Proceedings were temporarily suspended as the presiding judge, Gberdao Gustave Kam from Burkina Faso, ordered that the accused be brought against his will. Habre had to be carried into court and restrained by masked security guards. He then tried to shout down the magistrates.
This behavior did not surprise Celeste Hicks, a free-lance journalist and researcher on Chad and the Sahel, who told DW: "As far as I understand, the trial will go ahead with his cooperation or not." Although for some people this could call into question the legitimacy of the court, "Everybody seems to be quite determined that it is going to happen whether he wants it to or not."
The trial for crimes against humanity during Habre's presidency (1982-1990) before the so called Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC), a special criminal court set up by the African Union within the Senegalese court system, had already been suspended 45 days ago, because of the former president's refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of the court. At the start of the trial on July 20 he had to be dragged into the courtroom, and did not stand up or respond when called on by the judge. He also shouted that proceedings were a "farce."
In the meantime the court has appointed three new lawyers to represent Habre for the remainder of the trial. But according to two other lawyers working for the ex-president, Habre maintains that their presence aims only at "saving appearances in a travesty of Justice."
Hissene Habre, 72, was taken into custody two years ago in Senegal, where he had exiled himself in December 1990, after being ousted in a coup led by the current Chadian President, Idriss Deby. He stands accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture by the EAC. The former president could be sentenced to between 30 years to life of imprisonment and forced labor. The judges plan to hear the testimony of around 100 of his victims, who are expected to be heard.
During the eight years of Habre's presidency, repression, excercized mainly by his secret police (Direction de la documentation et de la sécurité – DDS), killed about 40.000 Chadians, according to national committee of inquiry. It was the discovery of the DDS' documents which also made the trial possible, HRW's Reed Brody told the French AFP agency: "They make these crimes among the best documented in Africa."
Habre's arrest had been delayed for years by Senegal's administration, ignoring Belgian courts' efforts to speed up the process and try him in Europe. He was detained in Dakar in July 2013, less than 72 hours after US President Barack Obama - during a visit to Senegal - expressed his support for Habre to be tried.
In July of 2013 the former dictator was detained in Senegal where he had lived undisturbed for 22 years
More than 4000 of his victims now participate in the trial - which is set to last two months – as civil parties. Independent analyst Celeste Hicks spoke to the victims, and told DW that they are very happy to see Habre in court after 25 years of campaigning for just this trial: "If the court manages to do its work without being derailed by any attempts that Habre and his lawyers might make to interrupt this process, I think it's going to be very good for the victims' group."
The proceedings are widely seen as a test for the fight against impunity in Africa. It is the first time that an African former head of state is tried by an African court and could set a precedent, especially since the International Court of Justice based in the Netherlands is often accused of a bias against African leaders. Celeste Hicks is hopeful:"I think if this does work, and this Extraordinary African Chambers goes ahead and actually delivers a verdict that people believe in, it could pave the way in future to be the kind of model for a hybrid justice system that might work for other African countries."