A special tribunal in Senegal has charged former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre with crimes against humanity, over two decades after his arrival in the west African country.
The charges, which also included war crimes and torture, were handed down at the end of a two-hour meeting on Tuesday of the Extraordinary African Chambers, which started its work investigating Habre earlier this year.
Habre, who had been living freely in Senegal for more than two decades after a military coup brought his eight-year rule to an end in 1990, faces possible life in prison if convicted.
His French lawyer Francois Serres said judges also issued an order of detention against his client, and security forces whisked Habre away from the facility.
Human rights and victims groups say that soon after coming to power in the central African state in 1982, Habre promoted members of his Gorane ethnic group to head a ruthless torture and killing apparatus that targeted members of other ethnic groups that threatened his regime.
Since his arrival in Senegal in 1990, Habre was an uncomfortable reminder of Africa’s unwillingness to hold its leaders accountable as Senegalese authorities resisted attempts to try him.
Paramilitary police arrested Habre at his home in Dakar on Sunday, a move his defense team branded a “kidnapping.”
Victims’ representatives on Tuesday praised the decision to charge Habre.
“This is the first victory for the victims,” said Jacqueline Moudeina, lawyer for the victims and president of the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights. “The charging of Habre is a culmination of our 22 years of campaigning for justice.”
Reed Brody, counsel for Human Rights Watch, who has worked with Habre’s victims since 1999, called the charges a “stunning victory.”
“Today’s arrest is a message to dictators around the world who think about embarking on mass murder that they will never be out of the reach of their victims,” he said.
In May 1992, a 10-member Chadian truth commission formed by Chadian President Idriss Deby, who came to power following Habre’s ouster, reported that Habre’s government was responsible for an estimated 40,000 deaths.