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Senegal Court Puts Former Chad Leader Habre on Trial

by VOA News July 20, 2015

A special court in Senegal began a long-awaited trial Monday against former Chadian ruler Hissene Habre on charges of torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The 72-year-old Habre and his lawyers have dismissed the court as lacking due process and said they would not take part in the trial, but he was present Monday after authorities forced him to appear.

The court, established under an agreement with the African Union, is due to hear from 100 witnesses during the trial that is expected to last several months.

Rights groups and a Chad truth commission accuse Habre of being responsible for more than 40,000 political killings, systematic tortures and other violations during his time as president.

He led the country between 1982 and 1990, when he was deposed by current leader Idriss Deby and fled to Senegal.

The United States on Monday welcomed the start of the trial. 'This trial is an important step toward justice for the victims of atrocities committed under Habre's rule from 1982 to 1990,' said State Department spokesman John Kirby.

Kirby said the trial 'should serve as yet another warning that, no matter their position, perpetrators of atrocities will be held accountable.'

Human Rights Watch called the trial a 'milestone in the fight to hold the perpetrators of atrocities accountable for their crimes in Africa and the world.' It said the case marks the first time a court in one country is prosecuting the former ruler of another country for alleged human rights violations.

That is a departure from the last 13 years, during which similar cases have been brought by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

But the ICC has faced criticism for solely pursuing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against Africans, and securing only two convictions since it began operating in 2002.

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