Connect to share and comment

Calls for justice in Senegal

Opinion: Chad's deposed dictator Hissene Habre should be brought to trial for alleged atrocities.

NEW YORK — Twenty years ago, Hissene Habre, the dictator of Chad, was overthrown and fled to Senegal.

The doors of his prisons flung open and I left my cell and returned, a walking skeleton, to my family. I had watched hundreds of my cellmates die and I took an oath before God that I would bring Habre to justice in their name.

For two decades I have been faithful to that quest, and our goal seemed near in November when international donors agreed to finance Habre’s trial in Senegal.

My hopes, and those of my fellow survivors, were shattered in December, however, when Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade announced that he had “had enough” of the Habre case and was planning to expel Habre from Senegal.

If Wade has “had enough,” how does he think we feel? Instead of justice, we have been treated to what South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu referred to as “an interminable political and legal soap opera.”

It began in January 2000, when we went with other survivors — some now dead — to Senegal to seek justice. We were delighted when a Senegalese judge indicted Habre on charges of crimes against humanity.

After Wade was elected president of Senegal, however, the indicting judge was thrown off the Habre case and the charges were dismissed on a technicality, provoking protests from the United Nations.

We did not give up, though, and pressed charges against Habre in Belgium, whose famous anti-atrocity law allowed its courts to hear cases from around the world. A Belgian judge and police team went to Chad, where I took them to my former prisons and they visited mass graves. Witnesses lined up to tell their stories.