A Senegalese court today charged Former Chadian leader Hissene Habre with crimes against humanity.
More than fifty thousand people were tortured to death during his rule in the 80’s.
Shortly after leaving Senegal for South Africa on his whistle stop African visit, Habre was detained in the Senegalese Capital Dakar.
Former US president Ronald Reagan helped him seize power in 1982 and since his overthrow in 1990, his victims have been fighting to get him arrested and tried for wild spread torture and killings during his eight year presidency.
Their 22 year long fight has now been rewarded with his arrest and if everything goes according to plan, Habre will become the first former African president to be tried in s special criminal court in Senegal.
Until his arrests, Habre lived in an imposing mansion in the Senegalese capital, Dakar. Former Senegalese presidents Abdou Diouf and Abdoulaye Wade stalled the arrest and trial of Habre and at one point asked for 22 million Euros to fund the special court that will try the former Chadian leader.
It needed a change in leadership In Senegal (Macky Sall is new president) for Habre to be arrested and this is probably why Obama visited Senegal.
Habre will now face his accusers in a law court and this will give added impetus to human rights activists across Africa that their “former big men” presidents can face the long arm of the law years after they leave power.
Habre’s lawyers described his arrest as “kidnapping” and demanded his immediate release.
Obama praised the planned trial saying it was a sign of Senegal’s commitment to justice in Africa
During his reign, over 40,000 politically motivated killings and 200,000 cases of torture were committed during his eight years rule.
Twenty three years after he was toppled by current Chadian military leader Idriss Deby, Hissene Habre, 70, will now be tried in a special court in Senegal funded by the African Union.
Earlier attempts to prosecute Hissene Habre who is also known as “ Africa’s Pinochet”, have been slow as former Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade stalled the process with years of wrangling following initial charges in 2000.
The arrest of the ex-dictator has provoked a flurry of reactions on social media.
Daniel Bekele tweeted “victims waited for 20 years for justice. Senegal taking the right steps forward”.
If the trial goes ahead as planned, it would set a historic precedent in the continent as no African leader, past or present, accused of atrocities has ever been tried in an African court.
Ex Liberian leader Charles Taylor was tried in The Hague while preliminary hearings in the trial of Ivory Coast former president Laurent Gbagbo are ongoing in at the ICC.
Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir, who has also been indicted for crimes against humanity in the Darfur crisis, is still hanging on as president. Though, a warrant for his arrest is still active, he has defiled arrest even during visits out of Sudan.
Another African leader occupying the unenviable position of reigning president indicted for crimes is the recently elected Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta.
This will either force African presidents to behave themselves while they are in power or like Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea and Paul Biya of Cameroon to hold on to power at any cost.