An Ex-Dictator Faces Trial — But Not In The Country He Ruled : Parallels For the first time, one African country, Senegal, is prosecuting the deposed leader of another African state, Chad. Witnesses say Hissene Habre was responsible for mass killings, torture and rape.
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An Ex-Dictator Faces Trial — But Not In The Country He Ruled

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An Ex-Dictator Faces Trial — But Not In The Country He Ruled

An Ex-Dictator Faces Trial — But Not In The Country He Ruled

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Witnesses have finished giving harrowing testimony in the trial of the deposed dictator of Chad. Hissene Habre stands accused of crimes against humanity, including sexual slavery. He's on trial in a special court in Senegal. It's the first time that one country has prosecuted another's leader on human rights charges. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is following the trial in Dakar. Please note, this report contains descriptions of sexual violence that are not suitable for younger listeners.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: This is the extraordinary African Chambers where the former president of Chad Hissene Habre has been on trial for the past six months. Dozens of witnesses have given their testimony here, women who say they were raped in custody during the regime of Hissene Habre. One woman says she was raped by the former president himself.

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KADIDJA HASSAN ZIDANE: (Speaking French).

QUIST-ARCTON: Testimony in court from Kadidja Hassan Zidane in October - she accuses the 73-year-old then-leader Hissene Habre of raping her four times in the dead of night in the presidential palace in the 1980s. Pressed by the presiding judge to share more details, she adds...

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ZIDANE: (Speaking French).

QUIST-ARCTON: "Two times, I resisted. Once, I simply didn't have the strength. The fourth time, I resisted again, and he jabbed me in my private parts with a ballpoint pen." Responding to the women's testimony, Habre's official website denounced the witnesses as, quotes, "crazy whores."

JACQUELINE MOUDEINA: (Speaking French).

QUIST-ARCTON: What a way to talk about people who have had to bear unparallelled human cruelty, chides Chadian human rights lawyer Jacqueline Moudeina. She's representing many of the survivors of Habre's feared political police.

MOUDEINA: (Through interpreter) One of the hardest, most painful things for a woman is to say, I was raped. These women have shared details that they have not spoken of for more than 25 years. That is courage.

QUIST-ARCTON: Rights' and survivors' groups say Habre's crimes include ordering tens of thousands of political killings. Habre fled Chad after his ouster to Senegal, where he's lived in exile for the past quarter-century. It was only recently after a change of government that Senegal agreed to an African Union request to put him on trial. The proceedings have provided a virtual history lesson. Habre was backed by Chad's former colonial power, France, and the U.S. as a bulwark against neighboring Libya's then-ruler Muammar Gaddafi, so says American lawyer Reed Brody.

REED BRODY: How is it that the United States comes to support a brutal dictator like Hissene Habre? And he was supported to the end by the United States and almost to the end by France.

QUIST-ARCTON: Brody, who is legal counsel for New York-based Human Rights Watch, has, for the past 16 years, worked intimately with survivors of Habre's alleged torture chambers in Chad.

BRODY: This has been a trial of real courtroom drama - 93 witnesses testifying about rape, sexual slavery, torture, mass executions, rotting corpses in jail next to prisoners, that he gave the orders to commit these crimes. He's had to listen to them.

QUIST-ARCTON: But the court has barely heard Hissene Habre's voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HISSENE HABRE: (Shouting in French).

QUIST-ARCTON: After an initial outburst at the start of the trial, for months, Habre, impeccably dressed in a snow-white turban, has sat virtually motionless. He listens to his accusers, saying nothing, looking straight ahead with his legs crossed. Habre gives little away except for the occasional tap of the foot or tweak of the turban.

Habre has long denied any knowledge of torture or killings under his watch and has refused to cooperate with his court-appointed defense team. Human Rights Watch lawyer Reed Brody, who's been working on the case for years, says with or without Habre's cooperation, bringing a former African leader to trial in this way is unprecedented.

BRODY: It's not the Security Council. It's not the prosecutor in the Hague. It's actually the survivors themselves.

MOUDEINA: (Speaking French).

QUIST-ARCTON: Chadian rights lawyer Jacqueline Moudeina agrees. She says this is a turning point and a triumph not only for international justice but also for Africa. A verdict is expected in May. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Dakar.

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