72 year old Habre who was at one time known as a “Africa’s Pinochet”, has been in custody in Senegal since his arrest in June 2013 at the home he shared in an affluent suburb of Dakar with his wife and children.
Habre was physically taken to the court after he refused to recognise it calling it a ‘farce.
Habre, who led Chad between 1982 and 1990, is about to face trial over 40,000 alleged political killings.
Dressed in white robes and a turban, Habre pumped a fist in the air and cried “God is greatest” as he was escorted by prison guards into the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegalese capital
This is the first time an African leader will be tried on the African continent for crimes against humanity. The Extraordinary African Chambers is a court established specifically for this case under an African Union agreement.
The president of the chamber, Judge Gberdao Gustave Kam of Burkina Faso, announced that the military strongman was not represented as he opened proceedings.
Habre — backed during his presidency by France and the United States as a bulwark against Libya’s Moamer Kadhafi — is on trial for crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture in Chad from 1982 to 1990.
Several supporters, mostly young, screamed slogans condemning the trial in the lobby of the Dakar courthouse and were thrown out by police.
Rights groups say 40,000 Chadians were killed during Hissene Habre’s reign of terror from 1982-1
“I am sad, I am ashamed. This is happening in a country like Senegal,” one of Habre’s supporters was quoted by AFP describing the defendant as “a liberator of Chad”.
Rights groups say 40,000 Chadians were killed under a regime propped up by fierce crackdowns on opponents and the targeting of rival ethnic groups he perceived as a threat to his stranglehold on the central African nation.
Delayed for years by Senegal, the trial has set a historic precedent as until now African leaders accused of atrocities have been tried in international courts.
Senegal and the African Union signed an agreement in December 2012 to set up a court to bring Habre to justice.
The AU had mandated Senegal to try Habre in July 2006, but the country stalled the process for years under former president Abdoulaye Wade, who was defeated in 2012 elections.
Macky Sall, Wade’s successor who took office in April 2012 vowed to organise a trial in Senegal.