The 72-year-old — once backed by France and the United States as a bulwark against Libya’s then leader Moamer Kadhafi — is on trial over actions under his regime from 1982 until he was ousted in 1990.
He is accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture during a blood-soaked reign.
Gberdao Gustave Kam, the Burkinabe president of the Extraordinary African Chambers, suspended the hearing before it got under way after hearing that Habre, who was in the building, was refusing to attend.
Dressed in his trademark robe and a white turban, Habre was eventually escorted by force into the court, which he dismissed as an “illegal organisation” before shouting “down with imperialism”.
“At the moment, it is judging you, whether you are consenting or not,” retorted Kam, before ordering that the list of witnesses be read out.
The proceedings were interrupted by several interjections from Habre and the expulsion of several of his supporters.
About 40,000 Chadians were killed under a regime of brutal repression of opponents and rival ethnic groups Habre perceived as a threat to his grip on the Sahel nation, according to a Chadian commission of inquiry and human rights groups.
Habre refuses to recognise the legitimacy of the Dakar prosecution, the first time a despot from one African country has been called to account in another.
– Theatrics –
He was similarly forced into the dock on July 20 when his trial — a landmark in African judicial history — got under way.
The court has appointed three attorneys to defend him after he refused legal representation. It adjourned in July to give the lawyers time to prepare the defence, but Habre wants nothing to do with them.
After he was overthrown, Habre fled to Senegal, where he was arrested in June 2013 and has since been in custody.
Delayed for years, the trial sets an historic precedent as African leaders accused of atrocities were previously tried in international courts.
Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with the victims of Habre’s regime since 1999, said it was clear that the court was “fed up with Hissene Habre’s antics”.
“Hissene Habre can make all the noise all he wants, but he doesn’t get to decide whether he should be tried, or if the victims get justice,” said Brody, who was present in court.
A small group of family members and victims of the regime had gathered to see Habre brought to trial.
“I am quite calm. The whole world, and in particular Chadians, have been waiting for this trial,” Clement Abaifouta, of the Association of Victims of Crimes of the Regime of Hissene Habre, told AFP.
Chadian lawyer Jacqueline Moudeina, a spokeswoman for the legal team representing the victims, said the prosecution was “confident”.
“Habre has decided once again to choose theatrics but this attitude is not honorable and will not stop justice,” she said.