Hissene Habre: Chad’s ex-ruler convicted of crimes against humanity

Chad’s ex-ruler Hissene Habre has been convicted of
crimes against humanity and sentenced to life in prison
at a landmark trial in Senegal.
The judge convicted him of rape, sexual slavery and
ordering killings during his rule from 1982 to 1990.
Victims and families of those killed cheered and embraced
each other in the courtroom after the verdict was given.
It was the first time an African Union-backed court had tried
a former ruler for human rights abuses.
Who is Hissene Habre?
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Habre, who received strong backing from the US while in
power, has been given 15 days to appeal.
Survivors from the Habre era welcomed the verdict.
“This is a historic day for Chad and for Africa. It is the first
time that an African head of state has been found guilty in
another African country,” Yamasoum Konar, a
representative of one of the victims’ groups, told the BBC.
“This will be a lesson to other dictators in Africa,” he added.
After he was sentenced, Habre remained defiant, raising his
arms and shouting to his supporters as he was led from the
courtroom.
“Down with France-Afrique!” he shouted, using a term which
is critical of France’s influence in its former colonies.
Throughout the nine-month trial, he refused to recognise the
court’s legitimacy, frequently disrupting proceedings.
The ex-president denied accusations that he ordered the
killing of 40,000 people during his rule from 1982 to 1990.
His critics dubbed him “Africa’s Pinochet” because of the
atrocities committed during his rule.
Survivors had recounted gruesome details of the torture
carried out by Habre’s feared secret police.
One of the most notorious detention centres in the capital
N’Djamena was a converted swimming pool.
Analysis: Abdourahmane Dia, BBC Afrique, Dakar
The verdict will be seen as a major step forward by those
who are campaigning for African leaders to be tried on the
continent for war crimes.
They have been pushing for a permanent African court of
justice to be set up, believing war crimes suspects should be
prosecuted on the continent rather than at the Hague-based
International Criminal Court (ICC).
But some people were critical of the AU-backed court, set up
specifically to try him. They argued that it was under
Western influence as it had been partly funded by the
European Union and US.
However, survivors of Habre’s atrocities did not seem to
care who funded the court. They were just relieved that
justice had been done, 25 years after his rule ended.
His critics dubbed him “Africa’s Pinochet” because of the
atrocities committed during his rule.
Survivors had recounted gruesome details of the torture
carried out by Habre’s feared secret police.
One of the most notorious detention centres in N’Djamena
was a converted swimming pool.
Witnesses said victims endured electric shocks, near-
asphyxia, cigarette burns and having gas squirted into their
eyes.
Some were subjected to “supplice des baguettes” (torture by
sticks), when the victim’s head is put between sticks joined
by rope which is then twisted.
Gberdao Gustave Kam, president of the special court, said
Habre had also committed three acts of rape.
Habre was arrested in Senegal, where he was exiled, in
2013.
Many of his victims campaigned for him to be tried following
his overthrow in 1990.
“Today will be carved into justice as the day that a band of
unrelenting survivors brought their dictator to justice,” said
Reed Brody from Human Rights Watch, who has worked on
the case for 17 years and was in court for the judgement.
In 2005, a court in Belgium issued a warrant for his arrest,
claiming universal jurisdiction but, after Senegal referred
the issue to the African Union, the AU asked Senegal to try
Mr Habre “on behalf of Africa”.
In 2013, a court in Chad sentenced him to death in absentia
for crimes against humanity.
Who is Hissene Habre?
• Born in 1942 to ethnic Toubou herders in northern Chad
• Given scholarship to study political science in France
• First came to the world’s attention in 1974 when his rebels
captured three European hostages to ransom for money and
arms
• Seized power in 1982 allegedly with the help of the CIA
• Ousted by current President Idriss Deby in 1990
• Accused of systematically persecuting groups he distrusted
Battle to bring Habre to court
Profile: Hissene Habre

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