Chad’s ex-dictator guilty of abuses, gets life

Carley Petesch
Associated Press

Dakar, Senegal — Former Chad dictator Hissene Habre was found guilty Monday of crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and sex crimes during his rule and he was sentenced to life in prison, ending a trial more than 15 years in the making.

Victims, former prisoners and their relatives broke out into whoops of joy, hugs and tears in the courtroom when the three-judge panel in the special court in Senegal announced the ruling.

A defiant Habre raised his fist and shouted to his supporters: “Long live independent Africa! Down with France-Africa!”

His wife wept and his backers called him a defender of Africa as the 73-year-old Habre was escorted from court.

He was convicted of being responsible for thousands of deaths and torture in prisons while in power from 1982-90. A 1992 Chadian Truth Commission accused Habre’s government of systematic torture, saying 40,000 people died during his rule. It placed particular blame on his police force.

The Extraordinary African Chambers was established by Senegal and the African Union to put Habre on trial for the crimes committed during his rule. It was the first trial in which the courts of one country prosecuted the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes, and the first universal jurisdiction case to proceed to trial on the continent.

The trial began in July 2015, but victims and survivors had been pursuing the case against their former leader for more than 15 years. More than 90 witnesses testified.

Judge Gberdao Gustave Kam, speaking for the panel, said evidence showed Habre was directly responsible, having given the orders for imprisonment and torture, and having also committed some of the crimes himself.

Habre has 15 days to appeal, and his lawyer, Mounir Ballal, said he will do so.

“We are surprised by the verdict, especially the severity of the verdict,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the conviction “a landmark in the global fight against impunity for atrocities.”

He also said it was “an opportunity for the United States to reflect on, and learn from, our own connection with past events in Chad.” The U.S. and France were supporters of Habre when he was in power.