The Special African Chamber, a tribunal created three years ago by Senegal and the African Union, sentenced the former Chad president Hissene Habre to life in prison on May 30. The 73-year-old was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
As reported by the Reuters news agency, Habre was found guilty of ordering the killing and torture of thousands of political opponents during his eight-year rule. The verdict capped a 16-year battle by victims and rights campaigners to bring the former strongman to justice in Senegal, where he fled after being ousted in a 1990 coup.
“After years of struggle and many setbacks on the way to justice, this verdict is as historic as it was hard-won,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. “In a world scarred by a constant stream of atrocities, the ramifications of this verdict are global.”
Dressed in white robes with dark sunglasses and a head scarf covering most of his face, Habre was defiant after his conviction and sentence were announced, raising his arms and shouting to his supporters as he was led from the courtroom, reported Reuters.
The case against Habre, who had been supported by US President Ronald Reagan in 1987 after expelling Libyan forces from Chad, focussed on whether he had ordered the large-scale assassination and torture of political opponents and ethnic rivals.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said the verdict was “a landmark in the global fight against impunity”. He added: “As a country committed to the respect for human rights and the pursuit of justice, this is also an opportunity for the United States to reflect on, and learn from, our own connection with past events in Chad.”
According to Reuters, a 1992 Chadian Truth Commission accused Habre’s government of up to 40,000 political murders as well as systematic torture, mostly by his intelligence police, the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS).
Presiding Judge Gustave Kam recounted how Habre was directly involved in interrogations and torture, sometimes inflicting the abuse himself or ordering it by phone or walkie talkie.
In a separate report, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) noted that Habre has claimed that the proceedings were politically motivated, and refused legal representation, though the court appointed Senegalese lawyers for him.