Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré has been found guilty of crimes against humanity, torture, rape and war crimes by a Senegalese court on Monday. The landmark ruling has been counted as the first time an African court has ever prosecuted a former leader for alleged human rights crimes – a development human rights activists say gives hope to the victims of dictators.
Habré was found guilty of killing and torturing tens of thousands of political activists and prisoners during his tenure between 1982- 1990. Presiding judge Gberdao Gustave Kam revealed that he created and maintained an environment of total impunity. His ruling stated:
“Hissène Habré, the court finds you guilty of summary executions, forced disappearances, torture, murder. Some victims who are still alive still suffer from the effects of his regime – the crimes committed against them. He [Habré] created a system where impunity and terror reigned. He did not show any compassion toward the victims or express any regret about the massacres and rapes that were committed.”
Sitting through the hours-long court proceedings with his face covered, wearing a white turban and a pair of gold-rimmed sunglasses, 73-year-old Habré denied all charges leveled against him as his lawyers insisted that the former dictator was not responsible for the deaths of over 40,000 and torture of over 200,000 Chadians respectively – a plea that gained no ground before the courts.
“This verdict sends a powerful message that the days when tyrants could brutalize their people, pillage their treasury, and escape abroad to a life of luxury are coming to an end,” spokesman for Human Rights Watch, Reed Brody has stated.
Watch live reactions of Habré’s victims to the verdict. (Video: The Guardian)
“Vive la victoire!” victims who suffered the brunt of Habré’s war crimes exclaimed as they hugged each other with tears of joy in their eyes. So far, Habre been sentenced to life in prison – a landmark ruling which has been described as the first time “a former head of state has been convicted of personally raping someone,” reports the Guardian.