Chad Dictator Sentenced to Life for Crimes Against Humanity [Video]

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Chad’s former dictator, Hissene Habre, was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of war crimes, torture, rape, and crimes against humanity on Monday, May 30, 2016. The sentence was handed down by The Extraordinary African Chambers, a commission developed in Senegal. The commission was established by Senegal and The African Union to prosecute Habre for the crimes he committed in Chad. The ruling represents the first time a court from another country tried and convicted a dictator for the crimes committed in the country they ruled.  The case also represents the first universal jurisdiction ruling on the African continent.

Habre was in power in Chad for eight years from 1982 to 1990. In 1992, the Chadian Truth Commission accused Habre’s government of a system of torture where more than 40,000 people died during his rule. During his time as dictator, he used his military to wrongfully imprison citizens and was directly responsible for a network of prison detention centers that tortured prisoners. He is also the first ruler to be personally held responsible for carrying out rape and torture. The victims and the families of the victims are responsible for pursuing Habre to bring him to justice for his crimes. It has taken over 15 years of tenacious pursuit for Habre to be sentenced for his crimes against humanity.

Senegal initially indicted Habre in 2000. He managed to escape sentencing due to legal maneuvers that moved the case from Senegal to Belgium, then back to Senegal again. In 2001, police archives were found from the time of Habre’s rule. The documents mentioned over 12,000 victims in detention centers who were ordered to be tortured by Habre. As time passed and victims were released from prison in Chad, they joined the cause to pursue Habre, which potentially helped keep the group motivated. His trial began in July 2015. More than 90 witnesses testified regarding the crimes against humanity that Habre carried out during his dictatorship in Chad. The 73-year-old former dictator stayed defiant after the courts sentenced him to life in prison. He raised his fist to his supporters and called for an independent Africa, as well as condemned Africa’s support by France.

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The verdict brought cheers from the survivors, who attended the trail, as they watched the former dictator being escorted from the courtroom. A lawyer for the Human Rights Watch, Reed Brody, who was involved in the case, told ABC News that this tremendous victory should be credited to the survivors, who never gave up the pursuit of justice. The conviction was supported broadly throughout the world. U.S Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement that the ruling would set a precedent for the battle against impunity and human atrocities.

Kerry’s point refers to the fact that many dictators leave their home country when they are overpowered and escape prosecution. They set up new luxurious lives in other countries with the stolen resources from the nation they left. Habre was living a lavish life in Dakar, which is Senegal’s capital, after being ousted from power in Chad in 1990. Chad’s current leader, President Idriss Deby, who was Habre’s military advisor before usurping him from power, was also in support of the trial.

The ex-dictator has 15 days to file an appeal against the life sentence he received for his crimes against humanity. Habre refused legal counsel but was assigned Senegalese lawyers during the trial. The ruling is expected to set an example for the rest of the world that systematic crimes against the people they govern will be pursued by a global court system, in an effort to bring justice to the victims involved.

By Gichele Cocrelle
Edited by Leigh Haugh

Sources:
ABC News: Chad’s Ex-Dictator  Sentenced to Life for Abuses
The Atlantic: The Conviction of Chad’s Ex-Ruler
NY Daily News: Chad Ex-dictator Hissene Habre Faces Life Imprisonment
Featured and Top Article Photo by Mario Modesto Mata Courtesy of Wikimedia – Creative Commons License
Inset Photo by hdptcar from Bangui Courtesy of Wikimedia – Creative Commons License