Former Chadian strongman Habré, convicted of war crimes, dies of COVID-19 in Senegal

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  • Habré was the ally of the United States and France against Gaddafi in Libya
  • Tens of thousands of people died under Habré’s harsh reign in 1982-90
  • He fled to Senegal where he was sentenced in 2016
  • Conviction follows historic 15-year trial

DAKAR, Aug.24 (Reuters) – Hissène Habré, a former strongman of the Chadian president and security ally of the West during the Cold War, who was later jailed for war crimes, died in Senegal on Tuesday at the age of 79 years, announced the Senegalese Minister of Justice. .

Habré contracted COVID-19 at a clinic in the capital Dakar, where he was taken from prison 10 days ago for medical reasons, Justice Minister Malick Sall told Reuters. When his condition worsened, he was taken to the main hospital, where he died.

Habré’s reign from 1982 to 1990, which began with a coup, saw widespread killings by his infamous political police who rounded up suspects and held them in secret detention centers. In eight years, tens of thousands of people have been raped, tortured and killed.

After a historic trial in Senegal, where he fled after being kicked out of office by forces based in Sudan, Habré was sentenced to life in prison in 2016 for rape and ordering the murder and torture of thousands. political opponents.

The verdict was seen by rights groups as a turning point in African justice: it was the first time in modern history that the national courts of one country have prosecuted the former leader of another country for crimes against humanity.

It also capped a 16-year battle by victims and rights activists to bring the former Chadian autocrat to justice.

“Hissène Habré will go down in history as one of the most ruthless dictators in the world,” said Reed Brody of the International Commission of Jurists, which has worked with Habré’s victims since 1999.

“(He was) a man who slaughtered his own people, torched entire villages, sent women to serve as sex slaves to his troops, and built underground dungeons to inflict medieval torture on his enemies.”

Habre denied his role in the murders and remained defiant. At the start of his trial in 2015, he had to be brought to court in his long white robes and restrained by masked security officers. He shouted “Shut up! Shut up!” when the clerk read his indictment.

The United States and France supported Habré during his rule over the desert nation of Central Africa, fearing the expansionist designs of Libyan neighbor Muammar Gaddafi, whose troops occupied an area in northern Chad.

That support weakened as Habré faced growing resistance from armed groups, including his future successor Idriss Deby, who attacked from neighboring Sudan.

Former Chadian President Hissène Habré makes statements to the media as he leaves a court in Dakar, Senegal, November 25, 2005 REUTERS / Aliou Mbaye

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Despite everything, he still has defenders in Chad today. He was a “fair and honest statesman who fought against corruption … and knew how to defend the integrity of Chadian territory in the face of external aggression,” said Ali Younouss Mahamat, a 30-year-old teacher from the capital N ‘. Djamena.

The Western powers have “repainted its regime in black to erase all traces of its patriotic works”.

LONG ROAD TO JUSTICE

There were times when it seemed like Habré, the son of a shepherd, would never pay for his crimes. Only the tenacity of its victims and human rights activists kept hope alive.

Souleymane Guengueng, a civil servant, spent two and a half years in a Chadian prison in the 1980s where he saw detainees die of torture and illness. He vowed to fight for justice for those who had died.

In 2000, Guengueng and a group of victims filed a complaint against Habré in Senegal and a court charged him with torture and crimes against humanity. But an appeals court ruled that he could not stand trial in the West African country.

After another group of victims emerged in Belgium, the country issued an international arrest warrant in 2005 holding Habré responsible for mass killings and torture.

Senegal refused to extradite Habré and the African Union asked him to pass a law giving its courts jurisdiction over foreign crimes.

It was not until Senegalese President Macky Sall took office in 2012 that the process accelerated. In 2013, the Extraordinary African Tribunal was created and Habré was arrested.

In April 2017, an appeals court ordered Habre to pay victims around 123 million euros ($ 145 million) in compensation, but the sum was never paid.

Guengueng told Reuters he was “very, very sad” about Habré’s death. “I think many of Habré’s victims will have the same impression, because he was not in prison for long and the victims still have not received reparations.”

Reporting by Diadie Ba in Dakar with additional reporting by Mahamat Ramadane in N’Djamena Writing by Edward McAllister and Hereward Holland Editing by Edmund Blair and Mark Heinrich

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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