It was the first time an African Union-backed court had tried a former ruler for human right abuses and they took on ex-ruler of Chad, Hissene Habre who today was finally convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life in prison at his war crimes trial in Senegal.
He was also convicted by the judge for rape, sexual slavery and ordering killings. Hissene Habre refused to recognize the legitimacy of the court even as the prosecutor at the court in Senegal’s capital Dakar requested a life sentence for him. He also denied accusations that he ordered the killing of 40,000 people during his rule from 1982 to 1990.
Hissene Habre was born in 1942 to ethnic Toubou herder in northern Chad and was later given a scholarship to study political science in France. He however did not come to the world’s attention until 1974 when his rebels captured three European hostages to ransom for money and arms.
He allegedly seized power with the help of the CIA in 1982 and was only ousted by the incumbent President Idriss deby in 1990. During his time in power, he was accused of persecuting groups he distrusted.
In 2005, a court in Belgium had issued a warrant for Habre’s arrest, claiming universal jurisdiction but, Senegal referred the issue to the African Union, who in turn asked Senegal to try Mr Habre “on behalf of Africa”.
Hissene Habre was arrested in Senegal, where he was exiled in 2013. In the course of his trial by the African union backed court, he frequently disrupted proceedings; shouting abuse, calling the process a farce and even had to be carted off to the court when he refused to appear.
He was dubbed, ‘Africa’s Pinochet’ by critics in reference to the atrocities allegedly committed during his rule.
In 2013, a court in Chad had actually sentenced him to death in absentia for his alleged crimes against humanity. This recent verdict looks to be heartily embraced and Habre and will likely serve as an example to subsequent leaders.