On May 30th, a special court in Senegal delivered a guilty verdict against former Chadian President Hissène Habré. He was found to be responsible for numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity, including torture, rape, sexual slavery and the murder of as many as 40,000 people, and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Hissène Habré became President of Chad in 1982 when his anti-government rebel group seized N’Djamena, the country’s capital, overthrew the elected government and appointed Habré as Head of State. For the next 8 years, Habré and his cohort, including the much-feared secret police, conducted large-scale human-rights abuses, including detention, torture and murder. The regime particularly hounded members of ethnic groups that Habré saw as political rivals, frequently arresting their leaders en masse, and from time to time, engaged in ethnic cleansing tactics against them.
Eight years after he came to power, Hissène Habré was deposed and fled to Senegal. It took 25 years of hard work on the part of human rights groups and his victims to bring him to trial in a process that could signal a turning point for international justice in Africa.
The trial, conducted by the special-created Extraordinary African Chambers, marked the first time an African Union-backed court convicted a former ruler for human-rights abuses, and the first time that the courts of one country have prosecuted the former ruler of another country for crimes against humanity.
“This ruling is a landmark in the global fight against impunity for atrocities, including war crimes and crimes against humanity,” said Secretary of State John Kerry in a written statement.
The United States strongly commends the Senegalese Government, the Chadian Government, and the African Union for creating the Extraordinary African Chambers that allowed for a fair and balanced trial. And we especially salute the nearly 100 victims of the accused who testified against him.
In the words of Secretary of State Kerry, “Let this be a message to other perpetrators of mass atrocities, even those at the highest levels and including former heads of state, that such actions will not be tolerated and they will be brought to justice.”