The former president of Chad, Hissène Habré, died on Tuesday at age 79, five years into a life sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
His trial in Senegal marked the first time an African country tried a former leader of another African country for crimes committed in office. However, his conviction was less than perfect justice.
Hissène Habré oversaw the killing and torture of tens of thousands of people during his rule as Chad’s president from 1982 to 1990. He was also accused of rape and sexual slavery.
At the time, Habré received support from the United States and France to defend against Libya’s invasions of northern Chad.
He was found guilty of crimes against humanity in 2016 by a Senegalese court, and was still serving his life sentence when he died of COVID-19.
Allan Ngari is the organized crime observatory coordinator for West Africa with the Institute of Security Studies in Dakar.
“It was the first time for universal jurisdiction to be successful in Africa. It was the first time that a former head of state was found guilty for personally committing acts of rape. But it came almost 26 years later from when he was deposed of presidency in Chad,“ he said.
Habré’s victims and their supporters worked tirelessly over those years to bring the former dictator to justice.
Reed Brody is a member of the International Commission of Jurists and a human rights lawyer who has worked with Habré’s victims since 1999.
“That a band of torture victims never gave up and were able to turn the tables and bring a dictator to justice in Africa before an African court — these are enormous achievements that I feel proud of and that I know the victims feel proud of,“ he said.
One of those victims is Clément Abaifouta, the president of the Association of Victims of the Crimes of the Hissène Habré Regime.
Abaifouta endured four years of torture at the hands of Habré’s regime. During that time he not only witnessed the deaths of many of his co-detainees from torture, illness and sexual violence, but he was forced to dig their graves.
He says when Hissène Habré was convicted, all of Africa celebrated and jumped for joy because Africans proved they were capable of trying dictators on African soil. “The case of Hissène Habré is a lesson for all dictators: you cannot hide. Justice is like the sun. It will always catch you,” he said.
Habré and the Chadian government were ordered to pay Abaifouta and the other victims tens of millions of dollars, and the African Union was tasked with setting up a trust fund. The victims, however, have yet to see a penny and the fund was never established.
Abaifouta said he will continue to pressure the Senegalese authorities and the African Union to begin the process of reparations.
Habre is to be buried in Dakar on Thursday, his family told the Agence France-Presse.
Source: Voice of America