2021-09-01 08:22:56 UTC
Hissene Habre, Ex-President of Chad Jailed for War Crimes,
Dies at 79
By Maclean & Camara, 8/24/21, NY Times
He was not in prison at his death, however. He had spent
10 days in a nearby clinic receiving treatment for compli-
cations of diabetes & high blood pressure. Some outlets
reported that he had been infected with the coronavirus.
Habre was the first former head of state to be convicted
of crimes against humanity by another country’s courts.
A former defense minister, he took power in 1982 in a coup
backed by the US, & once in office he received weapons &
assistance from France, Israel & the US to keep Libya,
Chad’s northern neighbor, at bay.
His rule was violent from the start. POW's & political
opponents were killed. But the Reagan admin kept supplying
him with weapons to keep up the fight against Libya,
led by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
A Chadian truth commission found that Habre’s govt had
killed more than 40,000 people believed to be enemies of
the state, incl. those who had merely come under suspicion.
Habre lost power in 1990 the way he had taken it, in a
coup. He then fled to Senegal, taking $12 million from the
national bank accounts with him. For years he lived quietly
in coastal Dakar, the country’s capital, buying properties
there & remaining untroubled by the govt of Abdoulaye Wade,
which kept delaying his prosecution.
It was the govt of Wade’s successor, President Macky Sall,
that tried him, setting up a special court with the African
Union to do so — the Extraordinary African Chambers.
On the first day of his trial, Habre was dragged into the
courtroom kicking & shouting insults at the judge. “Down
with colonialism!” he said. Afterward he sat through the
testimony of dozens of his victims, hiding his face behind
a large white turban and sunglasses.
When he was convicted, those victims rejoiced, punched the
air, cried & ululated in the court. They had fought for
justice for decades.
But 5 years later, nearly 8,000 victims are still waiting
for $150 million in compensation they were jointly awarded.
“Since the trial, 5 years have passed. Nothing has been
done,” said Clement Abaifouta, president of the Assn of
Victims of the Crimes of the Habre Regime. “The court of
Dakar has not seized his property. The African Union, which
is handling the case, does nothing. Up until now, Habre
has not paid a single cent. Nothing.”
Abaifouta was arrested as a young student & spent 4 years
in one of Habre’s notorious prisons, an experience that
ruined his life, he said. He was forced to dig the graves
of his friends & cellmates, many of whom died because the
prison conditions were so bad. Abaifouta said that Habre’s
death would bring no relief to his victims, because many
former subordinates had not faced justice and still
permeated Chad’s government.
“Now, in Chad, you have governors, you have brigade
commanders, commissioners, presidential advisers, all of
whom worked with Habre,” he said. “So the victims are still
scared, even if Habre is no longer there. They’re
everywhere, these people.”
The imprisonment, killings & torture carried out by Habre’s
secret police, the Directorate of Documentation & Security,
became widely known, thanks in part to the meticulous
documentation of victim testimonies by Souleymane Guengueng,
a survivor who had almost died in jail. Guengueng promised
himself that if he ever got out, he would bring his
torturers to justice — and eventually, he did.
Reed Brody, who has worked with Habre’s victims for over
two decades, said the former president would “go down in
history as one of the world’s most pitiless dictators, a
man who slaughtered his own people to seize and maintain
power, who burned down entire villages, sent women to
serve as sexual slaves for his troops & built clandestine
dungeons to inflict medieval torture on his enemies.”