- Torture of prisoners was systematic under Habre, court says
- Thousands killed by Chad secret police between 1982-1990
A special court in Senegal sentenced former Chadian President Hissene Habre to life in prison after finding him guilty of crimes against humanity and torture committed during his eight-year rule.
The Extraordinary African Chambers, an ad hoc court operating under an African Union mandate, made the announcement Monday in Senegal’s capital, Dakar. Habre, 73, had spent more than two decades in exile in the West African nation before being placed in custody in 2013.
Torture including binding, water torture and rape was systematic under Habre, Gustave Kam, the presiding judge, said in his ruling, broadcast live on Senegalese state-run television. Ethnic and political killings were rife, and women had been forced to have sex with Chadian soldiers, Kam said.
Habre, who ruled landlocked oil producer Chad from 1982 to 1990, was accused of causing the deaths of as many as 40,000 people. He denied the charges and said he didn’t acknowledge the authority of the court, remaining silent throughout most of the proceedings. Habre wore sunglasses and a white turban that covered his mouth as the judge read the verdict.
The tribunal marks the first time an international African court agreed to try an African leader and followed more than two decades of failed attempts to bring Habre to justice. A Chadian court tried Habre in absentia in 2008 and sentenced him to death for an alleged attempt to overthrow the government. The European Union and the U.S. helped fund the special court.
“This ruling is a landmark in the global fight against impunity for atrocities, including war crimes and crimes against humanity,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in an e-mailed statement.
New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch for years led the international campaign for Habre’s prosecution after discovering files at the abandoned headquarters of Chad’s secret police that detailed how interrogators extracted confessions by forcing prisoners’ mouths around a car exhaust or making them drink water until they lost consciousness.
The secret police reported directly to Habre, who regularly participated in violent interrogations of prisoners, the court said. Habre fled Chad after rebels led by current President Idriss Deby overran the capital, N’Djamena, in 1990.