Former Chadian President Hissène Habré dies at 79

Former Chadian President Hissène Habré, who was serving a life sentence in Senegal for war crimes and crimes against humanity, has died, Senegalese Justice Minister Malick Sall said Tuesday. He was 79 years old.

“Habré is in the hands of his Lord,” Sall told TFM television.

The Chadian consulate said he had died of Covid-19.

Habré, who ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990, was a brutal dictator under whose reign tens of thousands of people were executed, tortured or imprisoned.

Sentenced to life in prison after a landmark trial, Habré spent his final years as a prisoner in Senegal, where he died in hospital, Senegalese officials confirmed Tuesday.

In May 2016, Habré was sentenced to life in prison for war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture by the Extraordinary African Chambers, a court created by Senegal and the African Union (AU).

The trial set a global precedent, setting the first time a country prosecuted a former leader of another nation for rights abuses.

The sentence was upheld in 2017.

The court ordered him to pay compensation to each victim who suffered rape, arbitrary detention and imprisonment during his rule, as well as to their family members.

Pinochet comparisons

A specialist in desert warfare, Habré’s government was marked by fierce crackdowns on dissent, including alleged torture and executions of opponents, which earned him comparisons to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The researchers found that more than 40,000 people died during his rule.

The son of a farmer, Habré was born in Faya-Largeau, in northern Chad, and grew up among nomads in the Djourab desert.

His intelligence landed him a job as a local civil servant before leaving for Paris in 1963 to study law and attend Sciences-Po, the prestigious school of political science. One of his influences at that time was Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Habré joined the Chadian National Liberation Front a year after returning home in 1971 and became its leader, before splitting up to form another rebel group, the Northern Armed Forces (FAN).

It made headlines in 1974 when he kidnapped a French ethnologist who was detained for three years before France agreed to the terms for his release.

A staunch nationalist, Habré later served as prime minister in the government of President Félix Malloum and as defense minister under his ally Goukouni Weddeye, who later became president.

Unlike Weddeye, Habré was an outspoken opponent of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and the relationship did not last.

Habré parted ways with his Tripoli-backed ally a few months after the formation of the Weddeye government in 1979, sparking violence in the Chadian capital, N’Djamena.

He fled the city to eastern Chad in 1980, but returned to make his way to power in 1982.

Two decades in Dakar

During his rule, opponents, real or imagined, were arrested, tortured and often executed by the dreaded Directorate of Documentation and Security (DDS), Chad’s secret police.

Habré’s reign ended in 1990 as dramatically as it had begun when Idriss Déby, a former loyalist general, led a rebel force that ousted him from power and led him into exile in Senegal.

The former dictator lived freely for more than 20 years in a luxurious Dakar suburb with his wife and children, swapping out his military garb for wavy white robes and a cap.

Habré was considered a discreet, generous neighbor and a pious Muslim who helped finance the construction of several mosques.

The AU ordered Senegal to try Habré in July 2006, but then-President Abdoulaye Wade delayed the process for years despite an agreement to create a special court for the trial.

Belgium also requested Habré’s arrest on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity after three Belgian nationals of Chadian origin filed a lawsuit in 2000 for mass murder, arbitrary arrest and torture during his regime.

Brussels issued an arrest warrant against him in September 2005, and he was arrested in Senegal shortly after, but the African country said its courts had no jurisdiction to rule on a Belgian extradition request.

Habré was arrested again in Dakar on June 30, 2013, and the AU decided that his trial should take place there, a world first.

Habré’s supporters continued to press for his freedom while he was in prison in Dakar.

The former dictator was released on a two-month leave last year, designed to protect him from the coronavirus.

Reed Brody, a lawyer representing Habré’s victims, said in a statement Tuesday that requests had been made for the former leader to be vaccinated against the virus.

However, he added that Habré “will go down in history as one of the most ruthless dictators in the world, a man who massacred his own people to seize and maintain power.”

( Jowharwith AFP)

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