Summary: Former Chadian President Hissène Habré convicted of atrocities in landmark trial

30th May 2016, Dakar, Senegal: The former Chadian President and dictator Hissène Habré has been convicted of torture, rape, war crimes and crimes against humanity, and sentenced to life in prison by the Extraordinary African Chambers, which Habré has refused to recognise. It is a landmark trial making Habré the first former head of state to be convicted of crimes against humanity by the courts of another country.

The trial against Habré, who ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990, began in July, 2015. 90 witnesses testified that he had thrown thousands of people into secret jails where they were tortured and killed. Testimony included that of expert witness Patrick Ball, Director of Research at SRT grantee Human Rights Data Analysis Group, regarding the very high rates of prison mortality in Habré’s prisons during his reign. Survivors described the appalling prison conditions where cells were so crowded that prisoners lay on the dead bodies of those who had suffocated or died of disease. Files of Habré’s political police that were recovered by Human Rights Watch in 2001 revealed the names of 1,208 people who were killed or died in detention, and 12,321 victims of human rights violations, which became a major component of the trial.

Women were kept as sexual slaves, and Alain Werner, the director of SRT grantee Civitas Maxima, who represented some of the victims, said that one of the most important aspects of the trial was Habré’s conviction for personally raping Khadija Zidane four times. “They were just women in the middle of the desert with soldiers, abused for a very, very long period of time,” Werner said. “Women suffered so much under Habré. It puts the whole sexual violence aspect back in the middle of the case.”

SRT grantees Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), along with other African and international organisations, are founding members of the International Committee for the Fair Trial of Hissène Habré, which has been working tirelessly for justice from the beginning of the legal procedures over 15 years ago. They will also be collaborating for the second phase of the trial on damages, for the appeal which will go into 2017 and for the follow-up work on transitional justice in Chad.

Reed Brody, a lawyer at Human Rights Watch, also a member of the International Committee for the Fair Trial of Hissène Habré, said “This verdict sends a powerful message that the days when tyrants could brutalise their people, pillage their treasury and escape abroad to a life of luxury are coming to an end. Today will be carved into history as the day that a band of unrelenting survivors brought their dictator to justice.”

This is an update on previous coverage of the trial involving SRT grantee TrustAfrica on 13th May 2016.

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