Hissène Habré, Ex-President of Chad Jailed for War Crimes, Dies at 79

Image: Daniel SIMON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Hissène Habré, ex-ruler Chad for eight years, has died at the age of 79 while serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity, according to the New York Times. He was being treated for a coronavirus infection. 

Mr. Habré’s death Tuesday morning was confirmed by Lt. Mame Balla Faye, the director of the Cap Manuel prison in Senegal, the West African country where Habré was serving out his time. Mr. Faye did not provide further details.

Habré seized power in 1982 from former ruler Goukouni Oueddei, a former rebel comrade who had won elections.

Reportedly, he was backed by the CIA, as an oppositional force against Libya’s then-leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

With the backing of the United States and France, Habré’s forces drove out the Libyans in 1983. In 1990, he was overthrown by rebels and sought asylum in Senegal.

A commission was formed in Chad after he was deposed and reported his government carried out some 40,000 politically motivated murders and 200,000 cases of torture in just eight years in power. He was accused of being behind sexual slavery, rape, and ordering killings while in power and denied all charges.

More than two decades later, in 2016, Habré was found guilty of crimes committed during his presidency from 1982 to 1990.

Reed Brody, who had helped launch the campaign for the trial, said he “[Habré] will go down in history as one of the world’s most pitiless dictators, a man who slaughtered his own people.”

Although Habré was convicted, almost 8,000 victims are still waiting for the $150 million in compensation they were jointly awarded.

“Since the trial, five years have passed. Nothing has been done,” said Clément Abaifouta, president of the Association of Victims of the Crimes of the Hissène Habré Regime. “The court of Dakar has not seized his property. The African Union, which is handling the case, does nothing. Up until now, Hissène Habré has not paid a single cent. Nothing.”

Abaifouta was arrested as a young student and spent four years in one of Mr. Habré’s prisons where he was forced to dig the graves of his friends and cellmates. Because of the conditions of the prison, many died while imprisoned. He recalled how the experience ruined his life and how Habré’s death would not provide closure because his former associates had not faced justice and were still present in Chad’s government.

“Now, in Chad, you have governors, you have brigade commanders, commissioners, presidential advisers, all of whom worked with Hissène Habré,” he said. “So the victims are still scared, even if Hissène Habré is no longer there. They’re everywhere, these people.”

Jacqueline Moudeina, a lawyer representing the victims, said that “this death does not absolve Chad or the African Union from compensating the victims”.

“We will continue the fight so that the victims return to their rights,” she added.

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