“Hissène Habré, this court finds you guilty of crimes against humanity, rape, forced slavery and kidnapping. The court condemns you to a life in prison.”
These were the words of Gberdao Gustave Kam, the Chief Judge of the Extraordinary African Court where the 72-year-old Habré has been facing trial since July 20, 2015. Habré, who was sentenced to a life in prison on Monday the 30th of May 2016, ruled the Republic of Chad from 1982 to 1990, after he was deposed by the current president, Idriss Déby Itno. Habré had been on trial for human rights abuses and crimes against humanity committed during his administration as President. He has now been convicted of rape, sexual slavery and ordered killings, carried out during his rule, which is good news for victims who survived his rule of terror.
Habré’s historical trial was held in Dakar, Senegal, where he fled to after he was overthrown in 1990. In 2005, a Belgian court issued a warrant for his arrest, however, the African Union intervened and asked Senegal to host Hissène on behalf of Africa. Through the trial, about a hundred witnesses testified, even though they had to travel to Senegal from Chad. Survivors presented thorough evidence concerning torture, rape, sexual slavery, mass executions and the destruction of entire villages. Some of the survivors demonstrated how they were tortured, while forensic experts uncovered mass grave sites and exhumed 21 bodies, most which presented evidence of gunshot wounds.
Souleymane Guengueng, who was tortured by Habré, was instrumental in gathering other survivors to testify against the dictator. He formed the Association of Victims of Crimes of Hissène Habré (AVCRHH) and with help from the Human Rights Watch, the former president was brought to justice. While describing his elation at the ruling, he reportedly said “I have been waiting for this day since I walked out of prison more than 25 years ago. Today I feel ten times bigger than Hissène Habré.”
Hissène Habré’s sentence has just set a remarkable record in Africa and has sparked hope that dictators can be brought to justice. Africa has never been able to successfully confront impunity and human rights violation by its sit-tight leaders due to favouritism and inconsistencies in the rule of law. However, for the first time, Africa has shown the world that it is capable of bringing a powerful leader to justice without interference from the international community.