The death of Chad’s former dictator is leaving Chadians mixed feelings. The former president Hissène Habré ruled Chad with hard hands resulting in the death of tens of thousands of people. His eight-year leadership was marked with Chadians being brutally executed, tortured, and unjustifiably jailed.
Given a life sentence from a peculiar trial by the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal, he was ordered to compensate all victims and their relatives who suffered from either rape, arbitrary detention, or imprisonment. In May 2016, he was charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and torture. An official of the prison on Tuesday confirmed he had died in the hospital whilst serving jail time.
Habré’s trial was unique because it established the global precedent for the first time that a country can prosecute a former leader of another country nation for the abuse of rights during his term of office.
Commonly compared to former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, Habré’s government was characterized by fierce crackdowns on dissent. This included cases of alleged torture and executions of opponents. Reports published by Human Rights Watch reported that more than 40,000 people were killed throughout Habré’s rule, a very sad statistic.
Hailing from the Faya-Largeau region in northern Chad, Habré was the son of a farmer. However, his intelligence enabled him to work as a local official. In 1963, he left for France where he studied law at the famous Sciences-Po political science school.
When he returned in 1971, he joined the National Liberation Front and was made the leader. Shortly after, he dismembered himself and formed another rebel group called the Northern Armed Force. One of his more famous atrocities was the kidnapping of a French ethnologist. He held her hostage in 1974 for three years until France agreed upon his terms of release.
With an emphasis patriotism and nationalism, Habré worked as prime minister in Félix Malloum’s government and as defense minister for Goukouni Weddeye who later became president.
After fleeing Chad in 1980, he returned in 1982 to battle for power. During his reign, all opponents or suspected opposition leaders were executed by the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDs), Chad’s secret police.
When former loyal general, Idriss Déby in 1990 decided to begin a rebel force, Habré ran from power and exiled himself in Senegal. For 20 years, Habré and his family enjoyed living in the suburb of Dakar. Considered to be a philanthropist in the neighborhood through his support for the construction of mosques, he was reputed as a devout Muslim.
The African Union and Belgium insisted that Habré be punished for all the war crimes and crimes against humanity which he committed in Chad. Setting a global record, on June 30, 2013, Habré was arrested in Dakar. The AU decided his trial should be done in Senegal.
Every President or government official should be held accountable for their actions when they are in office, whether they are in their country or in exile.
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