Former Chadian president Hissene Habre is escorted by military officers after being heard by a judge in Dakar in 2013.
STRINGER / AFP
- Hissene Habre died on Tuesday while serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity.
- Habre died in Senegal, where local media reported he died from Covid-19.
- Habre’s conviction set a global precedent, becoming the first African leader found guilty of war crimes in another jurisdiction.
Hissene Habre, the first African leader convicted of war crimes, has died, Senegal’s Ministry of Justice said on Tuesday. The former Chadian leader was serving a life sentence when he died at the age of 79.
Senegalese media reported that Habre died from Covid-19 complications.
Once dubbed “Africa’s Pinochet”, the former leader ruled Chad from 1982 until he was overthrown in 1990. He fled to Senegal where he lived in peace in an upmarket suburb in the capital Dakar until his arrest in 2014.
Habre was tried and convicted by a special tribunal set up by the African Union in 2016, becoming the first African leader to be tried for crimes against humanity by the continental body. Habre’s conviction set a global precedent for a successful prosecution in another jurisdiction.
The court also ruled that Habre must pay reparations to his more than 4 000 victims. A 1992 inquiry in Chad found that Habre was responsible for the deaths of 40 000 people, many of whom were political rivals, critics or Chadians belonging to a different ethnic group.
Chad had tried and sentenced Habre to death in absentia in 2008, but only after Chadians living in Belgium filed a suit against him in Brussels, did it become an international case.
Hissene Habré pictured in 1980. He was Chad’s Defense Minister and leader of Northern Army Forces.
He was arrested on the Belgian warrant in 2005, but was freed after Senegal’s appeals court ruled it had no jurisdiction on the matter. Four years later, Senegal and the African Union set up a special court to try Habre, making good on one of President Macky Sall’s promises.
“Hissene Habre will go down in history as one of the world’s most pitiless dictators, a man who slaughtered his own people, burned down entire villages, sent women to serve as sexual slaves for his troops and built clandestine dungeons to inflict medieval torture on his enemies,” said Reed Brody, the US human rights lawyer who represented Habre’s victims, tweeting on the news of his death.
Brody said he had petitioned Senegalese authorities for months to ensure that Habre was vaccinated.
In April last year, a judge granted Habre two months’ leave from prison as coronavirus cases rose in Senegal. At the time, activists feared Habre would use the public health crisis to avoid completing his prison term.
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