The Extraordinary African Chambers in Dakar Senegal, on Monday, in a landmark judgement, sentenced former Chadian dictator, Hissene Habre, to life imprisonment for human rights abuses, extrajudicial killings and rape.
The conviction and sentencing, which is the first of its kind, where a ruler of one country is convicted for human rights crimes by another country, brings relief to tens of thousands of his victims who have waited for justice for more than 25 years.
It also shows that there is no hiding place for present and former dictators, especially in Africa, who committed or are committing widespread human rights abuses in their countries.
The crimes for which he was convicted was committed between 1982 and 1990 when he ruled the Central African country with iron fist.
Apart from the widespread right abuses committed by his junta, he was personally convicted for committing rape.
“This verdict is a victory for those victims who fought tirelessly to ensure Hissène Habré could not get away with crimes under international law,” said Gaetan Mootoo, Amnesty International West Africa researcher. “It demonstrates that when there is enough political will, states can work together effectively to end impunity in even the most entrenched situations.
“It is moments like these that other victims around the world can draw on in darker times when justice appears beyond reach. It will nourish them with hope and give them strength to fight for what is right. This landmark decision should also provide impetus to the African Union or individual African states to replicate such efforts to deliver justice to victims in other countries in the continent.”
As ruler of Chad, Mr. Habre received massive support from the United States and France which provided him weapons and training and used him in their fight against late Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.
In 1992, the Chadian Truth Commission accused Mr. Habré’s government of political murder and systematic torture of 40,000 people. Most of the abuses were carried out against mainly two ethnic groups, Hadjerai and the Zaghawa, whose leaders were perceived as threats to Mr. Habre’s government.
A total of 69 victims, 23 witnesses and 10 expert witnesses testified during the trial which opened on July 20, 2015.
The judgement is however not final as Mr Habre still have the right to appeal the conviction.
The prosecution relied upon research reports from Amnesty International from the 1980s. Human rights watch has also been in the forefront of the push to make Mr Habre pay for his crimes.