Hissene Habre, Ex-President of Chad, Dead at 79


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Hissene Habre, the former president of Chad, has died while serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity, including killings, torture and sex offenses, during his rule in the 1980s. He was 79.

Mr. Habre’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 Mr. Habre was being held after being convicted there. Mr. Faye did not provide further details.

At the time of his death, however, he was not in prison, according to media reports. He had spent 10 days in a nearby clinic receiving treatment for complications related to diabetes and high blood pressure, Senegalese media said. Some reported that he had died after being infected with the coronavirus.

Mr. Habre was allowed out of prison for 60 days in April 2020 because a judge said he was particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. His wife had long petitioned the Senegalese authorities to release him on health grounds even before the pandemic.

When Mr. Habre was convicted in 2016, he became the first former head of state to be convicted of crimes against humanity by another country’s courts. His victims celebrated their hard-won victory in the Dakar courtroom, having fought for justice for decades. But five years later, nearly 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 Clement Abaifouta, president of the Association of Victims of the Crimes of the Hissene Habre Regime. “The court of Dakar has not seized his property. The African Union, which is handling the case, does nothing. Up until now, Hissene Habre has not paid a single cent. Nothing.”

Mr. Abaifouta was arrested as a young student and spent four years in one of Mr. Habre’s notorious prisons, an experience that he said ruined his life. He was forced to dig the graves of his friends and cellmates, many of whom died because the prison conditions were so bad. He became known as the “gravedigger.”

He said that Mr. Habre’s death would bring no relief to his victims, because many former subordinates had not faced justice and still permeated Chad’s government.

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

Reed Brody, who has worked with Mr. Habre’s victims for over two decades, said the former president would “go down in history as one of the world’s most pitiless dictators, a man who slaughtered his own people to seize and maintain power, who 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.”

A Chadian truth commission found that Mr. Habre’s government killed more than 40,000 people believed to be enemies of the state, including those who merely had come under suspicion, during his rule from 1982 to 1990.

Mr. Habre took power during a coup with aid from the United States, and he received weapons and assistance from France, Israel and the United States to keep Libya, Chad’s northern neighbor, at bay.

He lost power in 1990 the way he took it, in a coup, and fled to Senegal. His successor, Idriss Deby, died on the battlefield last April, and was succeeded by his son.

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