Chad's former dictator is convicted of crimes against humanity in landmark trial

The World
Former Chad President Hissene Habre makes declarations to media as he leaves a court in Dakar, 2005.

Former Chad President Hissene Habre makes declarations to media as he leaves a court in Dakar, 2005. 

Aliou Mbaye

The former ruler of Chad, Hissène Habré, has been found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life in prison in a landmark trial.

The verdict was handed down Monday by an African Union-backed court in Senegal.

"It's the first time anywhere in the world, not just in Africa, that the courts of one country have prosecuted the leader of another for human rights crimes,” said Reed Brody, a lawyer from Human Rights Watch.

Brody, who has been working with the victims of Habré's regime for over 17 years, described the mood after the verdict as jubilant.

“This is 25 years that they never gave up,” he said. “Today is the reward for all of that struggle.”

Victims of Habré’s regime were seen celebrating and embracing each other in the courtroom.

Habré, known as the "Lion of Africa," was in power in Chad from 1982 to 1990. During this period the US and other Western nations gave him strong support.

Read more: The ‘Lion of Africa’ used to be America's friend. Now he's on trial for war crimes

The judge found him guilty of sexual slavery, torture, war crimes and ordering killings during his presidency.  

He was also found guilty of personally raping a woman. This is, according to Brody, the “first time ever that a former head of state has been convicted in an international trial of having personally committed rape.”

Throughout the trial, Habré has not recognized the legitimacy of the court, and has alleged that proceedings have been unfairly influenced by the international community.

Last year, GlobalPost correspondent Erin Conway-Smith captured this footage of him leaving a Dakar, Senegal courtroom, his face obscured and onlookers clapping.

He has 15 days to appeal Monday's verdict.

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