Breaking news this morning – a Senegalese court found former dictator Hissène Habré of Chad guilty of torture, rape, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, in a landmark verdict decades in the making against a U.S. Cold War-era ally.
Mr. Habré orchestrated the killing and torture of tens of thousands of political prisoners during his 1982-1990 rule over the impoverished desert country, presiding judge Gberdao Gustave Kam told the court. Habré has been sentenced to life in prison – becoming the first African former head of state to be convicted in continental Africa, and the first former head of any state to be convicted of crimes against humanity by the courts of another country.
In the video immediately below, some of Habré’s victims react to ruling and sentencing soon thereafter.
This news is certainly timely, as Chadian filmmaker Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s documentary film about Habré, his victims, and one of Africa’s least known mass killings, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival just 2 weeks ago.
Maybe a foreshadowing of what was to come, Haroun’s “Hissène Habré, A Chadian Tragedy” focuses on the dictator and Chad’s president from 1982 to 1990, who has been dubbed “Africa’s Pinochet” because of the notorious atrocities committed during his eight-year rule. A Commission of Inquiry formed after he was deposed in 1990 said his government carried out some 40,000 politically motivated murders and 200,000 cases of torture in the eight years he was in power. His dreaded political police force, the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS), is accused of some of the worst abuses.
Victims have been trying to bring him to justice for 23 years. And in 2013, Habré’s arrest in Senegal marked the end of a long combat for the survivors of his regime.
In the film, accompanied by the Chairman of the Association of the Victims of the Hissène Habré Regime, filmmaker Mahamat Saleh Haroun goes to meet those who survived this tragedy and who still bear the scars of the horror, physically and emotionally. It is through their courage and determination that the victims accomplish an unprecedented feat in the history of Africa: that of bringing a Head of State to trial (and even more significant now that he’s been actually convicted, setting a precedent).
Habre was finally brought to justice this month at a special tribunal in neighboring Senegal, where he had initially fled into exile.
Director Haroun told the press at Cannes that he wanted to cast a light on what he called “this genocide” largely ignored by the outside world “because it was some business of the blacks” carried out behind closed doors.
Chad’s foremost filmmaker whose film “Grigris” competed for the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2013, Haroun added that he wanted to see “if was it possible to still live together after such monstrosities,” asking the question, “Can survivors still find a place for forgiveness in their hearts?”
And given today’s verdict, the film becomes even more noteworthy, after not attracting any immediate distribution deals following its Cannes Film Festival premiere on May 16. But today’s news may change its prospects in the eyes of distributors around the world, given the international coverage the film’s subject is now receiving. A French pick-up is most likely.
Unifrance is the company promoting the film outside of France.
Watch 3 clips from it – all subtitled in English thankfully, and all embedded below, giving you a glimpse at what to expect.