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Prosecutor demands life in prison for Chadian ex-dictator Habre

11 February 2016, 10:03

Dakar - The prosecution in the landmark trial of former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre on Wednesday demanded he be jailed for life and stripped of all his assets.

"Given the evidence against him, there are grounds for finding Hissene Habre guilty of the crimes of torture, crimes against humanity and war crimes," said special prosecutor Mbacke Fall after a lengthy closing argument.

Habre, 73, was president of the semi-desert central African country from 1982-1990.

He went on trial last July in a special court, the Extraordinary African Chambers (CAE in its French acronym), established in Dakar by the African Union under an agreement with Senegal.

It marked the first time a court in an African country has called to account a despot from another African nation.

Also Read: Chad's president to run for fifth term

An investigating commission found that well in excess of 40,000 people were killed during his rule, which was marked by fierce repression of his opponents and the targeting of rival ethnic groups.

Fall on Wednesday said the chain led to the top.

"The apparatus of repression began to operate under the direction of Hissene Habre," Fall said.

The country's political police, the DDS, was "directly subordinate to the presidency," he said.

"Hissene Habre set up his own prisons, which are quite unconnected from the official system of incarceration. It was in these dying rooms that violations of human rights were the most overwhelming," said Fall, describing sites that were "concentration (camps), not detention centres."

Habre, who was ousted by Chad's current President Idriss Deby Itno, refused to address the court and does not recognise its authority.

As in the opening session in July, he wore a white robe, a turban and dark sunglasses, and he sat in silence throughout the hearing.

Fall described Habre's silence as an act of "cowardice" towards the victims of his alleged crimes, urging the court to interpret it as an "aggravating circumstance" in the case against him.

'Feeling of joy and victory'

Chadian Souleymane Guengueng, who founded the Association of Victims of the Crimes of the Hissene Habre Regime, hailed the prosecution's demand, as he expressed "a feeling of victory and joy.

"At last, the man who passed himself off as a god will have to think and he will know that what he did was bad."

Human Rights Watch also welcomed the prosecutor's request as "a strong signal that the world is increasingly intolerant of leaders who allegedly exploit their positions of power to commit serious crimes."

"Hissene Habre is charged with the most serious and odious atrocities -- mass executions, systematic torture in secret prisons, the sexual enslavement of women and girls and campaigns of ethnic cleansing, as well as having personally committed rape," said HRW's Reed Brody, who has worked with Habre's victims since 1999.

Habre's personal lawyer Francois Serres, who was barred from the proceedings, meanwhile dismissed the proceedings as political.

"Today in Dakar, (Chad's) President Deby ... called for the political and judicial elimination of president Habre through the voice of the prosecutor of the CAE," Serres said.

Also Read: UN asks Chad for answers over CAR rebel leader visit

"This prosecutor and these judges are a firing squad, tasked with executing president Habre."

Habre's CAE-appointed defence lawyers are expected to make a case for the ex-dictator to be acquitted on Thursday and Friday.

Once backed by France and the US as a bulwark against Libya's Moamer Kadhafi, Habre could be sentenced to life imprisonment with forced labour.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last month welcomed the Habre trial as evidence of "the surge in accountability mechanisms" which he saw as "a sea change in ending impunity for atrocious crimes."

Fall on Monday said Habre had the "power of life and death" over his people.

"People sang about Hissene Habre here, Hissene Habre there, Hissene Habre everwhere. It was he who freed people and he who had them executed."



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