Hissène Habré (photo, from afrik.com), Chad’s former president, along with leaders of an eastern rebellion, has been sentenced to death in absentia at a mass trial, by a court in Chad on Friday.
The exiled Habré is accused by human rights groups and victims associations of widespread political killings and torture during his eight-year rule of the oil producing country in central Africa.
Since 1990, when he was overthrew by Idriss Déby, Chad’s current president, Mr Habré has lived in exile in Senegal.
Without any legal defence in the three-day hearing, dozens of people, accused of crimes against state security were put on trial in absentia on Tuesday.
El Hadj Diouf, Mr Habré’s lawyer in Senegal, said that he had heard nothing official about the trial in Chad. “I’m not taking this seriously”, said Mr Diouf, while preparing Mr Habré’s defense for a trial to be held in Senegal, on the instructions of the African Union.
Sentenced to death, one rebel leader said that he did not even know he had been on trial. “I’ve heard nothing about this”, said Timane Erdimi, leader of the Rally of Forces for Change. “It is they who should be put on trial”, he added.
“They issued an international arrest warrant in 2007, but I’ve heard nothing since”, said Mr Erdimi, saying he was near Guereda, a town in Chad close to the border with the Darfur region of Sudan.
Death sentences have been pronounced against 12 men, including Habré and Erdimi, by Judge Ngarhondo Dgide, president of the court. Still in absentia, thirty-two others were sentenced to hard labor for attempting to “overturn constitutional order”.
Arrest warrants have not been issued by the court for those sentenced in absentia. Mr Ngartebaye declined to comment on whether Chad would seek Habré’s extradition from Senegal.
Although those sentences are a symbol on the political level, it remains unclear how they would affect president Déby’s campaign against rebel groups in the east of Chad that he contends are backed by the Sudanese government, which is denied by the neighbouring country.
Yet any property registered in the names of the accused could be lost by their relatives, if the court ordered to confiscate the belongings of those convicted.
President Déby has been fighting based against a sporadic rebellion, based along Chad’s eastern border with Darfur, where a five-year conflict has spilled over the frontier, sending hundreds of thousands of refugees, as well as armed rebels, into Chad.