This file photo taken on June 3, 2015 shows former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre gesturing as he leaves a Dakar courthouse after an identity hearing. He was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life in prison on May 30, 2016. PHOTO | SEYLLOU | AFP
A special court in Dakar on Thursday upheld a life sentence on appeal for Chad’s former president Hissene Habre for war crimes and crimes against humanity, but acquitted him of rape.
The Extraordinary African Chambers, a body created by Senegal and the African Union (AU), sentenced Habre last May to life behind bars, an unprecedented ruling seen as a blow to the impunity long enjoyed by repressive rulers on the continent.
The president of the appeal court Wafi Ougadeye said he confirmed the life sentence — an irrevocable verdict — but quashed the rape ruling.
The former desert warrior has refused to recognise the court’s authority, so the appeal was mounted on his behalf by his court-appointed lawyers.
Habre was absent from proceedings on Thursday.
In July, the court further ruled that Habre should give up to 30,000 euros ($33,000, Sh3,300,000) to each victim of abuses committed during his 1982-1990 rule, as well as to their relatives, a decision on which the court will also rule on Thursday.
Habre’s conviction brought closure for relatives of up to 40,000 people killed and many more kidnapped, raped or tortured during his time as president.
Reed Brody, a US-based lawyer who has worked closely with Habre’s victims to secure the conviction, said the ruling was “a powerful message that the days when tyrants could brutalise their people, pillage their treasury and escape abroad to a life of luxury are coming to an end”.
“Today will go down in history as the day that a band of unrelenting survivors finally prevailed over their dictator,” he added in a statement.
Habre, who is already in custody, will serve his sentence in Senegal or in another AU country.
The trial set a global precedent as the first time a country had prosecuted the former leader of another nation for rights abuses, and was seen as a landmark example of African rights abuses being tried on the continent.
Souleymane Guengueng, who founded a Habre victims’ association after suffering in one of the ex-leader’s notorious prisons, said in a statement he was “finally at peace”.
“I hope that all the dictators in Africa take notice – no one is above the law!” he said.
Habre fled to Senegal after his 1990 ouster by Chad’s current President Idriss Deby, and for more than 20 years lived freely in an upmarket Dakar suburb with his wife and children.