Hissène Habré. Picture: REUTERS/ALIOU MBAYE
Hissène Habré. Picture: REUTERS/ALIOU MBAYE

Dakar — Lawyers for Chad’s president Hissene Habre’s began an appeal on Monday against his life sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity after a conviction hailed as a landmark for Africa.

The Extraordinary African Chambers, created by Senegal and the African Union (AU), sentenced Habre in May to life behind bars, an unprecedented ruling seen as a blow to the impunity long enjoyed by repressive rulers.

Habre, 74, who ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990, refuses to recognise the court’s authority, but his court-appointed lawyers asked to appeal on his behalf.

Appeal court president Wafi Ougadeye said its deliberations would continue without Habre’s presence after a defence request.

Ougadeye said Habre had replied to a letter from the court, saying he did recognise its authority and so "was not able to receive any document issued by it". The hearing was expected to last several days with the verdict expected by April 30.

One of Habre’s most high-profile campaigning victims, Souleymane Guengueng, said he had "no doubt the judgment will be upheld".

"One cannot violate international law with impunity," said Guengueng, held for two years by Habre’s secret police known as the Documentation and Security Directorate. If Habre’s conviction is upheld the verdict will be final, and he will do his time in Senegal or another AU country.

Before the appeal, lawyer Mbaye Sene said his team was "motivated to appeal by violations of the law and (the rights) of the defence and procedural errors".

Up to 40,000 people were killed and many more kidnapped, raped or tortured during Habre’s presidency. Habre was ordered last July to pay up to €30,000 to every victim of rape, arbitrary detention and imprisonment during his rule, or their relatives.

"The trial of Hissene Habre last year was the result of a tireless battle by thousands of victims and their relatives to ensure justice for crimes under international law committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990," said Gaetan Mootoo, West Africa researcher at Amnesty International. "It gave hope to others around the world that it is possible to end impunity even where it is most entrenched."

US lawyer Reed Brody, who worked with the victims of the Habre regime since 1999, said the trial set a global precedent as the first time a country had prosecuted the former leader of another nation for rights abuses.

"The appeals court now needs to make sure that a system is put in place so that Habre’s assets can be located, seized and transferred to his victims to compensate them for what they have suffered," said Brody.

Habre, a skilled desert fighter often dressed in combat fatigues, Habre fled to Senegal after he was ousted in 1990 ouster by Chad’s current president, Idriss Deby.

For more than 20 years, the former dictator lived freely in an upmarket Dakar suburb with his wife and children.


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