A court in Senegal has found former Chadian president Hissene Habre guilty of crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture and sentenced him to life in prison. Rights groups are hailing the landmark verdict as a strong warning to leaders who brutalize their citizens.
Guilty. That was the verdict announced by head judge Gberdao Gustave Kam of Burkina Faso.
The court found Habre to have been directly involved in ordering detentions, executions, systematic torture and other abuses against people identified as opponents of his regime.
Judge Kam said Habre presided over eight years of "uninterrupted" repression. Rights groups say Habre was responsible for over 40,000 killings.
'Impunity and terror'
During sentencing, Judge Kam said Habre "created and maintained a system where impunity and terror were law. He was at the head of a regime of generalized suspicion, so paranoid that he himself turned against his own agents."
Victims of Habre's regime and relatives of victims in the courtroom Monday wept and cheered after Habre was sentenced to life in prison.
"It is by the grace of God that we won," said one woman. Her husband, a civil servant under Habre, was detained and tortured. He died before the trial.
She said, "I cannot find the words. I am very moved. A lion, a man who took himself for God on the Earth, has been brought down."
Habre said nothing. He joined his hands in a fist and waved at supporters as he was escorted from the court.
Habre had refused to stand or acknowledge the judge throughout the trial, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses, his head and face wrapped in a white scarf.
He had to be forcibly brought into the court last June when the trial began. He and his lawyers refused to participate, and the trial was briefly suspended while court-appointed attorneys prepared his defense.
Habre fled to Senegal in 1990 after he was ousted in a coup.
Long, sordid history
The case against him has been over 20 years in the making. The Extraordinary African Chambers is an African Union tribunal created in 2013 within Senegal's justice system and funded by the international community.
More than 4,500 victims were registered as civil parties in the case. Chadian lawyer Jacqueline Moudeina, lead counsel for the victims, said, "today marks the end of the victims' relentless search for justice."
She said "it is a great joy for the victims and for Africa because we are sending a strong message to tyrants all over the world."
Among those who testified were 69 survivors of detention and abuses, including a woman whom Habre was found guilty of raping four times.
Habre's lawyers have 15 days to appeal the verdict.
Alpha Jallow contributed reporting from Dakar.
A photogallery of Habré’s victims and those bringing him to justice: