DAKAR - An African Union tribunal in Senegal has rejected the appeal of former-Chadian president Hissene Habre, who was convicted last year of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Malian Supreme Court Judge Ougadeye Wafi delivered the verdict on the appeal Thursday.
Former Chadian president Hissene Habre’s conviction for war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture stands. The court overturned his conviction for rape.
Habre will serve his sentence: life in prison. He has been ordered to pay $135 million in reparations to over 7,000 victims and relatives of victims.
A few of the 100 victims who testified during the trial were present in the court Thursday.
Souleymane Guengueng suffered two years of imprisonment and torture during the Habre regime. He founded a victims’ association in Chad and began gathering testimony of other survivors soon after Habre was toppled in a coup in 1990 and fled to Senegal.
Guengueng says he feels satisfaction and victory. But he says now we have to make sure the reparations are paid. This is what I am expecting and only then will I be completely satisfied.”
Habre was not in the court Thursday. He has refused to recognize the court’s authority, and his lawyers did not take part in the trial. The court-appointed defense said it was not surprised by the outcome of the appeal.
Habre’s court-appointed attorney, Mounir Balal, says “the judgment was to be expected. My team and I made it a point to focus on the rape charges, and they were dropped. For the rest, nothing changes.”
Habre ruled Chad for eight years during which rights groups estimate he was responsible for the deaths of over 40,000 people before he was deposed in 1990.
Thursday’s verdict marked the end to a more than two-decade campaign by Habre’s victims to bring him to justice.
The Extraordinary African Chambers was created within the Senegalese justice system to try Habre in 2013. It was funded by the international community. The trial began in July 2015.
Chadian lawyer Jacqueline Moudeina is lead counsel for the victims.
She says the verdict today sends a strong message to all African dictators. “It is possible for little people to bring big fish to justice. Watch out,” she says, “you will no longer remain unpunished.”
This was a trial of firsts – the first time an African leader was tried on African soil by an African court.
For some, the Habre trial could represent a new model for justice as the International Criminal Court faces resistance from some African countries.
Reed Brody is an American lawyer who has worked with Habre’s victims since 1999.
He says, this is about multiplying the pathways that lead to justice. What is important is to give victims hope and to show them that justice can be made on the African continent.
Earlier this week, Habre victims traveled to Banjul to meet victims of alleged abuses under Gambia’s former president, Yahya Jammeh, who fled to Equatorial Guinea in January after a regional standoff over the disputed election.
Clement Abaifouta is the president of the Chadian Victims’ Association.
He says “the [Habre] ruling is the outcome of 26 years of hard work. Now we are available to help others. We are going to offer our experience to Gambia so they too can find justice.”
Habre will serve his sentence in Senegal or another country in the African Union.