SENEGAL: African Union Court Convicts Former Chad President to Life Imprisonment

DAKAR MAY 31, 2016 (CISA) – Former Chad President Hissene Habre has been sentenced to life imprisonment after he was found guilty of crimes against humanity.

“Hissene Habre, this court finds you guilty of crimes against humanity, rape, forced slavery, and kidnapping,” as well as war crimes, said Gberdao Gustave Kam, Burkinabe president of the Extraordinary African Chambers (CAE) court on May 30, 2016 in Senegal’s capital, Dakar.

“The court condemns you to life in prison,” Kam added, giving Habre 15 days to appeal against the sentence.

This sentence by the Special African Chamber in Senegal marks the first time that the court created by the African Union has tried a former leader for human rights abuses.

Habre, who ruled landlocked oil producer Chad from 1982 to 1990, was accused of causing the deaths of as many as 40,000 people. He denied the charges and said he did not acknowledge the authority of the court.

The former president has constantly refused to recognise the CAE’s jurisdiction and at times had to be forced to appear in court, delaying proceedings.

The tribunal is supported by the African Union but is part of Senegal’s justice system, making it the first time in modern history that one country’s domestic courts have prosecuted the former leader of another country on rights charges.

Remaining silent throughout most of the proceedings, He wore sunglasses and a white turban that covered his mouth as the judge read the verdict.

Habre, 73, had spent more than two decades in exile in the West African nation before being placed in custody in 2013. Many, including some of his victims present in the courtroom, cheered in celebration.

“After years of struggle and many setbacks on the way to justice, this verdict is as historic as it was hard-won,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

A 1992 Chadian Truth Commission accused Habre’s government of up to 40,000 political murders as well as systematic torture, mostly by his intelligence police, the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS).

Investigations by Human Rights Watch in 2001 unearthed thousands of documents in the abandoned DDS headquarters updating Habre on the status of detainees. During the trial, a court handwriting expert confirmed margin notes on one document to be Habre’s.

During the trial, some of his victims testified in his presence, recounting the acts of torture to which they were submitted.

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