Chad's Hissene Habre awaits appeal verdict for war crimes

Chad's Hissene Habre awaits appeal verdict for war crimes©AFP
Dakar tribunal seat of the Extraordinary African Chambers which sentenced Hissene Habre
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Chad's former president Hissene Habre will Thursday hear the final decision on an appeal against a life sentence for war crimes, crimes against humanity and rape, following his landmark conviction last year.

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.

In July, the court further ruled that Habre should give up to 30,000 euros ($33,000) to each victim of abuses committed during his 1982-1990 rule, as well as to their relatives.

Expected to begin at 1000 GMT on Thursday, the appeal verdict will be "definitive and irrevocable," the special court's spokesman Marcel Mendy told AFP.

As of Tuesday it was unclear if Habre would appear, a decision that Mendy said rested with the president of the appeal court, Wafi Ougadeye.

Habre, 74, refuses to recognise the court's authority and his appeal was therefore brought on his behalf by court-appointed lawyers. He refused to speak or defend himself throughout his trial.

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.

One of his lawyers, who asked not to be named, said he was "confident" of his team's chances, lashing out at what he termed "Western sponsors" of the trial.

If his conviction is upheld, Habre will serve his sentence in Senegal or in another AU country.

Assane Dioma Ndiaye, who defended the civil cases leading to the demand for reparations from Habre, said anything less than upholding the sentences handed down would be a huge blow.

Given the gravity of the accusations against Habre and the long fight for justice by the victims, "a sentence which is not in line with the facts would be a massive disappointment," Ndiaye 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.

Reed Brody, an American lawyer who has worked with the victims since 1999, said the evidence presented at court was "overwhelming".

Brody described "handwritten instructions for the mistreatment of prisoners, the testimony of a woman he raped, witnesses who received his orders and others whom he personally sent to prison, a jail on the grounds of his palace," as examples.

The trial also set a global precedent as the first time a country had prosecuted the former leader of another nation for rights abuses.