The appeal of former Chad president Hissene Habre against his life sentence for war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture began Monday by the Extraordinary African Chambers, marking the final stage in a landmark case pursued by victims for more than 15 years.
Habre’s conviction was the first of a former head of state by an African court for crimes against humanity. It also was the first time a former dictator was found personally guilty of rape by an international court.
The Extraordinary African Chambers, created by the African Union and Senegal, found Habre guilty and sentenced him to life imprisonment in May for crimes committed during his presidency from 1982-1990.
The court later ordered him to pay tens of millions of dollars in compensation to victims.
Habre has said he does not recognize the court’s authority, and his defense lawyers refused to appear during the trial.
Court-appointed lawyers, however, represented him and appealed the conviction, alleging that one of the trial court judges should not have been appointed given his background as a prosecutor, and that there were several errors of fact and law.
The newly appointed president of the chambers for the appeal, Judge Ougadeye Wafi, on Monday said the court would allow a request by Habre not to appear during the appeal hearings.
The victims’ lawyers also have appealed, calling for the creation of a trust fund for the victims.
“Habre’s conviction was based on strong evidence, including the files of his own political police, documents in his own handwriting, testimony from those who received his orders, witnesses whom he personally sent to prison, and a woman whom he raped,” said international rights lawyer Reed Brody, a member of the International Commission of Jurists who has worked with Habre’s victims since 1999.
“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,” Brody said.
The arguments are expected to last several days, with a final decision by the end of April, when the court’s mandate ends.