Dakar-The special court in Senegal has sentenced former Chad dictator Hissene Habre to life in prison after finding him guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes during his 1982-1990 rule.
After the announcement of the verdict on Monday, a defiant Habre raised his fist and shouted to his supporters: “Long live independent Africa! Down with France-Africa!”
The case, at the Extraordinary African Chambers (CAE) — a special tribunal set up by the African Union under a deal with Senegal — is the first time a country has prosecuted a former leader of another nation for rights abuses.
Chadian investigators found that at least 40,000 people were killed during Habre’s rule, which was marked by fierce repression of opponents and the targeting of rival ethnic groups.
“Hissene Habre, this court finds you guilty of crimes against humanity, rape, forced slavery, and kidnapping,” said Gberdao Gustave Kam, president of the special court.
Habre, 73, has 15 days to appeal, and his lawyer, Mounir Ballal, said he will do so.
Habre seized power in 1982.
The son of a farmer, Habre was born on August 13, 1942 in Faya-Largeau, northern Chad, and grew up among nomads in the Djourab desert.
His intelligence landed him a job as a local official before he left for Paris in 1963 to study law and attend Sciences-Po, a prestigious political science school. One of his influences at the time was Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
Habre joined the Chad National Liberation Front a year after returning home in 1971 and became its leader, before breaking away to form another rebel group, the Northern Armed Forces (FAN).
He made headlines in 1974 when he kidnapped a French ethnologist who was held for three years before France agreed to terms for her release.
A staunch nationalist, Habre then served as prime minister in the government of President Felix Malloum and as defense minister under his sometime ally Goukouni Weddeye who later became president.
Habre, unlike Weddeye, was an outspoken opponent of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi and the relationship did not last.
Habre broke from his Tripoli-backed ally just months after the formation of Weddeye’s 1979 government, triggering violence in Chad’s capital, N’Djamena.
He fled the city for eastern Chad in 1980, but returned to fight his way to power in 1982.
Monday’s verdict capped a 16-year battle by victims and rights campaigners to bring the former strongman to justice in Senegal, where he fled after being ousted in a 1990 coup.