DAKAR: Lawyers acting for Chad's former president Hissene Habre launched an appeal Monday against his life sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity, after a conviction hailed as a landmark for Africa.
The Extraordinary African Chambers, a body created by Senegal and the African Union (AU), sentenced Habre in May to life behind bars, an unprecedented ruling seen as a blow to the impunity long enjoyed by repressive rulers.
Opening the appeal Monday, lawyer Mbaye Sene told the court the judgement should be thrown out as there was "not a shred of proof for the guilt of president Habre".
Habre, 74, who ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990, refuses to recognise the court's authority but his court-appointed lawyers are undertaking an appeal on his behalf, which will resume Tuesday. The president of the appeal court Wafi Ougadeye said its deliberations would continue without Habre's presence after a defence team request.
Ougadeye said Habre had replied to a letter from the court with the assertion that he did recognise its authority and therefore "was not able to receive any document issued by it."
One of Habre's most high-profile campaigning victims, Souleymane Guengueng, told AFP he had "no doubt the judgement will be upheld."
"One cannot violate international law with impunity," said Guengueng, who spent two years in detention in the hands of Habre's notorious Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS), Chad's secret police.
The verdict will be final. If his conviction is upheld, Habre will serve his sentence in Senegal or in another AU country. The hearing is expected to last several days, with the final decision expected by April 30. The May verdict brought closure for relatives of up to 40,000 people killed and many more kidnapped, raped or tortured during Habre's time as president. "The trial of Hissene Habre last year was the result of a tireless battle by thousands of victims and their relatives to ensure justice for crimes under international law committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990," said Gaetan Mootoo, West Africa researcher at Amnesty International.
"It gave hope to others around the world that it is possible to end impunity even where it is most entrenched," he said in a statement ahead of the appeal.
In July, Habre was further ordered to pay up to 30,000 euros ($33,000) to each victim who suffered rape, arbitrary detention and imprisonment during his rule, as well as to their relatives.