Senegal Court Upholds Life Sentence for Chad's Former Ruler Hissène Habré

 Hissène Habré
Former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré (C) is escorted by prison guards into the courtroom for the first proceedings of his trial by the Extraordinary African Chambers in Dakar on July 20, 2015. In April 2017, an appeals court in Senegal upheld his life sentence for crimes against humanity. SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Image

A court in Senegal has rejected Chad's former ruler Hissène Habré's appeal against his conviction for crimes against humanity, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

A special tribunal—the Extraordinary African Chambers —sentenced Habré to life in prison in May 2016 for ordering the arrest, torture and killing of thousands of people in Chad during his eight-year rule, which ended in 1990.

On Thursday, the appeals court in Senegal acquitted Habré of rape—a charge that was introduced during the trial—but upheld all the other charges against him.

In 2016, Gberdao Gustave Kam, president of the special court, said Habré had committed three acts of rape.

Head Appeal Judge Ougadeye Wafi said on Thursday the court believed the account of a witness who claimed she was personally raped by Habré. However, the court dropped the charge as it was not part of the original indictment.

Wafi also ruled that a trust fund — set up by the African Union — will manage millions of dollars of compensation that has been awarded to more than 4,000 of his victims.The compensation money will come from the seizure of Habré's assets, AP said.

The verdict concludes a landmark trial that began July 2015 and led to 90 victims testifying against Habré. Many of the victims had been seeking justice for almost three decades, following their release from Chadian prisons in 1990, when Habré fled to Senegal after being overthrown by current President Idriss Deby.

"Today is a great and a famous day for all victims. I am dreaming of now building a new society without the violence, a new society with democracy and with respect for human beings,"Clement Abaifouta, president of the Association of Victims of Crimes of the Regime of Hissene Habre and a former prisoner, told the AP.

Read more: Who is Hissène Habré, Chad's brutal dictator?

In 1992, the Chadian Truth Commission estimated that 40,000 people had been killed during Habré's rule. The killings had been carried out mostly by a secret police unit known as the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS).

But Habré was charged only in 2013, following the creation of the Extraordinary African Chambers by the Senegalese government and the African Union.

It marked the first time that an African court has tried a head of state for crimes against humanity and also the first time a court of one country has tried a former head of state of another for human rights abuses.

"The life sentence handed down to Habré shows that this hybrid court in Senegal has teeth," Phil Clark, reader in international politics with a focus on Africa at London's SOAS University, tells Newsweek .

"The Habré case shows that some African states are willing to hold the leaders of other African states accountable. Given that the Habré trial was supported by the African Union and overseen entirely by African judges, this shows a growing capacity and willingness within Africa to deal with international crimes."