DAKAR (Reuters) - Former Chad president Hissene Habre was found guilty on Monday of crimes against humanity for ordering the killing and torture of thousands of political opponents during his eight-year, cold war-era rule.
Habre was sentenced to life in prison by the Special African Chamber, a tribunal created in 2013 by Senegal and the African Union. He was also convicted of rape.
The verdict caps a 16-year battle by victims and rights campaigners to bring the former strongman to justice in Senegal, where he fled after being toppled in a 1990 coup in the central African nation.
"Habre's conviction for these horrific crimes after 25 years is a huge victory for his Chadian victims," said Reed Brody, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, who helped investigate Habre's crimes.
"The verdict sends a powerful message that the days when tyrants could brutalize their people, pillage their treasury and escape abroad to a life of luxury are coming to an end," he said.
Habre has two weeks to launch an appeal.
The case centered on whether Habre, feted at the White House in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan after expelling Libyan forces from Chad, ordered the large-scale assassination and torture of political opponents and ethnic rivals.
A 1992 Chadian Truth Commission accused Habre's government of up to 40,000 political murders as well as systematic torture, mostly by his feared intelligence police, the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS).
An investigation by Human Rights Watch in 2001 unearthed thousands of documents in the abandoned DDS headquarters updating Habre on the status of detainees. During the trial, a court handwriting expert confirmed margin notes on one document to be Habre's.
(Reporting By Diadie Ba, writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Ed Cropley)