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Chad: Will the late former president Habré’s victims ever be compensated?

By Achraf Tijani
Posted on Friday, 3 September 2021 09:03

More than 40,000 victims have been attributed to former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré during his eight years in power. SEYLLOU / AFP

Does the death of Chad’s former president Hissène Habré mean an end to the process of compensation for his victims?

No, says Clément Abaïfouta, who heads the Association des Victimes des Crimes du Régime de Hissène Habré (AVCRHH). “His death does not affect the reparation process,” he says. “It may even be the catalyst for a mechanism that, for the moment, is at a standstill.”

On 27 April 2017, the Chambres Africaines Extraordinaires confirmed on appeal the judgment that had been handed down in Dakar in the first instance. The former Chadian president, who had been found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, was not only sentenced to life imprisonment but also had to pay 82bn CFA francs ($148.3m) to the 7,396 civil parties.

An inactive fund

In 2016, a trust fund was set up to collect the proceeds made from selling Habré’s assets and redistribute them to the victims. In 2017, the African Union (AU) announced that it would be contributing $5m.

There is a group of African heads of state who are preventing things from moving forward. There is a cruel lack of political will.

This fund also opened the door to the 3,489 people who considered themselves victims but had failed to prove their eligibility for this status to the Chambres Africaines Extraordinaires and so we were not able to claim compensation.

Although the fund exists, it is still not operational. Its statute, which was adopted during the Addis Ababa summit held from 28 to 29 January 2018, says that the signatory states and organisations, as well as the AU, will provide it with all the necessary support.

Abaïfouta is not surprised that the process has been delayed: “There is a group of African heads of state who are preventing things from moving forward. There is a cruel lack of political will.”

Although two bank accounts and a villa in Dakar that belonged to Habré were confiscated, “it would be pointless to pay the €680,000 ($806,000) that they are worth into a fund that is still not operational,” says Jacqueline Moudeïna, coordinator of the collective of lawyers that represents Habré’s victims.

This is why Reed Brody, a member of the International Commission of Jurists, says he is thinking about doing away with this fund, which is an empty shell at present.

“We are currently discussing the possibility of initiating procedures that would let us compensate victims without going through the trust fund. And this would allow us to get around the resistance from the African Union and Chadian authorities,” says this former Human Rights Watch spokesperson who, for years, fought for the Chadian former leader to be tried. “We are discussing the possibility of initiating action to find other funds – not only in Senegal, but also abroad.”

Brody says this step was taken because “the AU is doing nothing.” He continues: “This organisation has a lot to do with this historic trial [the Chambres Africaines were created in 2013 after an agreement was made between Senegal and the pan-African organisation], but it is in the process of ruining its own work.”

Dithering about the host country

However, a glimmer of hope emerged in February 2020, when the AU Commission chairperson, Chad’s Moussa Faki Mahamat, promised that a “mobilisation conference” would be set up “to feed the fund”. These words have not been followed up on yet.

Why? “During the years following the fund’s creation, the country was hesitant about where to host it. The associations made up of Habré’s victims did not want it to be based in Chad,” says Moudeïna.

Nevertheless, a decision was made to install it in N’Djamena. “At the end of January 2020, an AU mission that included members of the president of the commission’s cabinet came to establish a roadmap,” continues Moudeïna. “But we have had no news since.”

In terms of compensation, other hopes have been dashed as well. On 25 March 2015, N’Djamena’s criminal court found 20 former members of Habré’s security services guilty of torture, kidnapping and murder. They were sentenced to heavy prison terms and ordered to pay €114m to the victims and their families.

The sentence stipulates that the Chadian state pay 50% of this sum, while the other half is to be paid by those convicted, notably by selling their property. However, this decision has not been followed up on either.

In 2017, the counsel for the victims’ associations, together with Moudeïna, lodged an appeal with the Commission Africaine des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples (CADHP) regarding the Chadian authorities’ delays. “But it is a long process. It can take 10 or 20 years before the CADHP refers the case to the Cour Africaine des Droits de l’Homme, which must judge the merits of the case,” says the lawyer.

“All we can do is continue our fight with the Chadian authorities to ensure that the victims are compensated, either by the state or by the perpetrators.”

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