Chad, the African Union and the International Community Must Not Abandon Hissène Habré’s Victims Now
Paris London, Ndjamena, New York — Five years after the historic judgment in Senegal against the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré, victims of his brutal regime have not seen a cent of the $150 million court-ordered reparations. A coalition of NGOs called today on Chad, the African Union and the international community not to abandon the victims and to ensure that they receive the justice and reparations to which they are entitled.
On May 30, 2016, the African Union-backed Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC), supported by the international community, convicted Habré in the first universal jurisdiction case to proceed to trial in Africa.
Habré was the first former Head of State to be tried and found guilty of human rights crimes in the national courts of another state. He was convicted of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture, including sexual slavery, and sentenced to life in prison. On appeal, the conviction was confirmed in 2017 and together 7,396 victims were awarded reparations for the crimes they suffered during Habré’s 8-year rule.
An African Union Trust Fund that was mandated by the Chambers to trace, freeze and seize Habré’s assets in order to administer reparations has not yet become operational. Chairperson of the AU Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat in February 2020 promised “in the near future, to convene a Resource Mobilisation Conference to maintain this Fund.”
Efforts on the domestic level have also stalled: the Chadian government and Habré-era security agents have yet to pay $139 million in reparations ordered by a Chadian court in 2015 when it convicted 20 of Habré’s accomplices on murder and torture charges. In August 2017, a team of United Nations experts expressed their concern over the government’s failure to carry out reparations.
Habré, who is accused of looting tens of millions of dollars from the Chadian treasury, has paid no damages himself.
Recent unrest in Chad threatens to make justice for survivors in the form of reparations even more difficult to obtain in the future. Since the passing of President Idriss Déby Itno on April 20, 2021, who ended Habré’s rule in 1990 and had been in power since, the political context in Chad has been fragile.
In addition, Habré’s lawyers have repeatedly requested his release from prison. In December 2019, as Habré’s supporters were pressing for his release, the United Nations Committee against Torture wrote to Senegal to warn that “the premature release of the perpetrators of the most serious international crimes would not conform with [Senegal’s] obligations” under the UN Convention Against Torture to punish acts of torture and other ill-treatment with penalties that take into account their grave nature.
In April 2020 Habré was released for 60 days due to Covid-19-related health risks. On July 8, 2020, four UN human rights experts expressed their “serious concern” to Senegal over the April 2020 release and said that it was “essential” for Habré to remain in detention, given the serious crimes of which he was convicted. In April 2021, a Senegalese court rejected Habré’s request for a 6-month release. Yet, the execution of his full criminal sentence is an essential element of the victims’ rights to justice and accountability.
Jacqueline Moudeïna, the main lawyer for the victims of the Habré regime who represents more than 4,000 victims, said:
“Time is running out. We cannot wait years and years for these reparations. More than 100 victims have died since the decision of the EAC and will never see reparations. The Chadian government and the African Union must act now by making it imperative to include compensation for victims in their priority programs.”
The importance of reparations for victims of Habré cannot be understated. Reparations, comprising compensation, restitution, satisfaction, rehabilitation and guarantees of non-repetition are essential to redress the trauma and harm caused to survivors of Habré’s regime.
Clément Abaifouta, president of the Association of Victims of the Crimes of the Hissène Habré Regime (AVCRHH), who was forced to dig graves for many of his co-detainees when he himself was a prisoner under Habré’s regime, said:
“I believe that the time has come to give survivors, who have lived through unimaginable horrors and who have shown incredible courage in their struggle for justice, the opportunity to rebuild their lives, even if it is not without difficulty.”
The undersigned organizations and individuals call upon:
- the Chadian government to execute the decision of the Special Criminal Court of N’Djamena of March 25, 2015,
- the African Union to make the Trust Fund operational, to trace Habré’s assets, and to make efforts to obtain voluntary donations from donors.
- the international community to contribute financially to the Trust Fund.
The Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (ATPDH)
The Association of Victims of the Crimes of Hissène Habré (AVCRHH)
La Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme (RADDHO)
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Civil party lawyers Alain Werner, Jacqueline Moudeïna and Emmanuelle Marchand
Jeanne Sulzer, lawyer at the Paris Bar
Henri Thulliez, lawyer at the Paris Bar
For more information, please contact:
In N’Djamena for ATPDH, Agnès Ildjima Lokiam, President of ATPDH (French): +235 66288388, [email protected]
In N’Djamena for AVCRHH, Clément Abaifouta, President of AVCRHH (French): +235 66281908, [email protected]
In London for REDRESS, Eva Sanchis, Head of Communications (English, Spanish): +44 (0)7857110076, [email protected]
In New York for Human Rights Watch, Reed Brody (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese): +1-917-388-6745, [email protected] Twitter: @reedbrody