Hissène Habré is dead but his victims have still not received any compensation

What happens when survivors of atrocities are awarded a large sum in reparations, but the court that ordered the payment has closed and the person responsible for paying the reparations has died?

This is the question facing the victims of the regime of the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré.

Habré, who ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990, is deceased at the end of last August following complications related to Covid-19 while serving a life imprisonment in Senegal for war crimes and crimes against humanity. His prison sentence had been pronounced in 2016 by the Extraordinary African Chambers, a specialized criminal jurisdiction, created in Dakar by an agreement between the Senegalese government and the African Union (AU). The Extraordinary African Chambers ceased their activities after concluding the appeal process a year later.

Death of Hissène Habré: the reaction of the victims (TV5 Monde Info, August 24, 2021).

This trial was the result of over 25 years of tenacious efforts from Chadian victim groups and their non-governmental partners to bring the ex-dictator to justice. And the Extraordinary African Chambers also ordered Habré to pay more than 82 billion CFA francs (over US $ 140 million) to 7 victims who participated in the trial as civil parties. It remains the greatest amount of compensation granted by an international (-ised) criminal court.

Yet more than four years after this decision, none of the victims have received any compensation.

A Special Fund that only exists on paper

The appeal judges of the Extraordinary African Chambers have ordered that reparations be implemented through a  "Victims Compensation Fund"  similar to the model of fund for victims existing at the International Criminal Court. But today, Habré is dead, and the Fund still exists only on paper.

Death of Hissène Habré: Chadian victims of the regime still seek compensation (France24, August 25, 2021).

Victims in Chad are frustrated by the slow progress and have frequently organized marches and demonstrations. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has highlighted that Habré's death does not in any way constitute an obstacle to the implementation of the Fund and the reparations judgment rendered by the extraordinary African Chambers.

Attention has therefore been focused on the AU and the Chadian government, which must reach an agreement to set up the fund and start compensating the victims. Action must be taken to prevent the court order from becoming a fictitious award.

The appeal judges of the Extraordinary African Chambers have granted the Fund great discretion in the execution of the reparations order. This includes the possibility of approaching other victims, beyond the civil parties, and of working with Chad and victims' associations to devise collective reparations not ordered by the Court. In addition, the Fund has become the custodian of the proceeds from the property seized in Habré. He was also responsible for monitoring Habré's financial condition with a view to identifying and seizing additional assets.

The appeal judgment of the Extraordinary African Chambers has made the Fund a central element in the implementation of reparations. This strategy was risky. She placed all her hopes in a new institution which was not yet operational.

The Fund was eventually established under the auspices of the AU, following a resolution in July 2016 and the adoption of Fund statutes early 2018. However, it was not until June 2019 for the conclusion of an agreement with Chad on the establishment of the Fund's headquarters in N'Djamena. Then the Covid-19 pandemic struck, and the process was halted.

Find the money

The next challenges are to make the Fund operational and to mobilize resources. Following an AU mission to Chad in mid-September 2021, it is hoped that a board of directors made up of members of the AU, the Chadian government and three victims' associations will soon take office. The statute also provides for a secretariat to help the board of directors in its mandate.

More difficult will be to actually raise funds for compensation. The Extraordinary African Chambers had seized property belonging to Habré. It is a property with villa in Dakar (valued at nearly $ 800) and two bank accounts. But action is needed to convert this precautionary seizure into monetary benefit for the victims. The victims' lawyers have so far introduced no action before the Dakar tribunal de grande instance, which has been appointed by the Extraordinary African Chambers to hear any case after its closure. No doubt because they were waiting for the creation of the Fund, which must receive the fruit of these goods.

Access to Habré's alleged property beyond Senegal's borders will be even more difficult, especially after his death. In 1992, a Chadian commission of inquiry had claimed that Habré had stolen 3,32 billion CFA francs ($ 5,7 million) from the national treasury.

The habré trial, Extraordinary African Chambers of Senegal (January 12, 2018).

But one thing is certain: Habré's holdings are far from sufficient to meet the large demand for reparations from the Extraordinary African Chambers. The AU has allocated $ 5 million to the Fund, presumably for its initial operating costs. In addition, it was reported that the Extraordinary African Chambers had transferred nearly 500 euros ($ 000) to the fund, which remained in their accounts at the time of its dissolution. The AU also announced its intention to convene a resource mobilization conference, in which Member States and partners, international organizations and other bodies will participate, to solicit voluntary contributions to the fund.

The clock is ticking

A key role will fall to the Chadian government. While Chad has supported the Extraordinary African Chambers, it has so far done little to meet its own obligations to compensate victims of the Habré regime.

In 2015, a Chadian court condemned a number of former security agents of the Habré regime and ordered the payment of 75 billion CFA francs ($ 135 million) to some 7 civil parties, stipulating that 000% would be paid by the state Chadian. The court also ordered the creation of a memorial for those killed and the transformation of the former security premises into a museum.

The Chadian authorities have not implemented any of these measures.

In 2017, victims have filed a complaint against the Chadian government before the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights for failure to respect the judgment. They asked the Commission to take the matter to the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights. The UN special rapporteurs have also expressed their concern over this failure.

Chad's role is not only to facilitate reparations for the Extraordinary African Chambers in concert with the AU, but also to recognize and assume its own responsibility for the violations committed by its state agents.

Recent unrest in Chad and death of President Idris Déby Itno, in April, diverted attention from the issue of reparations.

It is feared that the reparations process could turn into another endless effort that could rival the ten-year odyssey that it took for a prosecution to be brought against Habré. For the victims, the clock is ticking - hundreds of civil parties, mostly elderly, are already deceased and will never see the compensation they were owed.


The translation into the French version was provided by the site Justice Info.

Christoph sperfeldt, Honorary Fellow, Melbourne Law School, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

Image Credit: basaltunselami / Shutterstock.com

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