Ex-Chad Dictator’s Victims Denied Reparations

5 Years on, No Action on Court Orders in Hissène Habré Case

(Nairobi) – Victims of the former dictator of Chad, Hissène Habré, have not received a cent of reparations ordered by the African Union-backed Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal in 2016, five organizations including Human Rights Watch said today. The following is their statement:

Chad, the African Union and the International Community Must Not Abandon Hissène Habré’s Victims Now

Paris, London, Ndjamena, New York, 30 May 2021

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 nongovernmental organizations (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 and need.

On May 30, 2016, the African Union-backed Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC), supported by the African Union and 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 Habré-era security agents 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 death 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. The execution of his full criminal sentence is an essential element of the victims’ rights to justice and accountability.

Jacqueline Moudeina, the main lawyer for the victims of the Habré regime who represents more than 4,000 victims in this case, 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.

“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," said 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.

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;
  • Call upon the Senegalese government not to release Hissène Habré prematurely;
  • Call upon the African Union to make the Trust Fund operational, to trace Habré’s assets, and to make efforts to obtain voluntary donations from donors;
  • Call upon 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