Following a May 2016 conviction for crimes against humanity, the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC) issued an order on July 29 for Hissène Habré to pay monetary reparations to thousands of victims. The former president of Chad was sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes including murder, summary executions, kidnapping, rape, and sexual slavery committed during his 1982 – 1990 rule. [Guardian] Although his lawyers have appealed the conviction, the EAC ordered Habré to compensate each of his victims with what amounts to tens of thousands of dollars in Central African francs, totaling millions of dollars in reparations. [Guardian; Amnesty International] Habré’s conviction was the first time a court on the African continent has convicted a former head of state of crimes against humanity. [Amnesty International]
Habre’s Dictatorship and Charges for Crimes Against Humanity
Today’s decision follows a decades-long investigation and trial process involving charges that date back to Habré’s political ascension in the 1980s. Habré took power during a coup, rising in the ranks with support from the United States government. [IJRC] He served as Chad’s president for eight years before being ousted. [BBC] Vast documentary evidence details his government’s orchestration of political killings, arbitrary arrests, and torture. [HRW] His administration targeted civilians and specific ethnic groups, forcefully silencing suspected opposition to the dictator’s rule. [HRW] More than 54,000 Chadians were detained as political prisoners, and approximately 20,000 were subjected to acts of torture. [IJRC] An estimated 40,000 people died during Habré’s presidency. [HRW]
According to the summary of the judgment against Habré, the arbitrary mass arrests and detentions started soon after he took power in June 1982, targeting those suspected of alignment with the opposition. The detainees were subject to questioning and tortured, which included the use of sexual violence. Many individuals often died while in detention due to complications from torture and the unsanitary conditions of the detention cells in which the deceased’s bodies were left to decay. See EAC, Prononce et Resume du Judgement: Dans L’Affaire Le Parquet General Contre Hissein Habre, Summary of the Judgment, 30 May 2016 (French).
Habré and the men under his command then targeted multiple ethnic communities, resulting in arrests, torture, disappearances, and executions. Female detainees were subject to rape and sexual slavery. Additionally, during armed conflict, Habré’s regime conducted mass executions of prisoners of war, and other prisoners of war were detained for long periods of time and subjected to poor conditions. See id.
Holding Habré Responsible for Crimes against Humanity
Despite significant evidence of Habré’s involvement in widespread human rights violations, more than two decades passed before he was brought to trial. The former dictator was not prosecuted in Chad because he has lived in Senegal since 1990 and Chad never demanded his extradition. Moreover, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was unable to prosecute him because it only has jurisdiction over crimes committed since 2002, the year its statute went into effect. [HRW] An agreement between Senegal and the African Union led to the 2012 creation of the Extraordinary African Chambers, established for the specific purpose of bringing Habré to justice. [Amnesty International] The EAC has jurisdiction over crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, and torture committed in Chad during Habré’s presidency, and the court will dissolve once his judgment is final. [HRW]
The EAC indicted Habré on July 2013 for torture, war crimes, and crimes against humanity based on membership in a joint criminal enterprise and on command responsibility. The indictment was the result of an investigation that lasted over a year. [HRW]
Habré, the EAC found, had reason to know of the crimes or the likelihood of the crimes committed. He often gave the orders that led to arrests, detention, and murder, and in some cases, he was directly involved in an interrogation that involved torture. Additionally, where he had knowledge of a crime but was not directly involved, he did not attempt to punish those who were, creating a climate of impunity. See Prononce et Resume du Judgement: Dans L’Affaire Le Parquet General Contre Hissein Habre, 30 May 2016.
Habré was found to be involved in a joint criminal enterprise to repress opposition and was convicted of torture and the crimes against humanity of murder, summary executions, abduction, disappearance, torture, and inhumane acts on May 30, 2016. He received a sentence of life imprisonment. The forced sex and sexual slavery of women and girls in detention, the EAC held, amounted to torture and the crimes against humanity of torture, rape, and sexual slavery, and the EAC also convicted Habré of war crimes of murder, torture, inhumane treatment, and arbitrary detention. See id.
His defense lawyers appealed the sentence on June 10, 2016. [Extraordinary African Chambers Press Release (French)] To date, the appeal remains pending as the EAC needs adequate resources to effectively complete it. [Amnesty International]
Significance of the Trial
The six-month trial was particularly significant in several ways. It marked the first time that a court in one country prosecuted the former president of another for crimes against humanity, and the first time a court on the continent convicted a former head of state of crimes against humanity. It was also the first time that an African case proceeded to trial on the basis of universal jurisdiction, a principle of international law that makes it possible for a domestic court to prosecute crimes that bear no connection to its own country. [HRW; Amnesty International]
Despite the significance of Habré’s conviction and the EAC’s compensation demand, it remains to be seen whether Habré has enough assets to sufficiently compensate his victims. According to the court order, Habré must pay $33,898 to every rape and sexual slavery survivor, $25,424 to every torture and arbitrary detention survivor, and $16,949 to the victims’ family members. [Guardian] Since his arrest, Senegal has seized less than one million dollars’ worth of assets belonging to the former dictator. [Guardian] Habré is believed to have stolen billions of francs (amounting to millions of dollars) from the national treasury before fleeing Chad, but he may have directed large sums toward attempting to rebuild political influence while in Senegal. It is unclear how much money he has left or where it might be located. [Guardian] The victims believe the money is important both to bring them out of a state of poverty that they found themselves in after the crimes committed and to recognize their rights. [Guardian]
Trial Against Habré’s Security Agents
In November 2014, a Chadian court initiated a trial against 26 former security agents who worked for Habré’s administration. The agents were charged with committing murder, kidnapping, arbitrary detention, torture, assault, and battery throughout the span of Habré’s dictatorship. The trial was made controversial by of its timespan; the prosecution and defense had two weeks to prepare their cases, calling the trial’s fairness into question. [Jurist]
The court convicted 20 of the security agents for murder, torture, kidnapping, and arbitrary detention and ordered 125 million dollars in reparations, commanding the government and the security agents convicted to split the payment to the victims. The government has not paid its half. [HRW]
The right to reparation is a principle of international law. While several international human rights instruments obligate States parties to ensure effective remedies for victims, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution in 2005 directly addressing the right to reparations and establishing the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law. Although a soft law document, the resolution refers to the provisions in binding international treaties that reference effective remedies, such as Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as evidence of the right to a reparation. See REDRESS, What is Reparation.