February 10, 2018
Trust fund set up to secure compensation will lead efforts to recover $150m stolen from treasury by former president
Former Chadian leader Hissène Habré was sentenced life imprisonment in 2016 for crimes against humanity. Photograph: STR/EPA
Ruth Maclean in Dakar
A trust fund has been established for victims of the former Chadian president, Hissène Habré, who have waited three decades without receiving compensation.
A court in Senegal found Habré guilty of crimes against humanity in 2016, making him the first head of state ever to be convicted of that crime by the courts of another country.
A Chadian commission of inquiry said more than 40,000 people were killed and 54,000 imprisoned during Habré’s rule from 1982 to 1990.
But the former president lived in peace and luxury in a suburb of Dakar for 26 years before his victims, plus a few dedicated human rights activists, managed to get him to trial.
“It took 25 years of relentless campaigning by Hissène Habré’s victims before he was finally brought to trial,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with the survivors since 1999. “Habré’s victims have not yet seen one cent in compensation.”
Before he fled Chad, Habré wrote himself a cheque for all the money in the treasury, about $150m (£108m). After his conviction, he was ordered to pay $153m to 7,396 of his victims. But his assets must first be traced: so far, only one house in Dakar and two small bank accounts have been identified. The trust fund was established by the African Union to do that. It will also take voluntary contributions from any country, individual or body that wishes to make them.
France and the US, in particular, are expected to contribute, as they were pivotal in bringing Habré to power, according to a Human Rights Watch report.
Clément Abaifouta, the president of an association of Habré’s victims, told Radio France Internationale he thought Chad should pay in the first instance, to set an example.
Nader Diab, a lawyer at the human rights organisation Redress, agreed.
“Some donors also have a responsibility towards the whole process including the reparations stage,” he said. “By those I mean, primarily, Chad and the African Union. The trust fund was created by the AU under its auspices. The AU was a fundamental player from the very beginning.
“Habré is the former president of Chad. Hence, Chad, as a state, is responsible for the human rights violations committed under Habré.”
However, Chad has a track record of not paying reparations to victims of the Habré regime. In 2014, 20 of Habré’s top security agents were convicted of torture; together with the Chadian government, they were ordered to pay $125m.
Abaifouta was imprisoned for four years, and in that time was forced to bury the bodies of many of his friends.
“You just wait for death to come,” he told the Guardian.
Read more Ex-Chad dictator’s conviction for crimes against humanity upheld by Dakar court
Khadidja Zidane became one of Habré’s most famous victims, after Habré was convicted of summoning her to the presidential palace and raping her. A year later, however, he was acquitted of the crime at appeal, although the judges were quick to say that this was not because they did not believe Zidane, but because her evidence had come too late to be included.
In the meantime, Zidane, who lives in a humble earthen compound in Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, was receiving death threats and being physically attacked by strangers in the street. She had testified openly, confronting Habré with the horrific story of what he had done to her, and the trial was broadcast in Chad.
If the $150m is ever recovered, and if it is split between the 7,396 named victims, that works out as $20,000 for each victim. This may not seem much in return for the lives that were ruined, but for men and women like Abaifouta and Zidane, it would be transformational. – The Guardian (Published: 09 Feb. 2018)