Victims' lawyers start battle to seize Habré's millions

Like Activists outside the Dakar courthouse ahead of the sentencing of Hissène Habré
Thursday, August 4, 2016 - 10:21

By Aida Grovestins

The African Extraordinary Chambers (CAE), an AU-backed special tribunal in Senegal, ordered Hissène Habré last week to pay his victims between 15.000 and 30.000 euros each in compensation for the atrocities they experienced. 

In May, Habré was convicted by the CAE to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity, torture, rape, sexual slavery and war crimes committed during his rule between 1982 and 1990. 
 
Habré conducted a reign of terror, and anybody who was thought to be critical of the government was arrested and held arbitrarily for years under inhumane conditions. Torture, rape and murder were common practice in the prisons. Habré was informed and gave orders on a daily basis to his secret police on what was to happen with the prisoners. 
His rule was also marked by ethnic cleansing. 
 

Amount of compensation

The court ordered Habré to pay his victims a total of approximately 81 million euros. “Each of the victims of rape and sexual slavery will be awarded the sum of 30,490 euros”, Judge Gherdao Gustave Kam said. “To each survivor of torture and arbitrary detention and each mistreated former prisoner of war and escapees the sum of 22,865 euros and to indirect victims a total of 15,243 euros.”
 
Reed Brody, a lawyer and former Human Rights Watch counsel, who campaigned for 17 years with the victims and their Chadian lawyers said: “This landmark decision recognises that Hissène Habré's crimes ruined the lives of thousands of people who have the right to reparations.” 
 

Financing the fund

Judge Kam gave no date for when the 4,733 victims, who were the plaintiffs in the trial that started on 20 July 2015 in Dakar, will see the money transferred to them. A compensation fund for victims and their beneficiaries will be financed through voluntary contributions by governments, international institutions, non-governmental organisations and other contributors wishing to provide support to the victims. 
 
International criminal law expert and former EAC outreach coordinator Hugo Jombwe said that the court will first be faced with the challenge of financing the fund. So far the court has seized only an upmarket house belonging to Habré and two small bank accounts, worth a total less than 900,000 euros.
 
Jacqueline Moudeina, the head lawyer for the civil parties, stresses that to make sure all of Habré’s assets are located and seized, she and her colleagues will fight in the same way as they did to get Habré convicted.  
 

Compensation insufficient

Moudeina is not satisfied with the awarded sum. The victims’ lawyers had asked for around 257 million euros in compensation and for money to be allocated for a collective compensation to build a memorial. They will consult the victims to see if they want to appeal.  
 
On 31 July, the only victim in the courtroom in Dakar was the Senegalese Abdourahmane Gueye, and he was not satisfied either. He said that when he was arrested by Habré’s secret police, his goods were confiscated and his business lost a lot of money. He added that he should also be compensated for the 11 months that he was held in one of Habré’s prisons in Chad’s capital Ndjamena. 
 
“Money will never bring back my friends”, said Souleymane Guengueng, a key witness who when he was still in prison promised himself he would fight to bring Hissène Habré to justice and who was instrumental in gathering the evidence. According to Guengueng, “money is important to heal the wounds, to take victims out of poverty and to show that we have rights that must be recognised".
 

Search for hidden financial constructions

According to the Chadian Truth Commission, Habré stole around 11.8 million euros from the national treasury the day before he fled to Senegal. He is believed to have stolen much more, and he was given cash gifts during his time in office, like the $1 million he received from Saddam Hussein of Iraq in 1987. In Senegal, he bought political and religious influence to live a comfortable exile there. The search for hidden financial constructions will be essential, according to Jacqueline Moudeina. 
 
In March 2015, 20 security agents from the Habré era were convicted by a Chadian criminal court of torture, murder, rape and kidnappings. The court ordered a compensation of 114.5 million euros for 7,000 victims. More than a year later, nothing has been paid yet. 
 
The process against Hissène Habré was a landmark trial, in which for the first time a former head of an African state was convicted by an African court. 
 
Hissène Habré didn’t recognise the court and kept silent throughout the entire trial. His court-appointed lawyers have appealed the verdict of life imprisonment. An appeals chamber is expected to be set up and start operating either in September or October of this year. Marcel Mendy, the CAE’s spokesperson says it is scheduled to issue its decision in April or May 2017.
 
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Lead image: Activists outside the Dakar courthouse ahead of the sentencing of Hissène Habré (Photo: Seyllou/AFP)
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