Professor Thomas Kwasi Tieku, in a published article, summed up the African Union as “the proverbial forest that has bad trees dotted around its many good trees.”
So he would probably not be surprised to learn of the AU’s unmet obligations to pay reparations to thousands of Chadian citizens, victims of the brutal regime of former Chadian dictator Hissene Habré. Mr. Habré died this month in Senegal, age 79.
Habré was the first former head of state to be tried and found guilty of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture, including sexual slavery in the national courts of another state. The Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegalese court system sentenced Habré to life in prison for those crimes.
The conviction was confirmed in 2017 and together 7,396 victims were awarded reparations from a Victims Trust Fund for the crimes suffered during Habré’s 8-year rule. The court ordered payment of $150 million in reparations. Five years have since passed and not a cent has been paid to the victims.
Habré, an ally of the West during the Cold War, had ruled Chad, the fifth largest country in Africa just south of Libya, from 1982 to 1990 with an iron fist. Thousands were killed, tortured and raped during his presidency, which ended when he was ousted in 1990.
After many twists and turns, including obstacles to a trial thrown up by former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Senegalese President Wade and the Parliament of Belgium, Habré’s trial would take place 25 years after he was overthrown––entirely due to the perseverance and tenacity of Habré’s victims and their allies. The New York Times has called the case “a Milestone for Justice in Africa.”
But 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 Mobilization Conference to maintain this Fund,” but no such conference has occurred.
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.
Now, five years after the historic judgment in Senegal against the former Chadian dictator, victims of his brutal regime are still waiting for some sign of the $150 million court-ordered reparations, according to the human rights group “Redress.”
Lawyers for Habré’s victims say they will continue the fight for justice––expanded to include the former dictator of the Gambia, Yahya Gammeh, now living in exile in Equatorial Guinea.
For a full account of the case against Hissene Habré, see “Victims bring a Dictator to Justice” by Reed Brody, an American lawyer who worked with Habré’s victims since 1999.