Victims and their lawyers at the trial of top security agents of the Habré dictatorship, N'djaména, Chad, January 2015.

© 2015 Reed Brody/Human Rights Watch

(Addis Ababa) – The African Union’s adoption of the Trust Fund Statute for victims of Hissène Habré’s crimes is a major step toward justice, four human rights groups said today. The Trust Fund will now be able to start collecting and disbursing reparations for victims of the Habré regime.

The groups are Human Rights Watch, REDRESS, the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (ATPDH), and the Rencontre africaine pour la défense des droits de l’Homme (RADDHO). 

“While the judgment on reparations represented a pivotal moment in the long struggle for justice for Habré’s victims, their suffering should be redressed by more than words,” said Rupert Skilbeck, director of REDRESS. “Victims can’t wait any longer and they need the means to rebuild their lives now.”

Thousands of victims participated in proceedings against Habré, who presided over a reign of terror in Chad from 1982 to 1990. The victims requested reparations for serious human rights violations suffered. The Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC) in Dakar, Senegal, convicted and sentenced Habré on May 30, 2016 to life in prison.

On April 27, 2017, the EAC Appeals Chamber upheld the conviction and awarded 82 billion francs CFA (approximately US$154 million) to 7,396 named victims. An additional 3,489 victims who had not produced sufficient proof of their identity before the EAC are also able to apply to the Trust Fund to determine their eligibility.

“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.”

The African Union adopted the statute during its summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on January 28 and 29, 2018. A resolution establishing the Trust Fund was passed in July 2016. Victims have since been waiting for the Trust Fund to start its operations. The Trust Fund has been mandated to search for and recover Habré’s assets and to seek voluntary contributions from countries and other willing parties.

“Since the delivery of the final EAC verdict, several victims have passed away before receiving reparations,” said Jacqueline Moudeina, president of ATPDH and lawyer for Habré’s victims. “The establishment and operationalization of the Trust Fund within a reasonable timeframe could finally complete the victims’ long fight for justice.”

The African Union and individual countries should provide the necessary financial, technical, and political support to the Trust Fund so it can become functional as soon as possible and sustain its operations until victims are provided with reparations, the organizations said.

The governments should also cooperate with the fund’s requests and assist in the recovery of Habré’s assets. Only limited assets have been identified that could be used for reparations – including a house and two small bank accounts in Senegal.

The Trust Fund needs to be independent, transparent, and efficient to gain the trust of victims, and victims need to be given a voice and to be genuinely consulted on their preferred means of reparation, the groups said.

ATPDH and REDRESS highlighted these and other issues in a paper submitted to the African Union in April 2017 on the establishment of the Trust Fund.