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The Victims of Hissène Habré Still Awaiting Justice in Chad

Just as General Augusto Pinochet’s arrest in the United Kingdom shattered the myth of his impunity in Chile, the indictment of Habré in Senegal had an immediate impact in Chad, opening new channels for justice. The victims and human rights organizations who initiated the case against Habré in Senegal gained a new status in Chadian society, having accomplished something that no one had thought remotely possible.

On September 27, 2000, Chadian President Idriss Déby met with the leadership of the AVCRP, the Chadian victims’ association, to tell them that “the time for justice has come” and that he would “remove all obstacles, from inside Chad or abroad” to their quest for justice.

For several years now, the Chadian government has indeed supported the international cases filed against Hissène Habré. This support manifested itself most vividly when the Belgian judge visited N’Djaména from February to March 2002 with the full cooperation and support of the Chadian government. The Chadian government also granted the victims and their supporters unlimited access to the DDS archives, and it lifted Hissène Habré’s immunity from the jurisdiction of the Belgian courts in October 2002.

As important as a foreign tribunal’s judgment against Hissène Habré’s is, however, it does not guarantee full justice to the victims of his regime nor would it permit Chadian society to confront its past before finally moving on. Unfortunately, the Chadian government has not taken complementary measures at home to ensure such justice. In particular, it has failed to make meaningful reparations to the victims.

Reparations in International Law

Under principles of international human rights, rehabilitation, compensation, and satisfaction are all part of states’ obligations to provide reparations to victims.42Chad is bound by a number of international instruments to provide reparations to victims of gross human rights violations. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Art. 2(3)), ratified by Chad in 1995, requires parties to “ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms as herein recognized are violated shall have an effective remedy, notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity” and also to provide compensation for unlawful detention (Art. 9(5)).

The Convention against Torture (Art. 14), ratified by Chad in 1995, states:

Each State Party shall ensure in its legal system that the victim of an act of torture obtains redress and has an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation, including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible. In the event of the death of the victim as a result of an act of torture, his dependents shall be entitled to compensation.

These provisions seek to build on the principle set forth in Article 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.”

The 2000 Draft Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Violations of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, which seeks to embody this principle, concludes that:

The obligation to respect, ensure respect for and enforce international human rights and humanitarian law includes, inter alia, a State’s duty to:

(a) Take appropriate legal and administrative measures to prevent violations;

(b) Investigate violations and, where appropriate, take action against the violator in accordance with domestic and international law;

(c) Provide victims with equal and effective access to justice irrespective of who may be the ultimate bearer of responsibility for the violation;

(d) Afford appropriate remedies to victims; and

(e) Provide for or facilitate reparation to victims.43

“Reparations are the embodiment of a society’s recognition, remorse and atonement for harms inflicted.”44 Reparations may be material (restitution, medical treatment) as well as moral (official acknowledgment, bringing those responsible for the crimes to justice and/or removing them from positions of power.) One author points out that:

Reparations serve a dual function. They aim to recompense for loss and to restore the good name of those defamed, but also to reintegrate the marginalized and isolated into society in order to allow them to be part of rebuilding the country. … Moral reparations, too, serve this dual purpose: they aim to expose and punish those responsible, but also to minimize their power and role in the post-conflict society. After all, if the local thugs are still in charge, few things will change.45

The idea of the right to reparations must thus be considered in its widest sense, according to international law, including restitution, compensation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition, and the rehabilitation of victims.46

Hissène Habré’s Accomplices Still in Positions of Power

Despite the recommendations of the Truth Commission and the National Sovereign Conference, Hissène Habré’s accomplices continue to enjoy impunity for their acts. More than forty ex-leaders of the DDS and other Habré-era repressive organs today hold positions in administration or security services of the state.

A list of 41 people who held positions of power within the DDS and other security forces under Habré’s rule and who still occupy posts today in Chad is published as an annex to this report. The French version of the current report also contains a detailed account of the allegations against each of these people, based on the DDS files, dossiers prepared by the AVCRP, the report of the Chadian Truth Commission and 150 interviews with victims by Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH).

Of the three ex-DDS directors still in Chad, one is a regional chief of surveillance, a second is a regional governor, and a third works for the ministry of communications. One of the “most brutal torturers” of the DDS, to quote the Truth Commission, is now a district police commander. An ex-DDS chief against whom many cases of torture were filed is the current chief of security at N’Djaména’s international airport. A former director of national security under Habré now occupies the post of national co-coordinator of the country’s petroleum zone, and an ex-DDS deputy director of national security is now the powerful director of the Judicial Police. The former warden of the “Locaux,” one of the DDS’s detention centers, is now warden of the N’Djaména jailhouse.

During a speech made in N’Djaména in June of 2003, Ismael Hachim, the president of the AVCRP, stated: “Our torturers and killers wander freely among us every day without fear of the justice system with whom we filed our cases.… Our tormentors continue to laugh in the face of a justice that remains powerless to punish those responsible and their accomplices.”47

As described by Hachim, the presence of former Habré-era torturers in positions of power within the current Chadian administration is not only a stark illustration of their impunity, but it has a corrosive effect on Chadian society and only serves to encourage intimidation of and aggression against human rights defenders and those fighting for justice in Chad.

The rehabilitation of accused torturers does not even stop at Chad’s borders, however. In November 2004, the AVCRP informed Human Rights Watch that another one of Chad’s “most feared torturers,” was serving in the civilian police with the U.N. Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (ONUCI) — where he was investigating human rights complaints. According to the Truth Commission, Mahamat Djibrine, also known as “El Djonto” was part of a five-member committee of the DDS charged with the interrogation of detainees and which “systematically made use of torture during its interrogations.” The Truth Commission reported that Djibrine was also part of the committee formed by Habré to arrest members of the Hadjeraï ethnic group during the pogrom against that group in 1987, and a similar committee to arrest ethnic Zaghawas in 1989. Before being sent to Côte d’Ivoire, Djibrine was chief of staff for the director-general of the Chadian National Police. In January 2005, after a complaint to the United Nations by Human Rights Watch, the government of Chad recalled Djibrine.

The Victims and their Supporters Threatened

The aggression against Jacqueline Moudeïna, the Chadian lawyer for Habré’s victims in the Chadian cases against the ex-DDS agents (see infra), and its aftermath, is evidence that the power of these former agents stands in the way of justice for Habré’s victims.

Maitre Moudeïna was the victim of a hand grenade attack on June 11, 2001, while she was participating in a non-violent women’s demonstration outside the French embassy to protest the conduct of the Chadian presidential elections. Many believe that she was targeted because she represents the victims of Habré’s accomplices. The police squad responsible for the attack was commanded by Mahamat Wakaye, the deputy director of National Security under Habré’s regime and one of the former agents who was named in a complaint filed by Maitre Moudeïna on behalf of Habré’s victims. Wakaye is the current director of the Judicial Police of Chad.

The government did not carry out an investigation into the attack, which also resulted in numerousother injuries. When Maitre Moudeïna returned more than a year later from France, where she had been hospitalized for her injuries, she filed a complaint against Wakaye. Only pressure from Chadian and international rights groups forced the case to trial.

Evidence presented at the trial, attended by Human Rights Watch, suggested that Maitre Moudeïna was specifically identified by police officers under Wakaye’s command before the grenade was thrown, and that after she was injured, the car taking her to the hospital was fired on. Nevertheless, Mahamat Wakaye was acquitted on November 11, 2003 of all charges brought against him.

The simple presence of one of Habré’s ex-thugs in a key post such as director of the Judicial Police jeopardizes hopes for justice and slows down the end to the intimidation of human rights defenders.

The harassment of Hissène Habré’s victims intensified with the Belgian judge’s visit to Chad in February and March of 2002:

  • On the night of Friday, February 22, 2002, the office of Richard Kladoum, the president of the Chadian Bar Association and an associate of Jacqueline Moudeïna, was broken into. All his files were found in disarray on the floor and his computer was ransacked, yet only the fax had been taken.
  • On March 18, Souleymane Guengueng, vice president of the AVCRP and one of the principal plaintiffs in the case against Habré, was suspended for one month without pay from his job at the intergovernmental Lake Chad Basin Commission (CBLT). As a result of Guengueng’s involvement in the Habré case, the CBLT accused him of behaving in a manner that was incompatible with the commission’s statute. The CBLT also required him to write a formal declaration stating that he would abandon all activity as vice president of the AVCRP or else expose himself to greater penalties. When he refused to quit his AVCRP activities, Souleymane Guengueng was dismissed from his position in November 2002.
  • On Saturday, March 23, while at the wheel of Souleymane Guengueng’s car, Guengueng’s chauffeur was followed by an unregistered vehicle from Cameroon that was full of uniformed soldiers. An aggressive chase ensued.
  • Two victims who went to Belgium in December 2001 to bring charges against Habré and to be heard by the judiciary police there were threatened multiple times after they returned to Chad. The house of one of the victims was visited four times in the middle of the night by people asking the whereabouts of that victim and the reason for his trip to Belgium. Each time, the victim was hidden and protected by his family. Another former victim was the victim of an attempted abduction by people whose faces were hidden.
  • During the night of Saturday, March 30,2002, the AVCRP offices were broken into. The outside doors and the doors of the cabinets inside were broken open.

The Cases against Hissène Habré’s Accomplices at a Standstill

Despite the recommendations made by the Truth Commission, the present government of Chad has not sought Habré’s extradition from Senegal nor has it initiated the prosecution of Habré’s accomplices who remain in Chad.

Upon returning from Dakar, Habré’s victims announced their intention to file criminal charges in Chadian courts against their direct torturers and those DDS leaders still in the country. According to Ismael Hachim, president of the AVCRP, “We never accepted — and will never accept — the idea that our torturers are escaping justice. After the arrest of Hissène Habré in Senegal, we realized that we can demand that justice be done here, in our own country. Now, it’s time for Chad’s judicial system to do its duty.”

Several weeks later, on October 26, 2000, seventeen victims lodged criminal complaints for torture, murder, and “disappearance” against named members of the DDS. The investigating judge in charge of the case dismissed the complaints for lack of jurisdiction because a 1993 law had provided for the creation of a special tribunal to judge Hissène Habré and his accomplices, a tribunal that was never, in fact, established.48 The victims took the case to the Constitutional Council of Chad, which ruled that the common law tribunals were able to hear these complaints.49 The investigation finally began in front of another investigating judge in May 2001. Dozens of other victims then came forward to file complaints against their direct torturers. The investigating judge heard dozens of victims and began seeking the testimony of defendants. Some defendants appeared, while others refused. One, Mahamat Wakaye (see Section 4B above), reportedly tore up his summons in the judge’s face, before he was ordered by the minister of justice to appear and give testimony.

Despite all this, the investigation remains at a standstill. The Chadian investigating judge has repeatedly stated that he needs additional funding and, in particular, personal protection if he is to carry out an investigation against these still-powerful figures.

At a Council of Ministers meeting on May 14, 2003, the minister of justice informed the council of the investigating judge’s requests for government support. The minister maintained that the procedure concerning the Hissène Habré affair would run into financial, humanitarian, and security problems. At the meeting, the Council of Ministers declared itself “ready to implement any action so as to not impede the path of justice, so that the truth comes out and the case is able to proceed.”50

Despite the Chadian government’s stated commitment, neither financial aid nor security measures have been implemented so that the investigating judge might carry out his work on the case in the proper conditions.

The Chadian Government’s Failure to Make Material Reparations to the Victims

The Truth Commission estimated the losses during Habré’s rule at “more than 40,000 victims, more than 80,000 orphans, more than 30,000 widows, and more than 200,000 people who found themselves without moral or material support.”51 Despite these numbers, no material reparations have been granted to the victims.

As described above, Chad has a legal and moral obligation to repair the damage caused by these agents.

Experiences in other countries have shown that many different forms of adequate material reparations exist. Across the world, the process of democratic transition has been accompanied by compensation for victims of the worst atrocities. For example, in Chile, after the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), the successive reports of a truth commission and a reparations commission led, in December 1996, to the compensation of 4,630 family members of the 2,730 “disappeared” persons considered dead. In September 1997, the government granted approximately 85 million U.S. dollars to the loved ones of the “disappeared” as a form of compensation, in accordance with the pension plan just put in place. This plan provided approximately 5,000 Chileans with the payment of school loans, health pensions, and other monthly allowances (for certain people for the rest of their lives), and also with the possibility of exemption from obligatory military service.

In December 2004, after the publication of the first official report on torture committed under military rule, the Chilean congress passed a law giving compensation to more than 28,000 torture victims who will be eligible for a pension of around $2,500 a year.

A compensation process also followed the 1976-1983 military dictatorship in Argentina and the crimes of its “dirty war” against opponents. Victims’ families, survivors, ex-political prisoners, and forced exiles received from 220,000 to 3 million U.S. dollars.

The goal of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established after the first democratically-elected government in South Africa in 1994, was to help citizens deal with the trauma of the past by creating an archive of egregious human rights violations committed during the apartheid regime of the 1970s, and to design a plan to grant reparations to more than 20,000 known victims. The commission recommended that the families be awarded on average 3,500 U.S. dollars per year for at least six years, and, in an even more symbolic gesture, to construct gravestones and rewrite certain criminal record files.

In 1996, following a mission to Chad and having seen the difficult situation of victims and their families and the poverty of the country, Dr. Hélène Jaffe stressed the importance of “practical solutions, realizable at low costs, but having the enormous advantage of ensuring that these persons are recognized as victims and that the dead see that they are also recognized as martyrs.” She proposed:

For example include taking into account the years spent in jail in the calculation of the retirement years, and the total or partial exoneration of enrollment fees for school or university for the children of victims. On a symbolic level, the erection of a monument for the memory of victims of state violence seemed to greatly interest our patients, as did the idea of de-baptizing an avenue in N’Djamena carrying the name of a dictator and giving it a name that recalls their fight.52

Habré’s victims, however, have yet to receive any form of material reparations from the Chadian government.

In January 2004, the AVCRP organized a rally and meeting calling on the government to compensate the victims. The AVCRP presented the government with a legal memorandum supporting the victims’ right to reparations and citing experiences in other countries. The event received the support of the Chadian human rights community and was widely reported in the local press.

In March 2005, l’AVCRP presented the National Assembly with a draft law on victim compensation. According to the draft, the direct victims as well as indirect victims (widows, orphans, parents, brothers and sister) of crimes committed by the Hissène Habré regime would be able to seek claim up to 40,000, 000 CFA (approximately $74,000 ) during 10 years. The National Assembly has not yet taken up the draft law.

The AVCRP has sought to help victims directly, with limited success. In 2003 it obtained a first grant from the U.N. Fund for Torture Victims to provide direct assistance to Habré’s victims. In December 2003, it was thus able to distribute a first 100 sacks of corn meal.

In the initial years after Habré’s fall, victims received elementary medical and post-traumatic care thanks to the French organization Association for the Victims of Repression in Exile (AVRE), which carried out several missions to Chad to evaluate the sequellae of torture and to provide medical assistance.

The Truth Commission’s Recommendations Concerning Moral Reparations Ignored

The Truth Commission recommended, in 1992, that the Chadian government “construct a monument honoring the memory of the victims of Habré’s repression,” “designate a day for prayer and contemplation for said victims,” and “transform the former DDS headquarters and underground prison known as the ‘Piscine’ into a museum to always remember this horrific regime.” None of these recommendations has been implemented by the Chadian government.

The victims are still waiting for their suffering and the horrific ordeals that they or their families went through to be recognized by Chadian society. As a complement to the prosecution of the ex-dictator and his accomplices, recognition of these atrocities would have tremendous beneficial effects on the judicial process and national reconciliation.

Today it is widely recognized that, as the Truth Commission suggested, symbolic measures can honor the victims and provide moral reparation. Louis Joinet, U.N. rapporteur on the question of the impunity of perpetrators of violations of human rights, has noted that:

On a collective basis, symbolic measures intended to provide moral reparation, such as formal public recognition by the Stateof its responsibility, or official declarations aimed at restoring victims’ dignity, commemorative ceremonies, naming of public thoroughfares or the erection of monuments, help to discharge the duty of remembrance. 53

In Chad, unfortunately, none of these symbolic measures have been undertaken. There are no ceremonies, no monuments, and no tributes.

While Chadians are certainly aware of the horrors of the Habré regime, little has been done to educate Chadians about that period. The few copies of the Truth Commission’s report available in Chad are prohibitively expensive and almost no Chadian consulted by Human Rights Watch had read the report.

According to Louis Bickford of the International Center for Transitional Justice,

Whether it be remembering the Holocaust in Germany, recalling human rights abuses under dictatorship in democratizing societies such as Argentina, memorializing the victims of Apartheid in South Africa, or fighting the memory of wrongs perpetrated by the United States, confronting the past through the creation of memorials is increasingly seen as an essential element to democratizing in the present and the future.

South Africa’s Robben Island, which during apartheid was used to isolate democratic leaders such as Nelson Mandela, is now a museum which organizes tours to reinforce its motto “never and never again.” In Chile, human rights workers, members of social organizations and labor unions, student leaders, ex-prisoners, and others participated in the building of the Park of Arts, a memorial built around General Pinochet’s infamous torture center, Villa Grimaldi. Tuol Sleng, Cambodia’s infamous detention center in which over 20,000 people where brutally murdered, is now the Museum of Genocidal Crimes, and it houses exhibits and paintings depicting the events that took place there.

In Chad, however, the Piscine remains off-limits. There is no place that Chadians can go to learn about or remember the Habré period or to honor its victims. 

[42] See. e.g., Commission on Human Rights, “Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Violations of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law,” (United Nations: Geneva, 2000), E/CN.4/2000/62, annex, items 6-7; See Naomi Roht-Arriaza, “Reparations Decisions and Dilemmas,” Hastings International and Comparative Law Review, vol. 27, no. 2, 2004, p. 157.

[43] Commission on Human Rights, “Civil and Political Rights, including the Questions of: Independence of the Judiciary, Administration of Justice, Impunity,” (Geneva: United Nations, 2000), E/CN.4/2000/62, annex, item 2.

[44] Naomi Roht-Arriaza, “Reparations Decisions and Dilemmas,” Hastings International and Comparative Law Review, vol. 27, no. 2, 2004, pp. 157, 159.

[45] Ibid.

[46] See Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, “Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law” (a.k.a. “van Boven Principles”) (United Nations: Geneva, 1996), E/CN.4/Sub.2/1996/17 (“Restitution requires, inter alia, restoration of liberty, family life, citizenship, return to one’s place of residence, employment of property. … Compensation shall be provided for any economically assessable damage resulting from violations of human rights and humanitarian law. … Rehabilitation shall be provided and will include medical and psychological care as well as legal and social services. …. Satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition [include:]  (a) Cessation of continuing violations; (b) Verification of the facts and full and public disclosure of the truth; (d) Apology, including public acknowledgement of the facts and acceptance of responsibility; (e) Judicial or administrative sanctions against persons responsible for the violations; (f) Commemorations and paying tribute to the victims; (g) Inclusion in human rights training and in history textbooks of an accurate account of the violations committed in the field of human rights and humanitarian law.”) See also Article 75.1 of the Rome Statute instituting the International Criminal Court (ICC), which states that “The Court shall establish principles relating to reparations to, or in respect of, victims, including restitution, compensation and rehabilitation.”

[47] Discours du Président de l’association des victimes des crimes et répressions politiques au Tchad à l’occasion de la tenue des états généraux de la justice à N’Djaména, June 19, 2003 [online], http://hrw.org/french/press/2003/tchad0619.htm.

[48] See http://www.hrw.org/french/themes/Habré-ordonnance.html.

[49] The judge’s ruling can be found at http://www.hrw.org/french/themes/Habré-decisionduconseil.html.

[50] “Engagé à tout mettre en œuvre pour ne pas entraver le cours de la justice, afin que la vérité sorte au grand jour et que le procès aboutisse.”

[51] Les crimes et détournements de l’ex-Président Habré et de ses complices, Rapport de la Commission d’Enquête Nationale du Ministère tchadien de la Justice, Éditions L’Harmattan, 1993, p. 97.

[52] Association pour les Victimes de la Répression en Exil (AVRE), Mission AVRE au Tchad 1991 / 1996.

[53] Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, “The Administration of Justice and the Human Rights of Detainees,” (Geneva: United Nations, 1996), E/CN.4/Sub 2/1996/18, principle 45. Among the symbolic measures suggested by the Rapporteur were: (a) Public recognition by the State of its responsibility; (b) Official declarations restoring the dignity of the victims; (c) Commemorative ceremonies, naming of public thoroughfares, monuments, etc.; (d) Annual tribute to the victims; and (e) Inclusion in history textbooks and human rights training manuals of a faithful account of exceptionally serious violations committed during the reference period.

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