Former Chadian president Hissene Habre was ordered to pay tens of millions of dollars to victims of human rights abuses after his conviction by a special court in 2017. But by the time he died in August, Habre’s victims had still not received a dime.
The African Union-backed court tried Chad’s ex-ruler Hissene Habre in Senegal and found him guilty of crimes he committed in the 1980s — a first for the continent.
On September 15, a team of AU lawyers arrived in Chad to meet with victims’ advocates, lawyers and government officials, to begin the process of establishing a trust fund for Habre’s victims.
Habre oversaw the killing and torture of tens of thousands of people during his rule as Chad’s president from 1982 to 1990. When he was convicted, the African Union was ordered to raise about $150 million that would be allocated to more than 7,000 of Habre’s victims.
The money was supposed to come from Habre’s assets, as well as from outside contributions. But the victims still haven’t been paid.
Their plight gained renewed attention in August when Habre died just five years into his life sentence.
Jacqueline Moudeina is the lead counsel for Habre’s victims. She says the African Union has not made much progress. They have yet to furnish their headquarters and hire an executive secretary, among many other tasks.
“There’s still a lot left to do,” she says. “They waited four years; and they don’t know how many more years they’ll have to wait.” If it were up to her, they would have done it all in one week.
One important task is raising money. Maadjitonke Trahohgra, the director general of Chad’s Ministry of Justice, says the Chadian government will contribute money toward the trust fund, but he doesn’t know how much.
He says many of the victims have already passed away, but the fund will provide relief for those who survived.
Clement Abaifouta is one of the surviving victims tortured for four years during Habre’s rule. He witnessed the deaths of many fellow prisoners and in some cases, was forced to dig their graves.
Now 63, he serves as president of the Association of Victims of the Crimes of the Hissene Habre regime, an organization advocating for victims and their families.
He says now that the African Union has come to expedite the process, victims are satisfied and they hope the process will go faster than expected.
Experts from the African Union plan to return to Chad in the coming weeks to continue setting up the trust fund.