29 May 2017

Africa: Habre's Latest Conviction a Justice Milestone - Credit to AU

Photo: HRW
Former Chadian President Hissène Habré (file photo).
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On April 27, 2017, the Extraordinary African Chambers handed down an appeal ruling upholding the conviction of the former Chadian president Hissène Habré for war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture, and the sentence of life imprisonment.

He was only acquitted of rape, which he had been convicted for in the initial ruling of May 30 2016.

Habre's conviction is a vindication of the decades-long campaign waged by survivors of his atrocities and three human rights groups supporting the victims.

The latest development marks the final stage of proceedings in this landmark case.

As is well known, the Extraordinary African Chambers was created in 2012 by an agreement between the African Union and the Government of Senegal, purposely to bring Habré to justice.

Of course, confirming an earlier conviction marks another significant milestone in the long and determined quest for justice. This will tellingly inspire victims of serious human rights violations elsewhere to overcome many obstacles on the path to justice.

Interestingly, the appeals ruling also upheld the decision to order compensation to Habré's victims and asserted that a trust fund created by the African Union should be tasked with searching for and recovering Habré's assets.

The appeals ruling particularly upheld awarding "each survivor of rape and sexual slavery 20 million CFA francs (approximately 30,489 Euros, US$32,702), each survivor of torture and arbitrary detention and each mistreated former prisoner of war 15 million CFA francs (22,867 Euros, US$24,526), and family members of victims 10 million CFA francs (15,244 Euros, US$16,350)".

It said that 7,396 victims were eligible for reparations and that 3,489 others who had not produced sufficient proof could apply to the trust fund.

Once again, this calls for the AU to shoulder the responsibility to implement the reparation order of the court effectively and fairly to work with international donors and the Government of Chad to ensure that the fund has sufficient resources.

Of course, this is not an easy task without the cooperation of those countries (if any) that might be hoarding Habre's assets. Hopefully, the AU is willing and ready to locate, freeze and seize Habre's assets to offset the reparations.

As a matter of principle, the victims are entitled to compensation. The first milestone in obtaining recognition of victimhood by the international community was, without question, captured in the 1985 United Nations Declaration of the Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power.

However, at the UN level, living up to this commitment has been so elusive, particularly to the victims of the Genocide against the Tutsi as well as victims of Srebrenica.

Indeed, the principle of paying attention to the needs of victims of international crimes is well recognised in various statutory frameworks of the UN-based judicial organs.

In spite of lack of the UN victim-aid schemes, the Government of Rwanda developed various victim-aid schemes which have been tremendously helpful in relieving the plight of victims.

For example, the government created the 'Fund for Neediest Survivors of Genocide', commonly known as 'FARG', to rehabilitate and support the Tutsi Genocide survivors.

Government commits five per cent of the national budget annually to this fund.

Despite the challenges encountered in bringing Habre to justice, one would rightly commend the AU for taking the matters in its own hands. Had it not been the willingness of the AU to do what it takes, justice would have remained elusive. Victims now feel a sense of relief.

Arguably, the conclusion of this landmark case proves the ability of Africans to solve their own problems without being dictated to or given orientation. In my view, this is a promising portrayal of the Pan-African philosophy.

This philosophy isn't about mere words but a philosophy that reflects the zeal to defend the identity of Africans and their interests through tangible action. Pan-Africanism is about finding solutions to continental problems, including stamping out impunity.

Indeed, Africans must be ready to shoulder the responsibility to find solutions to a myriad of problems the continent faces.

In the perspective of eliminating the reign of impunity on the continent, the next move should be a commitment to ratifying the African Union Protocol to integrate the African Human Rights Court and the Court of Justice of the African Union, currently known as the 'African Court of Justice and Human rights (ACJHR)'.

If the ACJHR Protocol is ratified and domesticated, the Court will assume a prominent role of promoting respect for human rights on African soil.

Undoubtedly, political crises are the root cause of most problems Africa faces. The AU must be resolutely committed to ensuring that Africans remain safe, secure and free.

And this can be achieved through working with sub-regional agencies as well as national law enforcement agencies, with or without external support. In the context of dispensing justice, the rule of law and commitment to upholding justice principles must remain fundamental.

The writer is an international law expert.

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