The Habré case and ac­cess to jus­tice

Be­ing armed with a court judg­ment doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily trans­late to full re­dress, writes Tendai Maregere

CityPress - - Voices -

As Cha­di­ans cel­e­brated the con­vic­tion of dic­ta­tor His­sène Habré last month, the chal­lenge now is to trans­late their tri­umph into gen­uine ac­cess to jus­tice – there is no point be­ing armed with a court judg­ment if it can­not bring clo­sure to the vic­tims’ suf­fer­ing.

The eu­pho­ria that gripped the sur­vivors of the Habré regime may soon turn into de­spair if due care and suf­fi­cient em­pha­sis is not placed on pur­su­ing resti­tu­tion and link­ing this process to local per­spec­tives of jus­tice. For the rel­a­tives of the more than 40 000 vic­tims, the as­sump­tion that com­pen­sa­tion is their means for jus­tice might be mis­placed. The tor­ture and abuse in­flicted by the regime surely can­not be eas­ily quan­ti­fied.

Also, seek­ing jus­tice through in­ter­na­tion­ally con­sti­tuted tri­bunals and ac­cess­ing that jus­tice are two com­pletely dif­fer­ent but in­ter­re­lated pro­cesses. Often, the no­tions of jus­tice emerg­ing from th­ese pro­cesses frame “jus­tice” through a Western prism, which ig­nores as­pects of what is most im­por­tant to local ac­tors.

A clear and con­scious ef­fort has to be made to en­sure a peo­ple-cen­tric no­tion of jus­tice is ac­knowl­edged and pri­ori­tised. This to frame is­sues of ac­cess ap­pro­pri­ately to en­sure jus­tice be­comes mean­ing­ful to those who were de­nied it in pe­ri­ods of re­pres­sion.

In this sense, the Habré judg­ment brings into sharp fo­cus the im­por­tance of mak­ing op­er­a­tional in­ter­na­tional or con­ti­nen­tal mech­a­nisms in pur­su­ing jus­tice for the vic­tims and sur­vivors of mass atroc­i­ties.

In Chad, im­por­tant work has al­ready been done by Hu­man Rights Watch, the As­so­ci­a­tion of Vic­tims of Crimes of the Regime of Habré and oth­ers in as­sist­ing the vic­tims to ac­cess African Union cham­bers to pur­sue a civil suit. Pos­i­tively, the cham­bers will, in that light, hold a sec­ond set of hear­ings premised on dam­ages for civil par­ties and other vic­tims. This is a step in the right di­rec­tion, how­ever, it is one thing to pay repa­ra­tions and an­other to en­sure that vic­tims and sur­vivors ac­cess “their jus­tice”. This be­cause some of the atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted, such as rape, eth­nic cleans­ing and loss of op­por­tu­ni­ties, can­not be quan­ti­fied. Mone­tary com­pen­sa­tion has the po­ten­tial to trig­ger an­other storm if the cal­cu­la­tion of such com­pen­sa­tion is deemed by the vic­tims as elit­ist, nepo­tis­tic and in­ad­e­quate. For vic­tims of grave hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions, ten­sion will al­ways ex­ist be­tween ac­cess­ing so­cial pro­grammes to deal with ba­sic needs and claim­ing the right to truth, jus­tice and repa­ra­tions. Re­ceiv­ing ser­vices ev­ery­body is en­ti­tled to, such as hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance or ac­cess to pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion and health­care, and fram­ing th­ese as a form of repa­ra­tion, may in­crease a sense of in­jus­tice. Ul­ti­mately, a num­ber of ques­tions per­sist: How do we frame the is­sues of ac­cess to jus­tice in the af­ter­math of in­ter­na­tional crim­i­nal con­vic­tions and what does that ac­cess look like? Is as­sess­ing com­pen­sa­tion suf­fi­cient to vic­tims who were raped and tar­geted for eth­nic cleans­ing? How does this con­struc­tion of jus­tice res­onate with the lived re­al­i­ties and con­cep­tions of jus­tice at the do­mes­tic/local level? If th­ese is­sues are not can­vassed in a more re­al­is­tic and nu­anced way, ac­cess to jus­tice for the vic­tims of mass hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions in gen­eral, and in­deed for those who suf­fered un­der the Habré regime, will re­main a mi­rage. Maregere is a doc­toral re­searcher at Coven­try Univer­sity in Eng­land, and a vis­it­ing scholar at the In­sti­tute for Jus­tice and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in Cape Town

His­sène Habré

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