The case against former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré appears to be as damning as they come. Like many of the twentieth century’s great monsters, Habré was fairly assiduous about documenting his regime’s brutality; according to this essential dossier, he received over 1,200 personal memos regarding the torture of dissidents, many of whom were eventually murdered and buried in mass graves. Habré was also not shy about committing atrocities against Chad’s ethnic minorities, who suffered through mass arrests and extrajudicial killings throughout the 1980s.
Yet more than a decade since calls first arose for Habré to face justice, and despite the pleadings of august figures, the deposed dictator has yet to face trial. He remains under house arrest in Senegal, which years ago vowed to prosecute Habré instead of shipping him off to the International Court of Justice in Belgium. The latest reason for the delay? A squabble over money:
Senegal had said it wants all $38 million of the trial’s proposed three-year budget up front. It includes money to bring witnesses to Dakar and a third of the budget to reconstruct a courthouse, which some in the international community have deemed excessive.
That proposed trial budget is currently being negotiated. A delegation from the European Union and the African Union visited Senegal this spring, and a new draft of the trial budget is expected at the end of this month and could be finalized later this summer.
Though my eyes bulged a bit at the $38 million demand, it actually isn’t as outlandish as it sounds. War crimes and genocide trials tend to be absurdly expensive, largely out of the organizers’ tendencies to spend lavishly. In Cambodia, for example, the recently concluded trial of Comrade Duch was marred by accusations that the court padded its staff with scores of civil servants who earned up to $5,300 a month—over 50 times the average income for a government employee. And the overindulgence is not limited to Cambodia:
Cambodia isn’t the only court that has faced money problems due to a lack of accountability or financial controls, says Michael Johnson, the former chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia who was also involved in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the Bosnia and Herzegovina War Crimes Chamber. He says the Bosnia court—eight courtrooms and about 400 defendants—is running about $10 million to $11 million per defendant. But other courts such as Rwanda—purely an international court (not a hybrid local/international as in Cambodia)—ran about $30 million per defendant; Sierra Leone was also high. In East Timor, another hybrid court came out at about $10 million per defendant, but critics say it ended up with a standard of justice that did not meet international criteria. “There is a real lack of accountability within the administration of these systems,” says Johnson, who favors a special adviser to monitor and cut costs.
Alas, there probably isn’t any meaningful way to cut these costs without poisoning the judicial process. The courts know that the work they’re doing is of great interest to nations with deep pockets, all of who are loathe to criticize the tribunals they’ve spent millions funding. To do so would call into question those courts’ legitimacy, and risk undermining the whole enterprise. And so when the viability of the international justice system is at stake, the millions that end up building ornate courthouses and fattening up civil servants is just the cost of doing business.