Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Making a Mint Off Evil

July 28th, 2010 · 9 Comments

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.


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9 Comments so far ↓

  • Brian Moore

    Wow, that’s really sad. It kinda makes you hope that maybe one of his home-arrest guards will “accidentally” look the other way when one of his victims’ family members stops by for some catharsis.

    You know, in the interests of efficiency, of course. :(

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Brian Moore: I’ve actually wondered about that. But I think Senegal has such a vested interest in keeping him alive that it’ll never happen. He’s worth millions, after all.

  • Brian Moore

    Yeah, I think that’s the sad part. You’re right of course, I don’t see I way to fix this, so I’m just going to think about it less because it’s really depressing.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    Sorry to bring you down. Here’s the antidote:


  • Captured Shadow

    It seems to me that something like the International Criminal Court in the Hague would be a better way to go. I am sure part of the expense is due to the cost of housing staff, judges, and dignitaries in the first world accommodations that they are accustom to which gets very expensive in the third world. The budgets and expense reports under Dutch control would probably never get to ridiculously high levels of say Bell CA.

  • ADW

    Hopefully, this will be resolved and the families will finally see justice. IMO, it’s worth the cost.

    I live in the community with the largest Cambodian population in the US, and know many people who lost loved ones under the Khmer Rouge – God, the stories – several members of their families. Every time I see a story, it blows my mind. I don’t know how some of them continued on with their lives. It really is a testament to the strength and resiliency of the human spirit.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Captured Shadow: From my reading of the HRW documents, it seems that the Senegalese government is very nervous that extraditing Habre to Europe would set a dangerous precedent. They probably fear that other African leaders could receive similar treatment, perhaps even for less serious crimes (such as corruption). Plus I think there would be political blowback, in that the Senegalese public might accuse the government of kowtowing to former colonial powers.

    @ADW: Is there any anger over the Duch sentence? It seems quite light, and he’s appealing, too.

  • ADW

    I haven’t spoken to anyone yet, but I never initiate the conversation on this subject. My daughter’s best friend is Cambodian, as well my father’s former g.f. The mother and the g.f. lost several relatives, including a father, husband, siblings. The g.f. is a newscaster for the Cambodian station here. I haven’t seen her in a while, but she’s been on my mind. Both have told me stories that blow my mind. And, pictures of obviously malnourished frames. Horrific shit. But, both are very today forward thinking people. The funny thing is – and, I know this for a fact – they don’t speak much about the horrors of the past with their own children. From what I gather from the local papers, people are devastated. How could they be anything but? 35 years – total bullshit.

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