In the Chadian capital Ndjamena, the work of the Association of Victims of the Crimes of Hissene Habre has finally born fruit — 25 years after leaving the regime’s prisons, 15 years after they filed their first demand for justice.
Clement Abaifouta, who spent four years in cells and now heads the group, said recently: “For the first time, an African head of state would be tried for atrocities he committed during his reign. It must serve as a lesson, otherwise this long march of 25 years will have served for nothing.”
Another prison survivor, Ginette Ngarbaye, is the association’s secretary, is one of the 100 victims offering testimony at the trial, out of thousands of civil plaintiffs. She endured the cold in prison, the heat, the insects, hunger, torture, rape and then childbirth. She demands the wrongdoers account for their crimes.
Ngarbaye said: “You’d be in the market, and they’d get you; in church, they’d get you; at work, in the street, they’d get you. I still don’t know why they arrested me, human wickedness? I have to know why I was arrested.”
Reed Brody, an American lawyer who has specialised in defending the victims of dictatorships, has been at these Chadians’ side since 1999. Dubbed ‘Dictator Hunter’, Brody hopes the opening of the trial, after all this time, will be a beginning.
Brody said: “What this case shows, is that survivors with tenacity and perseverance and imagination can actually organise to bring a dictator to justice, and that’s a very powerful message. And what we’re hoping here, is that the victims’ achievement in bringing Hissene Habre to court, is going to inspire other victims, other activists around the world.”
Mahamat Hassan Abakar, the President of the Commission Investigating the Crimes of the Hissene Habre Regime, appointed by the government of Idriss Deby, that came after the fall of Habre, said:
“If all these dictators had not had the support of the West, they could not have gone so far. Habre was almost adopted by Reagan’s America. He saw him as the great defender of Black Africa against Muammar Gaddafi’s expansionism. They closed their eyes to whatever happened to the people.”
The torturers kept influential positions and remained dangerous for years.
The president of the victims’ association said he wished for a new Chad.