After falling from power in 1990 Habré sought exile in Senegal.
Now, after 25 years Hissène Habré will answer charges in a specially commissioned court in Dakar.
The trial will be the first in which courts of one country can prosecute the former ruler of another.
Clement Abaifouta has long campaigned for those who suffered under Hissène Habré and now leads a victims association: “We are here at Hamral Gouz, on what is called the plain of the dead. Under my feet, beneath this sand, there are bones, the bones of my colleagues, victims, which I buried here with my own hands. “
The outskirts of N’Djamena, the Chadian capital, bears testament to one of the darkest chapters of the country’s history.
It is the site of one of the mass graves dating from the time of Hissène Habré, who led a reign of terror in the country, between 1982 and 1990.
Clement Abaifouta spent four years in jail under the former dictator. Where he was forced to dig mass graves and bury the corpses of his fellow inmates who died in prison, of hunger, illness, or under torture.
He wants truth and justice: “I expect the truth to be told. Who did what under Hissène Habré. And why it was done and for the perpetrators to be punished. Because once those guilty of the crimes are punished, the victims will find some kind peace of mind.”
Under Habré 40,000 people were killed, tens of thousands are still missing with countless victims of torture.
That is the assessment made by the Commission of Inquiry appointed by the government of Idriss Deby after the fall of the dictator.
Hissène Habré will be judged for crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture a trial for which the European Union is one of the main donors.
Clement Abaifouta like Ginette Ngarbaye, will testify in Dakar.
Stories of arbitrary arrests the rape and torture of men and women alike have been documented.
Ginette Ngarbaye described what happened to her while in detention: “He started touching me all over, my breasts, everywhere. I said I’m pregnant, I am expecting a child. I had this child in very difficult conditions. We slept on the floor. The maggots, fleas, insects bit us. The child cried, I cried, the other women cried. We cried so much. We really wanted death. But death didn’t come.”
Fatime Sakine also survived the prisons: “They beat me with sticks, I was tortured with electricity.They did everything to me. All kinds of torture. Every day people died, two, three, four, five… And they said ‘no, don’t take them to the morgue, leave them here!’ They were left with the living. In the cells, the inmates slept beside the corpses “
Bashir Ahmad remembers the stifling atmosphere of distrust: “You could not talk to anyone. Every day they would harass you. You could be accused at any time for no reason. You couldn’t trust anybody. Unless you cooperated with them. There was no way out. You couldn’t say anything to anyone, even to your wife. At any moment, they could turn up to get you, kidnap you, and sow fear among us.”
Ginette Ngarbay will finally face her tormentor in court and wants closure:“Me, I want all this to stop. Because I do not want my child to suffer what I have suffered, nor my relatives, nor any human being … I am waiting the trial, I want justice to be rendered to us.”
Four thousand victims will be represented at the trial of former Chadian president, one hundred will testify.
The charges are backed by thousands of documents discovered in 2002 by Reed Brody and spokesperson of the NGOHuman Rights Watch, known for his work on the Duvalier and Pinochet trials.
The abandoned archives of the DDS, the political police of Hissène Habré, detail abuses against detainees.
Brody, known as the dictator hunter, has worked for over 15 years with the victims of Hissène Habré and for him the trial in Dakar is momentous: “This trial is the first time in history anywhere in the world that the courts of one country, Senegal, are going to prosecute the former leader of another country Chad, for alleged human rights crimes. It’s the first time that the African Union has established a court. It’s the first time in Africa, anywhere, that the courts of one country try crimes committed in another country. And all of this is happening because of 25 years of mobilisation by Hissène Habré‘s victims, who never gave up. And who have shown by their tenacity and their perseverance, that it’s possible, for simple people, to actually mobilise to bring a dictator to justice.”
She was the victim of a bomb attack that nearly killed her in 2001, she still suffers repercussions, and continues to be the subject of threats and smear campaigns on the internet.
But nothing could dissuade her from working for the victims for which she will be one of the leading advocates in Dakar.
The trial follows the condemnation in Chad of 20 former secret police officials by a special court.
The lawyer believes the case sets a precedent , not only for Chad, but for Africa: “For us to manage to try Hissène Habré, to judge his accomplices, would mean that all the peoples of Africa can say, ‘we dare to pursue,and arrest those who do evil, judge those who violate our rights’ . This is the great lesson we want from this case, to all of Africa. To Chad, and to the whole of Africa. This is the great lesson. It is this ability to fight against impunity.”
It is a trial Moudeina believes can also help reconcile Muslim communities in northern Chad with Christian and animist groups in the South, torn apart under the dictatorship.
Following Hissène Habré‘s rise to power in 1982 Chad, backed by France and the US, waged war against Muammar Gaddafi’s Lybia, which supported rebel groups opposing Habré’.
In the North and the South, any ethnic group considered as a threat to the regime, was persecuted.
Josue Doumassen still suffers from the torture he underwent in prison, his drawings illustrate the pain inmates endured and feature in the Chadian Enquiry Commission on Hissène Habré‘s alleged crimes.
Beyond the physical repercussions Chad’s wounds run deep: “Every time I draw, it makes me relive the pain. I do it because I want this to mark history.
The suffering will remain in the hearts for a long time.
Even if with the current government people speak to each other again. But they are scarred. People are scarred by those acts. He has caused division! He sowed division among us, he must answer for his acts”
Fatime has also endured the atrocity of Hissène Habré’s prisons.
She worries for younger generations, who are still suffering the effects of a regime that left 80,000 orphans: “When you go down this street and you see children, the grand children and great grand children of victims, they are also victims. They were marked by the disappearance of their parents. Whenever my children get sick, I always think of Hissène Habré, because he left me alone with these children. They were very small.. I was young, I was left alone to raise them. It’s true, yes, it hurts. Before the trial was decided, I continued to feel hatred, it’s true. Now that this trial happening, I am a little relieved.”
The trial is expected to open on July 20