News / Africa

Victims Tell of Torture Suffered Under Chad's Habre

Former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre is escorted by military officers after being heard by a judge on Jul. 2, 2013 in Dakar, Senegal.
Former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre is escorted by military officers after being heard by a judge on Jul. 2, 2013 in Dakar, Senegal.
Anne Look
— Four Chadians and one Senegalese national, who say they were detained and tortured under ex-Chadian president Hissene Habre, are giving their depositions this week in Senegal before the Extraordinary African Chambers that charged Habre last month with crimes against humanity, torture and war crimes during his eight years in power.

In Dakar, the former detainees held a press conference to tell their stories. 
 
Younous Mahadjir rolled up his sleeve and pointed to scars encircling his left bicep. 
 
"The torture did this," he said.  "They attached here and here.  It left open wounds.  I couldn't eat with my hands for two weeks.  I was nearly paralyzed. I had to lower my head and eat like an animal because if you didn't eat, you wouldn't live."
 
Mahadjir was arrested in August 1990 and accused of distributing leaflets against the Habre regime.
 
He suffered a brutal form of torture, known by the Arabic term arbatachar, that was used by the political police of ex-Chadian president Hissene Habre.  
 
"They tortured me," he said. "They tied together your arms to your legs behind you and then made you drink water until you lost consciousness. They would ask you repeatedly: Who were your accomplices? They kept going until you could go no longer and the next day, it would start again." 
 
Mahadjir was released when Habre was overthrown in a military coup in December 1990.  Habre fled to Senegal. 
 
Mahadjir is one of 1,015 direct and indirect victims, meaning the living ex-detainees and relatives of those deceased, whose lawyers say filed on July 15 as civil parties in the case against Habre. 
 
Habre was indicted in June by the Extraordinary African Chambers, the special tribunal set up by the African Union in Senegal and funded by the international community to try him. He is accused of overseeing thousands of political killings, summary executions of war prisoners, and widespread torture of detainees.
 
A judge has ordered Habre held in prison in Dakar during pre-trial investigations which are expected to last 15 months.
 
These legal proceedings in Senegal have been more than a decade in the making. Efforts to try Habre stalled out repeatedly over disputes over jurisdiction and issues such as getting international funding.
 
The five victims who came to Dakar to give their depositions said Habre's arrest and indictment in June was "a comfort" and "a symbol." 
 
Hadjo Amina Moctar was arrested when she was six months pregnant.  She had a miscarriage while being held in an electrified cell so crowded with men that she could not sit down most of the time.
 
"I thank God that Hissene Habre was arrested," she said at the press conference. 
 
Clement Abaifouta is a key witness in the case.  His job during his four years in prison was to bury deceased inmates, as many as a dozen per day. He was arrested in July 1985 as he prepared to go to Germany for university. 
 
Visibly emotional, he said he wants answers from this trial.  
 
"I lost four years and I saw the worst, the worst," he said. "Every day I was forced to bury other detainees who had died of mistreatment, lack of healthcare, torture and other inhumane things. I am here now to find out why exactly I was arrested because I can't understand why wanting to go study abroad meant that I had to suffer four years of non-existence because that's what it was.  During those four years, I did not exist." 
 
Abaifouta was released in March 1989.  He had become so ill and malnourished during his detention that he could not walk for five months. 
 
Habre's lawyers say their client's right to a presumption of innocence is being violated and that his arrest and indictment were the result of a biased and improper investigation.  
 
Habre said he will not participate in a trial. 
 
The lawyers working on behalf of the victims said that is regrettable and said they respect Habre's rights.
 
Senegalese attorney Assane Dioma Ndiaye said "we want a fair and balanced trial.  The victims do not want a parody of a trial. We want the truth to come out and to do that, everything must take place in transparency and the respect for the rights of defense."

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