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Historical Background

The War against Libya and Internal Conflicts in Chad

Chad gained independence from France on August 11, 1960, and has since known few periods of real peace. A long-running civil war, several invasions by Libya, and rebel movements in different regions ripped apart the country for decades. The division between the country’s north, a desert area populated by Muslims, and the south, a fertile area inhabited by Christians, was reinforced by the French colonizer who favored the south and reversed the “historic” domination of the north.

For nearly twenty years, Libya under Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi intervened directly in Chad’s political affairs. Libya even occupied in 1973, and annexed in 1975, the Aouzou Strip, a territory in northern Chad claimed by both countries.2 The Libyan government also supported several northern Chadian rebel groups, notably the Chad National Liberation Front (Frolinat), founded in 1966, which fought to end the south’s monopoly of power.

In 1981, when Ronald Reagan assumed the U.S. presidency, Chadian President Goukouni Oueddei was struggling to hang on to power as the head of the Gouvernment d’Union Nationale de Transition (Transitional Government of National Unity, GUNT). The GUNT had come to power in 1979 as the result of an agreement brokered in Lagos by the Organization of African Unity between the major factions in Chad’s long-running civil war. In March 1980, that coalition collapsed when Minister of Defense Hissène Habré — a former Frolinat comrade of Goukouni’s — broke with the GUNT, creating the Armed Forces of the North (FAN) and unleashing a nine-month battle that devastated the capital N’Djaména. The resulting stalemate was broken only when Qaddafi intervened strongly and directly on Goukouni’s side with an estimated 7,000 troops and heavy armaments, forcing Habré and his men to flee. The Libyan troops remained in Chad to preserve the stability of Goukouni’s regime and expand Tripoli’s influence in N’Djaména.

Habré distinguished himself from Goukouni and his other rivals by rejecting Libya’s claim to the Aouzou and to a role in Chad’s affairs. When Qaddafi and Goukouni publicly declared their intention to “merge” Libya and Chad into a single nation in January 1981, President Reagan made Qaddafi’s containment a priority. Reagan severed diplomatic relations with Tripoli and gave massive covert support to Habré’s FAN rebels — to “bloody Qaddafi’s nose” in the reported words of U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig.3 The rebels seized N’Djaména on June 7, 1982.

Upon his ascension to power, Habré sought to impose his authority in the country’s southern region. Habré’s FAN, which had become the regular army and would eventually be called the National Armed Forces of Chad (FANT), took over the main southern towns, leading to the emergence of an armed, fiercely anti-Habré opposition, the “CODOS” (for “commandos”). This opposition further incited Habré, and the resulting tension gave way to the “Black September” of 1984 (see infra). Repression against the southern opposition turned exceptionally violent, targeting not only the CODOS rebels, but also civilians and administrative officials suspected of complicity. The rebellion was crushed and the region devastated.

After Habré’s rise to power, former President Goukouni’s GUNT continued its struggle in exile with the support of Libya. In June 1983, GUNT forces took over the northern outpost of Faya-Largeau with the aid of Libyan troops. The counter-offensive by Habré’s forces, with the support of the French army, led to the re-conquest of the north in March 1987. Habré and Qaddafi concluded a ceasefire in September 1987 and diplomatic relations between the two countries were reestablished in October 1988. Reconciliation between Habré and Acheikh Ibn Oumar, a former leader of the GUNT, was sealed a month later by the signing of the Baghdad Accords.

The Regime of Hissène Habré

Hissène Habré ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990, when he was deposed by current President Idriss Déby and he fled to Senegal. On his arrival to power, Hissène Habré swiftly established a dictatorship. His one-party regime was marked by widespread atrocities and campaigns against his own people. During his eight years as head of state, Hissène Habré attempted to destroy all forms of opposition to his regime. Using collective arrests and mass murders, Habré persecuted different ethnic groups whose leaders he perceived as posing a threat to his regime. Targeted groups included the Sara and other southern ethnicities in 1984, Arabs, the Hadjaraï in 1987, and the Zaghawa in 1989.

The exact number of Habré’s victims is unknown. The 1992 Truth Commission of the Chadian Justice Minister, which was established by Habré’s successor, accused Habré’s regime of 40,000 political assassinations as well as systematic torture.4 Most predations were carried out by Habré’s dreaded political police, the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS), whose leaders all came from Habré’s Gorane ethnic group and who reported directly to Habré.

Today, Chadians still attest to the state of general suspicion that pervaded the country under Habré’s rule. It was not uncommon for a citizen to fear that his or her words, even to a spouse, child, or friend, might someday be repeated and used against him. In certain cases, agents went to children for information, since they could be oblivious to the impact of their words. One DDS intelligence record from April 1988, discovered by Human Rights Watch (see infra), reports, for example, how a 12-year-old child furnished political information he had overheard his parents discussing during the evening meal.

The Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS)

Hissène Habré’s security apparatus was composed of a number of repressive organs. However, it was the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS) which, according to the Truth Commission, distinguished itself “by its cruelty and contempt for human life.” The DDS was headed by agents who reported directly to the president and who combed national as well as international territory to imprison or eliminate “enemies of the state.”

Hissène Habré created the DDS by presidential decree on January 26, 1983, as a force that was to be “directly responsible to the Presidency of the Republic, due to the confidential nature of its activities.” These activities included primarily “the collection and centralization of all intelligence information … that threatens to compromise the national interest … and collaboration in suppression through the creation of files concerning individuals, groups, collectivities, suspected of activities contrary to or merely detrimental to the national interest.” Very quickly, the DDS was transformed into a ruthless repressive machine.

In May 2001, in the abandoned former DDS headquarters in N’Djaména, Human Rights Watch discovered thousands of documents of this sinister political police. Following this discovery, the Chadian government granted the Chadian Association of Victims of Political Repression and Crimes (AVCRP), assisted by Human Rights Watch and by the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH), access to these documents and the right to use them freely. They included death certificates, daily lists of prisoners, intelligence reports, lists of DDS agents, and letters addressed to President Habré. The documents trace in detail the campaign against the ethnic groups that Hissène Habré perceived to be threats to his regime. 5

The AVCRP copied, organized, and sorted the DDS documents, and copies of some 49,000 documents were then sent to Human Rights Watch headquarters in New York. A Human Rights Watch team entered all the information contained in the documents into a searchable database created by Patrick Ball of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group of the Benetech organization.

The Benetech team has now begun analyzing the documents, starting with those from the year1986, in which the most documents were recovered.6 Benetech analyzed three factors: the number of detainees in the DDS’ seven N’Djaména detention centers, the mortality rate in these centers, and the number of documents sent to Habré. Among other things, the preliminary analysis shows that:


  • The number of political detainees held between January 1985 and January 1986 remained relatively stable, hovering between 200 and 250 people, before rising to 571 detainees in March 1986;

  • The mortality rate in detention was 3.69 percent in 1986. The death rate of political detainees was sixteen times greater than that of the general Chadian population, which includes infant mortality;

  • Of the 2,488 key documents found in the DDS archives, more than 15 percent were directly addressed to Habré, who appeared to be informed of the smallest details.

    A further analysis of the documents now underway by Benetch shows:

  • A total of 12,321 different victims were mentioned;

  • The deaths in detention of 1,208 individuals were mentioned in the documents;

  • Hissène Habré received 1,265 direct communications from the DDS about the status of 898 detainees.

    DDS Structure and Personnel

    In a memo dated August 26, 1987, found in the DDS archives, the DDS Director stated, “Thanks to the spider’s web it has spun over the whole length of the national territory, [the DDS] keeps exceptional watch over the security of the State,” and that it is the “eyes and ears of the President of the Republic, [whose] control it is under and to whom it reports on its activities.”

    Among the different divisions within the DDS, the Special Rapid Action Brigade (BSIR) represented the armed wing. It was composed of military personnel in charge of carrying out arrests and killings. Other divisions within the DDS worked together to arrest suspected opponents of Habré’s regime. This was the case with the DDS service in charge of research and information collection in N’Djaména, the counter-intelligence service in charge of observing all embassies in N’Djaména, and the anti-terrorism service in charge of persecuting and eliminating political adversaries living abroad.

    During their detention, victims of the regime were often tortured by DDS agents using a wide range of torture methods (see infra).

    U.S. Support for the DDS

    Habré was able to count on solid U.S. support throughout his rule. Convinced of his continuing utility as an ally in the fight against Qaddafi, U.S. policymakers called Habré their “friend” and helped maintain him in power with generous provisions of military aid, training, intelligence and political support. According to one U.S. official, the aid poured into Chad by the United States “eventually totaled hundreds of millions of dollars.”7 Habré himself was received at the White House. The United States also conscripted a small army of Libyan “Contras” from among the ranks of Habré’s miserable Libyan POWs.

    The documents discovered by Human Rights Watch also revealed new information about United States support for the DDS. One DDS document described a “very special” training for Chadian security agents outside of Washington, D.C. in 1985. The agents reported that “our American friends attached a very high degree of importance to this training. They promised us equipment…. They told us in addition that we not only had to assure the security of our country, but also that of their authorities residing in our country as well as their businesses.”8 Three of the agents received promotions to the upper echelons of the DDS immediately upon their return from Washington. Two would later be named by the Truth Commission as some of Habré’s “most feared torturers.” Although it is unclear what “equipment” the United States did provide, one document speaks of a Chadian request for truth serum and a “generator for interrogations.” Another document referred to a certain “Maurice” who was the “American advisor to the DDS,”9 while other reports discussed the training of Chadian agents in Chad by the United States.

    The Crimes of Hissène Habré’s Regime


    Torture was a common practice in the DDS detention centers. It was used by DDS agents during interrogations in order to extract information or force confessions. Among the most common forms of torture were the following:

    • “Arbatachar” binding:tying both the wrists and ankles together behind the back, thereby causing the chest to expand and arch. This practice rapidly stops the blood from flowing to the arms and legs and causes paralysis.
    • Forced intake of water: the victim is forced to swallow a great deal of water until he or she is rendered unconscious. Occasionally, a DDS agent would climb onto the victim’s stomach or place a car tire there.
    • Exhaust pipe: forcing the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle into the mouth of the victim. Simply accelerating the motor caused horrible burns.
    • Burning: lit twigs, matches, or cigarettes were used to burn the most sensitive parts of the body.
    • Torture with sticks: at the temples and encircling the victim’s head, two sticks were attached at both ends by cords. The tighter the cords are pulled, the more pressure is put on the head, making it feel as if it will explode. Eventually, merely tapping on the sticks caused intolerable vibrations in the head.
    • Using hot pepper: the victim’s head is placed at one end of a pipe and pepper is blown through the pipe.
    • Electric shocks, beatings, whippings, extraction of fingernails, etc.

    While the DDS documents discovered by Human Rights Watch rarely seem to mention acts of torture explicitly, such acts are often alluded to. A letter addressed to the director of the DDS concerning the fate of an alleged opposition activist makes a veiled reference to the practice: “It was in compelling him to reveal certain truths that he died on October 14 at 8 o’clock.” In the same manner, the records of an escaped prisoner’s interrogation revealed that he “only admitted certain facts that had been alleged against him after physical discipline was inflicted upon him.” Many other documents found in the archives make allusions to the practice of torture by referring to “muscular” or “heated” interrogation.

    Deaths in Detention

    A total of 712 deaths in detention between 1983 and 1989 were documented in death certificates recovered from the DDS. As noted above, the documents mentioned a total of 1,208 individual deaths.

    Under Habré’s rule, seven prisons were used in N’Djaména for political prisoners and prisoners of war. One was located on the grounds of the presidential compound; it was used for the “very special” prisoners that Habré wanted to have close at hand. The most sinister prison, however, was the underground Piscine (“swimming pool”). Formerly a swimming pool reserved for families of French soldiers during the colonial period, the Piscine was, under Habré’s orders, covered by a concrete roof and divided into ten dank cells linked to the surface by a single staircase.

    The documents discovered make reference to the causes of the innumerable deaths: severe amoebic dysentery, severe dehydration, arterial hypertension, severe edemas of the upper and lower limbs, loss of mobility in limbs for up to several days, general deterioration of health, and so forth. In a “monthly report” for June 1987, the head of the DDS’ penitentiary service describes the principal reason for the prisoners’ weakness — the meals that they received: “All of the illnesses described above are a result of the lack of balance in the prisoners’ diets.”10

    Death could come rapidly in prison, especially with torture and inhuman conditions. One document from 1989 lists the name of fourteen prisoners arrested between April 2 and 5 of that year. All of them “died due to illness” between April 16 and 26 — only weeks after being incarcerated.11

    In a report titled “On the Circumstances of the Successive Deaths of Prisoners in the Detention Facilities of the DDS,” the DDS’ Inspector traced a direct link between the high number of deaths and the conditions in the prisons:

    From May 1 until June 16 1985 nineteen (19) prisoners died in the ‘facilities’ (‘locaux’) of the Special Rapid Intervention Brigade [one of the prisons in N’Djaména]. According to the study done in the ‘facilities’ and according to the head nurse, it turns out that the successive deaths are due to different illnesses contracted within the facilities, that is to say:

  • dysentery

  • paralysis of limbs

  • cases of boilsbrought on by the heat

  • insufficiency of food

    In addition, no treatment has been given to the prisoners because for three months, the BSIR’s dispensary has been without medicine.12

    The Treatment of Prisoners of War

    Habré’s regime was marked by several years of war against Libya and the Libyan-backed GUNT (see supra). Several battles yielded hundreds of prisoners, notably in 1983 at Faya-Largeau and then again in 1986 and 1987. Those who were not executed on the spot were transferred under Habré’s orders and imprisoned, in some cases, in N’Djaména prisonsunder horrible conditions.

    A blistering report from the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) that was found in the DDS’ archives bears witness to a rare visit authorized in March 1984 to one N’Djaména prison (the only prison that the ICRC visited in Chad). The report details the inhuman treatment endured by the prisoners of war. It describes chronically overcrowded cells, which were intended for 180 prisoners but were holding on average more than 600 people, each of whom was left with no more than a half-square meter of space. The report also mentions the “nonexistent hygiene,” “widespread malnourishment,” and the “lack of medical care.” In its conclusion, the report explains that:

    The combination of these factors has created a critical situation with regards to the health of the prisoners. More than half of them should be classified as gravely ill; 160 prisoners find themselves in a critical state, 22 have been set aside because they are considered lost causes, and 28 cases of death have been reported in the two preceding months.13

    Many death certificates of prisoners of war were found. One of these contains the names of thirty-two prisoners who died on the same day, March 21, 1986, “from their wounds.”

    “Black September”

    After taking power, Hissène Habré began planning the “pacification” of the country’s south, which he considered to be populated with traitors and headed towards secession. The wave of violent repression that Habré and his soldiers subsequently launched targeted not only the “CODOS,” but also the civilian population. In some prefectures, massive arrests and executions of civilians were deliberately carried out with the goal of planting seeds of terror. Entire villages were pillaged and burned. The villagers who managed to escape, sought refuge in the bush, where they stayed for months.

    Beginning in September 1984, a particularly murderous wave of repression was unleashed with the apparent goal of eliminating the southern elite and replacing them with people loyal to Habré. This period is commonly known among Chadians as “Black September.” An internal DDS report marked “Highly Confidential” describes the terror felt by the civilian population at the time, following the atrocities carried out in the region by the National Armed Forces of Chad (FANT), Habré’s troops:

    The security of the population has been disrupted since elements of FANT launched into acts of vandalism sowing terror among the peasant population as well as civil servants. The population lives in fear since the events of 15.09.84, young men and women have fled the zone in the direction of Bongor seeking refuge because their security is not guaranteed. The peasant masses are truly terrorized, they have seen their possessions fall into FANT’s hands like a ripe piece of fruit, and they do not dare to say a single word in the presence of the soldiers because they are so stricken with fear.14

    The terror in the South persisted long after “Black September.” Other documents were discovered that contain daily reports documenting the massive campaign of violence being carried out in the region. One piece of correspondence dated August 4, 1985, reveals the names of sixty-eight people living in “villages Djola II and III” who were “massacred during the day of July 28, 1985 by Government forces.”

    The “Collective Responsibility” of the Hadjeraï and Zaghawa

    Hissène Habré did not hesitate to turn on his old comrades at arms or to take vengeance on the family or the entire ethnic group of an individual or group that crossed him. For example, the Hadjeraï and the Zaghawa ethnic groups, whose leaders originally took power alongside Habré, were savagely persecuted when some of their members dared to oppose him.

    Hadjeraï leaders had long been friends of Hissène Habré and they even constituted the principal force that brought him to power in June 1982. Nevertheless, Habré was quick to turn against his former allies when they expressed the slightest opposition to certain aspects of his politics. Habré began to mistrust the Hadjeraï as early as 1984 when his minister of foreign affairs at the time, Idriss Miskine, a Hadjeraï, became increasingly popular and began to overshadow Habré. Miskine died under mysterious conditions that year, creating a sense of mistrust between Habré’s Goranes and the Hadjeraï. In 1987, when Habré learned that General Felix Malloum, a Hadjeraï, had created an armed opposition movement, the MOSANAT, Habré began attacking Hadjeraï dignitaries, as well as their families and the entire ethnicity in general.

    In 1989, Hissène Habré suspected Idriss Déby, his advisor on defense and security matters, Mahamat Itno, minister of the interior, and Hassan Djamous, commander in chief of the Chadian army and the man who defeated the Libyans, of plotting a coup against him. All three men were ethnic Zaghawa. Habré not only had Itno and Djamous arrested and killed (Déby managed to escape and later to overthrow Habré), but he turned on the rest of the Zaghawa as well, whether or not they were linked to the plot of rebellion. Hundreds were seized in raids, tortured, and imprisoned. Dozens died in detention or were summarily executed.

    According to ex-DDS agents, in 1987 Hissène Habré created a committee within the structure of the DDS responsible for arresting and interrogating Hadjeraïs. In 1989, a similar committee was created for the persecution of the Zaghawas.

    Documents found in the DDS archives show that simply being Hadjeraï or Zaghawa was enough to get a person arrested. One document concerning the transfer of detainees was even titled “The Hadjeraï affair,” which implies that the defining characteristic of those detainees was their shared ethnicity and that their actions are a reflection on the entire ethnic group. Another document lists people arrested or killed and the number of villages that were destroyed or abandoned. The total number of people killed is cited at 286. All those whose names are on the list are Hadjeraï.

    A list dated May 26, 1989, titled “Re: Situation of the traitorous Zaghawa agents arrested for complicity and guarded in our facilities following a plot organized by Hassane Djamous,” contains the names of ninety-eight people, including shepherds, drivers, students, businessmen, soldiers, and so forth. The reason for the arrest of each person on the list is invariably stated as “suspected accomplice of the traitors,” with the exception of some people who were family members of the rebels.15

    The university professor and writer Zakaria Fadoul Khidir, who is Zaghawa, was arrested solely because he was related to a suspected opposition leader and was of the same ethnicity. When he was arrested and interrogated, Zakaria Fadoul Khidir (ZFK) had an exchange with his interrogator, Commissioner Mahamat Djibrine (Dj), which he recounted in a book that was published after his liberation:

    Dj: Professor, why were you arrested?

    ZFK: I don’t know.

    Dj: How is that possible? You don’t know? You don’t know what goes on in your village or in your own country?

    ZFK: Yes. I know that some people rejoined the opposition, and others were arrested. But as for me, they came for me in the middle of the day while I was at work correcting my students’ papers.

    Dj: But you’re not alone, you also have brothers!

    ZFK: I am not responsible for my brothers’ actions

    Dj: Professor, responsibility is collective.16

    Everything was summed up in that sentence. According to documentation provided by Professor Fadoul, approximately 250 people of his ethnicity were arrested; all but twenty-eight of those 250 were executed or died in detention.

    The Crackdown on Arabs

    Hissène Habré considered Chadian Arabs to be the “family” of his Libyan enemies. Arabs were constantly arrested and executed throughout Habré’s regime, with a noticeable increase from 1982 to 1984 during the armed conflicts in northern Chad.

    The Fall of Hissène Habré and the Truth Commission’s Report

    In the culmination of a year-long rebellion, the Patriotic Front for Salvation, a rebel force led by current President Idriss Déby, swept Habré from power on December 1, 1990. The jail doors swung open and hundreds of political prisoners who were held in various secret detention centers in the capital were freed. Habré fled to Senegal.

    The new government created a “commission of inquiry into crimes and embezzlement committed by the ex-president and his accomplices,” led by a distinguished jurist, Mohamat Hassan Abakar, that began its work on March 1, 1991.

    The Truth Commission operated under difficult financial and security conditions. It was initially composed of twelve members; two judges, four police officers, two administrators, two archivists, and two secretaries.17 At first, the commission had to fight to have even a minimal budget, had no headquarters, and was obliged to set up shop in the offices of the DDS, which hardly encouraged victims to come and give evidence. In addition, former members of the DDS who had been re-engaged by the new Centre de Recherches et de Coordination de Renseignements (CRCR) were accused of intimidating witnesses and carrying out reprisals against some who appeared before the commission. After six months, the president of the commission called for the replacement of a number of commission members, who were apparently too afraid to become really involved, and it was only after they had been replaced that the commission’s real work began. Even then, a shortage of vehicles prevented the commission from gaining access to many rural areas where massacres had occurred. Other than the advice of Amnesty International, which had documented Habré’s atrocities and campaigned for the release of political prisoners,18 the Truth Commission did not receive any international monetary or technical assistance. The commission nevertheless heard 1,726 witnesses19 and conducted three exhumations.

    After seventeen months, the commission published a report detailing the repressive methods of Habré’s government, which it accused of tens of thousands of political assassinations and systematic torture.20 The commission also produced a film showing the mass graves it had exhumed, some of Hissène Habré’s jails and interviews with victims.

    The report lamented the reintegration of many DDS agents into key administrative and security posts within the new Chadian government.21 When the report was published, some of these agents reportedly fled across the river to Cameroon in the misplaced fear that accountability would follow.22

    The Truth Commission was one of the only such commissions in the world to date to examine the foreign role in national abuses. The report revealed that the United States was the principal supplier of financial, military, and technical aid to the DDS. The report stated that American advisers regularly visited the Director of the DDS, to give advice or to exchange information. It also accused France, Egypt, Iraq, and Zaire of helping to finance, train, and equip the DDS.

    The Truth Commission included in its report not only the names but the photographs of the principal DDS agents. The commission stressed the necessity of removing DDS agents who had been reintegrated into the army, the police force, or the new CRCR.23

    The Truth Commission thus called on the government “to relieve of their duties, immediately upon publication of this report, the DDS agents who have been reintegrated and engaged in general activities with the CRCR” as well as “to immediately pursue justice against those participating in this horrible genocide, who are responsible for crimes against humanity.”24

    The Truth Commission also recommended to “construct a monument honoring the memory of the victims of Habré’s repression,” to “designate a day for prayer and contemplation for the victims,” and to “transform the former DDS headquarters and underground prison known as the ‘Piscine’ into a museum.” It also called for the creation of a national human rights commission.

    The written report was presented to President Déby and the Chadian government, who also watched the film on a borrowed projector. The commission’s headquarters were then opened to the public for several days to view the film and see a display of pictures prepared by the commission. According to Maître Abakar, the Commission President, “the public fought to get in.”25 The report was widely covered in the national press.

    The National Sovereign Conference of 1993, which brought together all sectors of Chadian society, repeated the call for the “revocation of those DDS members responsible for embezzlement, torture and political crimes who continue to flourish or to work within the CRCR.” It also reiterated the need to create a special independent criminal court to try violent crimes, expropriations, and embezzlements.

    The Chadian Association of Victims of Political Repression and Crime

    After Habré’s fall, former victims of the Habré regime from different ethnic groups created the Chadian Association of Victims of Political Repression and Crime (AVCRP).

    According to its by-laws, the AVCRP’s main goals are:

    • To locate victims of political crimes and repression in Chad;
    • To establish an inventory of unjustly confiscated and stolen goods;
    • To pursue national or international judicial proceedings against the perpetrators of these political crimes and repression;
    • To demand the compensation for victims who were physically hurt, or emotionally and psychologically scarred, or whose property was unjustly confiscated or stolen;
    • To inform Chadians as well as the international public about the methods and means employed to perpetrate political crimes and repression; and
    • To prevent, denounce and fight against all forms of political crime and repression.

    The AVCRP gathered information and testimonies from 792 of Habré’s victims, anticipating their use in an eventual case against Habré. However, without financial resources or governmental support, the AVCRP was forced to temporarily abandon its work.

    Victim Rehabilitation

    Upon the invitation of the Chadian government, the Paris-based Association for the Victims of Repression in Exile (Association pour les Victimes de la Répression en Exil, AVRE) undertook several evaluation and assistance missions to Chad between 1991 and 1996.26

    Dr. Hélène Jaffe, the founding president of AVRE, and her colleagues, examined 581 Habré-era torture victims, including 119 children, in 1,778 consultations. During a first consultation in 1991, patients complained of rheumatologic aches (346 complaints), season pathology/parasitology (240), psychological problems (216), and headaches (213), as well as ophthalmologic (178), urologic/sexologic (160), digestive (137) and cardiologic (45) problems, ORL (31), and other problems (240).27

    In AVRE’s report on the health of children victims of torture, the pedo-psychiatrist established the importance of the “pathogenic role of secrecy” in these situations of mourning: “hidden death, concealed death, absence of body to honor, absence of funeral ceremony, then of mourning, and finally of sepulture; all of this leads to depression. The psychotherapeutic work done with the families seemed to bring a change.”28

    During their last mission in Chad in September 1996, AVRE’s doctors noticed that several victims were still suffering from physical after-effects from having been tortured, on top of psychological suffering, which was more difficult to express. Among the 44 patients seen:

  • 25 patients presented often invalidating rheumatologic after-effects: rachialgies, articular pains, muscular contractures;

  • 22 patients complained of psychological troubles from anxiety to sadness, and even from depression ;

  • 15 patients still suffered from digestives troubles;

  • 15 patients suffered from sleep troubles, especially from nightmares, and of difficulties of falling asleep; and

  • 14 patients complained of vision problems.  

    An important element of AVRE’s recommendations is acknowledging the tragic story of the victims’ families. According to AVRE, there is a need “to lift the secret” on tortures and disappearances, on the suffering and its repercussions on family members, and on the ways of mourning. AVRE also recognized the importance of “collective acknowledgement,” and suggested steles on identified graves and the construction of a victims’ memorial for ceremonies of mourning and remembrance, as well as the declaration of a National Day of Victims of Crimes and Political Repression. Finally, AVRE’s report argued that the implementation of these proposals, “adapted to local realities, is essential in order for the parents to recover a balanced life, and for their children, victims of victims, a harmonious development.”29

    The Prosecution of Hissène Habré

    In 1999, inspired by the London arrest of General Augusto Pinochet30 the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (ATPDH) requested Human Rights Watch’s assistance in helping Habré’s victims bring him to justice.

    Human Rights Watch researchers secretly visited Chad twice, where they met victims and witnesses and benefited from the documentation prepared in 1991 by the AVCRP. In January 2000, supported by Chadian human rights NGOs and a coalition of human rights organizations,31 the Chadian victims filed a criminal complaint against Hissène Habré in the Dakar Regional Court in Senegal, where Habré was living.32

    The victims presented Investigating Judge Demba Kandji details of 97 political killings, 142 cases of torture, 100 “disappearances,” and 736 arbitrary arrests — most carried out by the DDS, as well as a 1992 report by AVRE (see supra) on 581 torture victims, and the Truth Commission report. The case moved quickly. Within four days, seven victims gave their closed-door testimony before Judge Kandji — something they had waited nine years to do! Two former prisoners described being ordered by the DDS to dig mass graves to bury Habré’s opponents. Two others told of being subjected to the “Arbatachar.” On February 3, 2000, Judge Kandji indicted Hissène Habré as an accomplice to torture and crimes against humanity and placed him under house arrest. For the first time, a former head of state was prosecuted by the country in which he had taken refuge.

    Some weeks later, politics entered the picture. Habré’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the case before the Indicting Chamber of Dakar’s Court of Appeals. The prosecutor’s officesupported Habré’s motion, thereby reversing its previous favorable position on the prosecution of Habré. Not long after, the Superior Council of the Magistracy transferred Judge Kandji from his post and thus removed him from the Habré case. On a number of occasions, the newly-elected president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, declared publicly that Habré would never be tried in Senegal.

    The “no safe haven” provisions of the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment requires Senegal to either prosecute or extradite alleged torturers who enter its territory.33 Under the Senegalese constitution, such international treaties automatically apply.34 Nevertheless, on July 4, 2000, an appeals court ruled that Senegalese courts had no jurisdiction to pursue crimes that were not committed in Senegal and dropped the case against Hissène Habré.35 The victims immediately appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Appeals (Cour de Cassation). On March 20, 2001, the Cour de Cassation upheld the decision of the Chamber of Dakar’s Court of Appeals and ended the prosecution of Habré in Senegal.36

    The victims of the ex-dictator immediately announced that they would seek to extradite Habré to Belgium, where a case had already been filed against him. These cases were filed by twenty-one victims, three of whom have Belgian nationality, and were assigned to Judge Daniel Fransen of the Brussels district court. The case is based on Belgium’s universal jurisdiction law, which (prior to subsequent amendments) allowed Belgium’s courts to prosecute the worst international crimes no matter where or against whom they were committed.

    In April 2001, shortly after the Cour de Cassation decision, Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade publicly declared that he had given Habré one month to leave Senegal. The abrupt decision was a tribute to the victims’ efforts but raised the possibility that Habré would go to a country out of justice’s reach. The victims filed a petition against Senegal with the U.N. Committee against Torture (CAT), urging that Senegal be requested to prosecute or extradite Habré as required by the U.N. Torture Convention, and asked the Committee to issue an interim ruling to preserve their ability to bring him to justice. The Committee responded by calling on Senegal to “take all necessary measures to prevent Mr. Hissène Habré from leaving the territory of Senegal except pursuant to an extradition demand.”37 Following similar appeals by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, President Wade stated on September 27, 2001 that he had agreed to hold Hissène Habré:

    I was ready to send Hissène Habré anywhere, including his own country, Chad, but Kofi Annan intervened to have me keep Hissène Habré on my territory until he is requested by a judiciary. I have done this, but I do not want this situation to go on. Senegal does not have the competence nor the means to judge him. Chad does not want to judge him. If a country capable of organizing a fair trial — there is talk of Belgium — wants him, I do not foresee any obstacle. But they must act fast. I am not anxious to keep Hissène Habré in Senegal. 38

    From February 26 to March 7, 2002, Judge Fransen, Belgian Federal Prosecutor Philippe Meire and a police team specializing in crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture visited Chad. With the full cooperation of the Chadian government, the judge and his team took the testimonies of plaintiffs, victims of Hissène Habré, witnesses to atrocities, and many DDS agents. The judge also visited massacre sites in and around N’Djaména and detention centers used by Habré’s regime including the sinister Piscine, the DDS’ underground prison. Each time, the judge was accompanied by former detainees who described the treatment to which they were subjected and who indicated the location of graves. The judge also had access to the DDS archives discovered by Human Rights Watch, and he consulted and requisitioned thousands of documents.

    In October 2002, in response to concerns as to a former head of state’s immunity from the jurisdiction of foreign courts raised as a result of a February 2002 decision of the International Court of Justice,39 the Chadian minister of justice declared in writing to Judge Fransen that “Mr. Hissène Habré cannot claim to have any immunity on the part of the Chadian authorities.”40

    In August 2003, under pressure from the U.S. government, the Belgian parliament repealed that country’s universal jurisdiction law, and replaced it with a law of more limited scope.41 Many cases filed under the law were dismissed. The Habré case was allowed to proceed because it fit within a “grandfather clause” that permitted some ongoing cases to continue if: (1) a plaintiff was a Belgian citizen or resident at the time the complaint was filed and (2) an investigation had already begun.

    Judge Fransen’s investigation continues and it is hoped that he will indict Hissène Habré and issue an international warrant for his arrest. The Belgian government would then ask Senegal to extradite Hissène Habré, which President Wade has said it would be willing to do.

    [2] In 1994, the International Court of Justice awarded the strip to Chad, and Libya finally removed its troops.

    [3] Bob Woodward, Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987 (Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group, 1987), p. 97.

    [4] Les crimes et détournements de l’ex-Président Habré et de ses complices, Commission d’Enquête Nationale du Ministère Tchadien de la Justice, pp. 69, 97. The Truth Commission claims unscientifically the number 40,000 by estimating that the 3,780 victims that they have identified represent only 10% of those killed. See also Amnesty International, “Chad: The Habré Legacy,”2001.

    [5] See Tidiane Dioh, “Tchad: Les archives de l’horreur,” Jeune Afrique l’Intelligent, March 2, 2003. An English translation with links to a number of documents can be found até/Habré-police.htm.

    [6] Preliminary Statistical Analysis of AVCRP & DDS Documents, a report to Human Rights Watch about Chad under the government of Hissène Habré, The Benetech Initiative, November 4, 2003 [online],

    [7] Douglas Farah, “Chad’s Torture Victims Pursue Habré in Court.” Washington Post, November, 27, 2000, citing unnamed U.S. official.

    [8] The document can be accessed at

    [9] The document can be accessed at

    [10] The document can be accessed at

    [11] The document can be accessed at

    [12] Ibid.

    [13] The document can be accessed at

    [14] “Compte-rendu de la situation après événements de la Tandjilé du 15/09/84,” undated report from the DDS Tandjilé Office. The document can be accessed at

    [15] Page 1 of the document can be accessed at

    [16] Les moments difficiles, dans les prisons d’Hissène Habré en 1989, Editions Sépia (France: 1998), pp. 114-115, emphasis added.

    [17] For a discussion of the Truth Commission, see Amnesty International, “Chad: The Habré Legacy,”2001.

    [18] The Truth Commission discovered over 50,000 cards and letters written by members of Amnesty International to Hissène Habré and Chadian officials.

    [19] The Commission interviewed 662 former political prisoners, 786 families of victims of extrajudicial executions, 236 former prisoners of war, and 30 former members of the DDS.

    [20] Les Crimes et Détournements de l’Ex- Président Habré et de ses Complices, pp. 69, 97.

    [21]Ibid, p.29.

    [22] Human Rights Watch interview of Mahamat Hassan Abakar, September 1, 2004.

    [23] The CRCR replaced the DDS when it was dissolved by Idriss Déby in 1990 and then changed its name to the National Security Agency (ANS) under the direct control of Idriss Déby.

    [24] Les Crimes et Détournements de l’Ex- Président Habré et de ses Complices, pp. 97-99.

    [25] Interview with Mahamat Hassan Abakar, September 1, 2004.

    [26] Association pour les Victimes de la Répression en Exil (AVRE), Mission AVRE au Tchad 1991 / 1996.

    [27] Ibid.

    [28] It is important to note that complaints, subjective elements, do not necessarily represent a clinical reality.

    [29] Association pour les Victimes de la Répression en Exil (AVRE), Mission AVRE au Tchad 1991 / 1996.

    [30] See, e.g.,“The Pinochet Precedent: How Victims Can Pursue Human Rights Criminals Abroad,” A Human Rights Watch Campaign Document, modified in June 2001 [online],

    [31] In addition to the AVCRP and Human Rights Watch, the coalition is made up of the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH), the Chadian League for Human Rights (LTDH), the Association for the Promotion of Fundamental Liberties in Chad (APLFT), the National Senegalese Human Rights Organization (ONDH), the African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights (RADDHO), and the French organizations AVRE, the Association for Victims of Repression in Exile, and Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme.

    [32] The case, as well as all the legal documents pertaining to the Habré affair, can be found online até.htm.

    [33] Article 5, section 2 of the Torture Convention, which imposes a legislative duty, states: “Each

    State Party shall likewise take such measures as may be necessary to establish its jurisdiction over [acts of torture] in cases where the alleged offender is present in any territory under its jurisdiction and it does not extradite him . . . .” Article 7, section 1, which establishes the obligation to extradite or prosecute, states: “The State Party in the territory under whose jurisdiction a person alleged to have committed [acts of torture] is found shall . . . if it does not extradite him, submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution.”

    [34] Article 79 of the Senegalese constitution reads, “Les traités ou accords régulièrement ratifiés ou approuvés ont, dès leur publication, une autorité supérieure à celle des lois, sous réserve, pour chaque accord ou traité, de son application par l’autre partie.”

    [35] République du Sénégal, Cour d’Appel de Dakar, Chambre d’accusation, Arrêt nº 135 du 4 juillet 2000 [online],é-decision.html.

    [36] Cour de Cassation, Crim, Arrêt nº 14 du 20 mars 2001, “Souleymane Guengueng et autres Contre Hissène Habré," [online],é-cour_de_cass.html.

    [37] Letter from Chief, Support Services Branch, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to Reed Brody, Human Rights Watch, April 2001 [online],

    [38] “J’étais prêt à envoyer Hissène Habré n’importe où, y compris dans son propre pays, le Tchad, mais Kofi Annan est intervenu pour que je garde Hissène Habré sur mon sol, le temps qu’une justice le réclame. Je l’ai fait, mais je ne souhaite pas que cette situation perdure. Le Sénégal n’a ni la compétence ni les moyens de le juger. Le Tchad ne veut pas le juger. Si un pays, capable d’organiser un procès équitable — on parle de la Belgique — le veut, je n’y verrais aucun obstacle. Quoted fromLe Temps (Geneva), Septembre 27, 2001. On February 23, 2003, President Wade confirmed that:  “Any country which wishes to can introduce an extradition request before our judicial system. It will receive, at least as far as I am concerned, a favorable response. I only note that for the moment, no country, not even Chad, has asked me for such an extradition.“ Walf Djiri (Sénégal), February 24, 2003.

    [39] International Court of Justice (ICJ), Case Concerning the Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000(Democratic Republic of Congo v. Belgium), February 14, 2002.

    [40] “Il est clair que Monsieur Hissène Habré ne peut prétendre à une quelconque immunité de la part des Autorités Tchadiennes” (letter from M. Koudji-Gaou to M. Fransen, October 7, 2002 [online],

    [41] Cases can only be brought under the new law if: (1) the victim, at the time of the commission of the alleged crime, is either a Belgian citizen or has been a Belgian resident for at least three years; (2) the accused is either a Belgian citizen or has his primary place of residence in Belgium; or (3) Belgium is required by treaty to exercise jurisdiction. In addition, the law drastically limits the ability of victims to file cases directly under the partie civile mechanism; no such complaint can move forward without the approval of the state prosecutor, unless the accused is a Belgian citizen or primary resident. The Belgian government may also step in and transfer any case not involving a Belgian victim to the accused’s home state so long as that state upholds the right to a fair trial.

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