Dakar – The number of Chadians killed under the brutal regime of ex-dictator Hissene Habre far exceeded the frequently-quoted estimate of 40 000, his trial in Senegal for atrocities heard on Tuesday.
The 73-year-old, who fled to Dakar after being deposed in 1990, is being prosecuted in his adoptive country for war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture during eight years of repression.
Mahamat Hassan Akabar, president of a commission into atrocities committed under Habre’s regime, explained how investigators had arrived at the figure, adding that it was probably a vast underestimate.
“Habre ruled for 2 920 days with, on average, 13 deaths [daily],” Akabar told the African Extraordinary Chambers in Dakar, citing witness testimony and documents, saying this would make 37 960 deaths.
“The commission rounded up to 40 000 to account for deaths in the provinces. We have not included summary executions that were happening every night,” he added.
He said the commission “had neither the time nor the means” to investigate every alleged killing.
“The conviction, beyond any reasonable doubt, is that this is a bare minimum figure. The investigations represent only 10% of what occurred,” he said.
“Ninety-eight percent of the results of these investigations were obtained in N’Djamena and its surroundings,” Akabar told the tribunal.
Once dubbed “Africa’s Pinochet”, Habre has been in custody in Senegal since his arrest in June 2013 at the home he shared in a plush neighbourhood of Dakar with his wife and children.
Court not recognised
His trial heard last week how Chad’s Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS), described as “the eyes and the ears of the president”, meted out a variety of abusive and often deadly punishments to detainees.
Akabar said the bodies of those who died in Habre’s notorious prisons were not handed over to their families.
“Bodies were buried in sacks of rice and millet. Others were buried with their clothes,” he said.
“Those who didn’t live in Chad during this period struggle to understand what happened. Among all this disaster, the change people hoped for never came.”
During his impassioned evidence, Akabar appeared at times to lose his cool and was scolded by Burkinabe tribunal president Gberdao Gustave Kam to “speak without hate, and remain measured”.
Habre doesn’t recognise the authority of the African Union-mandated court and has refused to co-operate with his trial.
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