Clément Abaïfouta - Hissein Habre, a Chadian Tragedy


Hissein Habré’s reign of terror in Chad, which lasted from 1982 to 1990, has made many victims: some people were killed, but many others who survived the torture were scarred for life by this nightmare.
Clément Abaïfouta is one of them: for four years he was forced to bury the dead in a torture prison. His revenge takes on a special form: he set up an organisation to give victims a voice, and to reconcile victims and offenders.

Clément Abaïfouta is a calm man with sad eyes. When he talks, he does so carefully. He can listen like no other.

Abaïfouta is born in Chad in 1958 and receives a good education: he gets his bachelor's degree, studying French and 'Transitional Justice'. But on 12 July 1985, his carefree existence suddenly comes to an end: he is arrested by the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS) – the police unit of Chad’s brutal dictator Hissein Habré – and thrown in prison.

The four years that follow will make him a completely different person. The horrors that take place in the torture prison can hardly be put into words. Starvation, torture, countless deaths. Abaïfouta is given the task to bury his fellow prisoners. He estimates that he has put about five hundred bodies in mass graves. “Death was something banal; it was everywhere. We even used corpses for pillows. They completely broke me.”

When Abaïfouta is released, four years later, there is only one thing he wants: revenge. But what should he do? He does not want to use weapons or join a rebel group. So he decides to start an organisation to give the victims of the brutal regime a voice: the Victims Association of Crimes of Hissein Habré Regime (AVCRHH).

He visits victims and listens to their stories. Again and again, detail by detail. Sometimes he even brings them into contact with former police officers of the DDS. With infinite patience he lets them talk and hopes that they will be reconciled.

But he does not just offer a listening ear: the testimonies also serve as evidence against the dictator. After fifteen years of recording stories, his revenge is bittersweet: Hissein Habré is given a life sentence on 30 May 2016 for genocide, torture and other crimes against humanity. It makes him the first African leader who is convicted of war crimes committed in his own country.