Live From Ake: A survivor of the worst Chadian tragedy has a few lessons on upholding human rights

Clement Abaifouta is one of those innocent Chadians who fell victim to Hissein Habre’s terror in neighbouring country, Chad. Habre ruled Chad between 1982 and 1990 and in that time, under some misinformed paranoia about Libyan espionage in his country, did one of the worst damages known to history to his own people.

Hussein Habre reportedly killed at least 40,000 people during his eight-year rule. This is not including the many thousands of prisoners that were held in his terror camp alongside Abaifouta, his father and the nameless and faceless others.

Clement Abaifouta did not keep mum though his dignity had been stripped by the atrocities committed against humanity by this awful man, Hissein. Knowing that the despot, the tryanny-in-human-flesh had been welcome in Senegal by Abdou Diouf since he fled Chad, Clement organized survivors like himself into an organization: L’Association Des Victimes Des Crimes Du Regime De Hissein Habre (AVCRHH). They not only shared their grief amongst one another and offered both psychological and medical support to everyone, they also employed a young lawyer, Madame Jacqueline to prosecute the despot at the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegalese court system.


For 25 years, Clement Abaifouta and his comrades provided support for one another and in 2015 they began a tough legal battle which saw Habre sentence to life in prison on the 30th May this year.

But this is not all Abaifouta has done – as remarkable as it already is. He has also recorded a 120 minute long documentary titled Hissein Habre: A Chadian Tragedy documenting entries from willing survivors of Habre’s DDS terror including those who had sewing needles stuck in their heads and those who have been left paralysed and women whose nipples were burnt, and who were raped and whose families and property were ravaged by this horrible Hissien Habre. He took time to compile true stories, accounts from people he shared prison walls with, his father who is totally paralyzed from the torture and a woman who joined the army in a bid to avenge.

He even sought out some of the policemen and officers of Habre’s regime who the victims identified in an attempt at reconciliation.

All of this has been documented in a film that has travelled round the world from Cannes to the Toronto Film Festival. Last night at Ake, we watched this exceptional documentary in the company of Clement Abaifouta himself.

For those who could still speak -not us- after watching the film, there was a 30-minute long conversation with Abaifouta. He answered questions about the resilience, perseverance, hope for rehabilitation and reconciliation.

But the most important question came towards the end of the chat:

“Clement, do you -having had firsthand experience of the terror- think that the sentence of Hissien Habre to life imprisonment is appropriate for the crimes he committed against you and all these people as opposed to capital punishment?”

His answer is the sort that should earn a man a Nobel Peace Prize. He asked what Habre’s death will do for him. He explained that the nature of human rights is such that one seeks redress within the bounds of the law and that the sentence was the highest possible punishment Habre (who is currently appealing his conviction) can get.

Habre fighting restraints after his conviction in May
Habre fighting restraints after his conviction in May

But that’s not all. According to Abaifouta, even if the death penalty were an option, he won’t have opted for it alluding to his stance of preservation of the human life.

A man who was stabbed in his throat and then went on to endure the worst possible forms of degradation gets the chance to see his oppressor put to death and he’d rather not. He said he knows that the conditions under which Habre will serve his term are better than the conditions which his victims currently live but that’s no reason to support capital punishment.

There is hope yet for the human race.

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