Press Release, Chad, January 2010


10th Anniversary of Indictment of Chad Ex-Dictator

January 29, 2010, N’Djamena, Chad and Palo Alto, CA, U.S. – On the 10th anniversary of the first indictment of Hissène Habré in Senegal, the Benetech Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) released a new study showing that the former Chadian dictator was well informed of the hundreds of deaths that occurred in prisons operated by his political police. This information could be critical in the long delayed prosecution of Habré who has been accused of killing and systematically torturing thousands of political opponents during his 1982–1990 rule in Chad.

The HRDAG report, State Coordinated Violence in Chad under Hissène Habré, A Statistical Analysis of Reported Prison Mortality in Chad’s DDS Prisons and Command Responsibility of Hissène Habré, 1982-1990, is based on thousands of documents generated by the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS), the state security force that pursued political opponents and operated notorious prisons during the Habré regime. The DDS files were discovered by chance by Human Rights Watch in 2001 at the abandoned DDS headquarters in N’Djamena.

“Our analysis of document flow encompasses more than 2,700 administrative records which together illustrate a clear communication and command link between President Habré and his secret police,” said Romesh Silva, Senior HRDAG Demographer and lead author of the HRDAG report. “Our findings also confirm earlier qualitative accounts of prisoner conditions and high mortality within DDS prisons. The information gathered by the DDS and Habré to document their own policies and practices can now be used to hold them responsible for documented abuses.”

HRDAG’s analysis documents the death of prisoners inside DDS prisons between 1982 and 1990, and the extent to which Habré and senior officials within his government are responsible for human rights violations committed by the DDS. Analysis of DDS records, including situation reports and death certificates, reveal that the mortality rate within the DDS prisons varied from 30 per 1,000 to 87 per 1,000 prisoners. This rate is substantially higher than the overall death rate of Chad in the 1970’s and 1990’s which was less than 25 per 1,000. A total of 12,321 individual victims were mentioned in the recovered documents including 1,208 individuals who died in detention.

HRDAG’s analysis of the recovered documents was framed around the international legal doctrine of Command Responsibility. This doctrine, established by the Hague Conventions and progressively refined in criminal trials and international tribunals, sets out detailed criteria for the assessment of the individual responsibility of political and military leaders. Under this doctrine, superiors can incur criminal liability for acts committed by their subordinates if they fail to prevent or punish subordinates for their unlawful actions.

HRDAG’s quantitative analysis assesses the retrieved DDS documents against the doctrine’s main criteria, which include the existence of a superior-subordinate relationship, the superior’s knowledge that the subordinate was about to commit a crime or had committed a crime, and the superior’s failure to act. HRDAG’s analysis shows that Habré received 1,265 direct communications from the DDS about the status of 898 detainees. This analysis presents evidence that:

  • Large-scale human rights violations were carried out inside the DDS prisons.
  • Both Habré and the Director of the DDS were well informed of DDS operations.
  • There was a superior-subordinate relationship between Habré and the DDS senior leadership.

“The evidence shows that Habré was not a distant ruler who knew nothing about these crimes,” said Jacqueline Moudeina, president of the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, who is also a lawyer for the victims. “Habré directed and controlled the police force which tortured those who opposed him or those who simply belonged to the wrong ethnic group.”

Habré, who now lives in exile in Senegal, was first indicted on February 3, 2000 by a Senegalese judge before the charges were thrown out on a technicality. In 2006, Senegal agreed to an African Union mandate to prosecute Habré but has refused to act until it receives international funding for the cost of the trial.

“It’s been 10 years since Senegal first indicted Habré, but in these ten years, thousands of my fellow survivors have perished and we are no closer to Habré’s trial,” said Souleymane Guengueng, 48, who almost died of dengue fever during two years of mistreatment in Chadian prisons. “Unless Senegal acts soon, there won’t be any victims left at the trial.”

HRDAG’s analysis is the culmination of six years of technical work which combines information from the families of victims and the DDS records. As justice officials in Senegal, Chad and Europe consider how to address questions of accountability, the HRDAG report will inform discussions about the human rights record of Habré and the DDS.

“This analysis deepens our understanding of policies, practices and outcomes within the DDS prisons during Habré’s presidency,” said Jeff Klingner, co-author of the report. “Our analysis helps shift the debate from politics to science, moving from data, to knowledge, to recognition of past crimes, and ultimately to accountability.”

This press release is also available in French.

Our work has been used by truth commissions, international criminal tribunals, and non-governmental human rights organizations. We have worked with partners on projects on five continents.