Arusha, January 16, 2015 (FH) – The trial continued in Chad this week of 21 nationals accused of crimes committed under the regime of ex-president Hissène Habré (1982-1990).

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According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the court on Wednesday heard Mahamat Hassan Abakar, former president of the 1992 National Truth Commission.

He testified that “torture was systematic” in the Directorate of Documentation and Security (DDS), Habré’s political police.

“The DDS agents were supermen because they enjoyed total impunity. Once you were arrested by the DDS you had no recourse,” Abakar told the court.

According to HRW, many people in the gallery wept at the screening of a video produced by the Commission, showing a series of mass graves, the inside of Habré’s jails, drawings of the main forms of torture, and footage of emaciated prisoners released after Habré’s fall.

Since the start of the trial on November 14, some 50 victims have described acts of torture and ill treatment perpetrated by members of the DDS.

“This trial is Chad’s rendezvous with history,” said Reed Brody, counsel for Human Rights Watch. “For the first time, after 24 years, victims are getting their day in court as the abuses of the Habré government are being presented for all to hear.”

Josué Doumassem, one of the survivors of the DDS jails, described being subjected to the “arbatachar,” a torture method that involved tying all four of a prisoner's limbs behind their back to interrupt the bloodstream and quickly induce paralysis. Several women also alluded to their rape in detention.

According to Mahamat Moussa Mahamat, another survivor, the prison cells were often so full that prisoners could only sleep in turns. Clément Abaifouta, president of the victims’ association, described how he was forced to bury the bodies of deceased detainees in mass graves. “I am testifying on behalf of the dead,” he said.

This trial, which is due to conclude by the end of the month, is taking place as the Extraordinary African Chambers set up within Senegal’s justice system are completing investigations in the case against Habré, currently in jail in Dakar.