Hissène Habré Trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers: October Hearings

This guest post, part of an IJ Monitor series of summaries on the Hissène Habré trial, was produced by a group of Senegalese law school graduates with the support of TrustAfrica. The views expressed below do not necessarily reflect the views of the Open Society Justice Initiative.

 The trial of former President of Chad Hissène Habré before the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC) in Dakar entered its second month of hearings in October 2015. The hearings during the month of October included extensive victim testimony as well as evidence from expert witnesses: 33 victims and expert witnesses testified during 16 hearings that month, providing evidence about the crimes Habré allegedly committed during his time in power.

In early October, the trial of former the Chadian president entered a new phase with judges examining evidence of the alleged repression perpetrated against the Hadjaraï community (see here and here) and the results of excavations at suspected mass grave sites in Deli, Koumra, and Gadjira by an Argentinian team of forensic, anthropology, and ballistics experts (see here and here). The chamber also heard testimony from several witnesses of the alleged repression perpetrated against civilians and military officers from Southern Chad. Also noteworthy was the appearance of Omar Déby Itno, brother of the current President of Chad, Idriss Déby Itno, who testified about the brutalities perpetrated against the Zhagawa ethnic group under Habré’s regime. In mid-October, the EAC addressed the torture and crimes allegedly committed in detention centers during the Habré regime. The chamber heard testimony from nurses who worked at the detention centers as well as a group of four women who were taken to a detention center in Northern Chad.

Testimony on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence before the EAC

The chamber heard important testimony about sexual and gender-based violence allegedly committed by Habré, even though he is not charged specifically with these crimes. Four women, part of a group of nine taken to the Ouadi Doum military camp in Northern Chad, testified that they experienced sexual abuse and sexual savery during their time at the detention center. All four women testified that upon arrest, they were taken to the desert of Ouadi Doum where they were forced to serve as “sex slaves” to military officers.

On October 19 and 20, Hadija Hassan Zidane, known as “Red,” recounted the circumstances of her arrest and arrival at Farcha, the presidential residence, where she was held captive for 15 days. Released and then arrested again, she was taken to the prison at the presidential residence where she spent three and a half months. Zidane told the court that during her stay in these detention centers, President Habré raped her on four separate occasions.

“The first two times I tried in vain to fight back. The third time, I had no strength because I had just been tortured. The fourth time, he stabbed me with a pen in my genitals,” she said.

The witness said she was deported to Ouadi Doum with eight other women. Their role, she explained, was to take care of the soldiers’ laundry during the day and to serve as prostitutes at night.

Kaltouma Defala, a former flight attendant for Air Afrique who was also detained at Ouadi Doum for one year, declared that she too had been raped. According to Defala, the soldiers selected two women each night, forcing them to perform sexual acts. Defala intimated that the abuse lasted for a year, and that the commanding officer made them take pills before being raped, “probably contraceptives,” she said.

The last two witnesses of the group from Ouadi Doum, Hawa Brahim and Haje Merami Ali, were very reluctant to give open testimony before the court and provide details relating to sexual violence. Barhim, for example, requested permission to give private testimony, explaining that “she did not want her children to learn about the atrocities she had suffered on television” knowing that trial proceedings are broadcast live in Chad. The court, however, denied the application. Similarly, Ali told the court that “at Ouadi Doum, they made us do things that I cannot describe here because I have children, grand-children, and a family in-law.”

Another woman, Fatimé Sakine, who was not a member of the group detained at Ouadi Doum, reported having been raped at the Locaux prison. “Every night, I was called into Saleh Younouss’ office, where he abused me,” she revealed. She said that the regularity of this practice earned her the nickname Ms. Saleh Younouss.

Despite these harrowing testimonies, sex crimes were not included in the indictment of the investigative chamber. Rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced sterilization, and any other forms of sexual violence of comparable gravity are only referenced as elements of crimes against humanity over which the EAC has jurisdiction. Citing a lack of sufficient evidence, the investigative chamber did not include sexual and gender-based crimes as separate charges.

This gap in the charges has not gone unnoticed, however. The legal counsel for civil parties has filed an application detailing their reservations about the modes of liability retained in the charges against Habré and his co-accused.

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