Hissène Habré Trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers: November 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.

Three months since its reopening on September 7, 2015, the trial of former Chadian President Hissène Habré continues before the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC) in Dakar. Between September and October, 31 hearings were held, and 53 witness and victim depositions were heard.

During the month of November, the judges heard 25 witnesses and victims over the course of 12 hearings. Notably, one of the witnesses was not allowed to complete his testimony, having demonstrated a lack of mental capacity.

While the month of September was characterized by turbulence related to the forced appearance of the accused, the month of October was marked by the testimonies of nine women who gave first-hand accounts of sexual violence.

The November hearings provided the opportunity for judges delve into the repression of villages in Southern Chad (see hearings of November 10, 12, 16, 25 and 30) including the massacre at the Deli farm. Depositions heard during the month of November also addressed the targeted abuse of foreigners and the repression of political opponents through torture and inhumane acts.

Witnesses Address the Repression of Political Opponents

 In the context of the repression of political opponents, the first witness heard was Clement Abaifouta, president of the Association of Victims of Crimes of the Hissène Habré Regime (AVCRHH). Abaifouta declared that he was arrested July 12, 1985 in Ndjamena, in the home of Facho Balaam, his paternal uncle (the latter’s testimony was heard on September 10, 2015).

Faustin Facho Balaam was a leading opposition figure at the time, having served as both the president of the National Democratic Union (UND) of Chad and former secretary general of the Government of Chad’s National Union (GUNT), a coalition of opposition parties. Given the extensive repression of political dissent under Habre’s regime, opposition parties had established bases in nearby countries where it was safer and easier to conduct their activities. These regional safe havens included Cotonou, Benin and Marou, Cameroon.

“At first, they told me they just wanted to ask me some questions,” revealed the witness. He testified that he was loaded into a pick-up truck and transported to the Documentation and Security Directorate, the notorious political police under Habré’s regime, and submitted to an extensive interrogation, including being asked “Why do you want to join the rebellion?” The witness said he tried to explain that he had obtained a scholarship from the UND to study sociology in Germany. To be able to benefit from the scholarship, he had to travel to Benin to complete certain formalities of his application.

Abaifouta claimed that officers―apparently not satisfied with this response―detained him at the DDS for two weeks. “It was a cell of 2 meters by 3; we were 10 people lying on the floor at the mercy of mosquitoes. An empty can of paint served as our common toilet. A week later, we went from 10 to 50 detainees,” stated the witness. Regarding the food served at the detention center, Abaifouta said, “It was my first shock at the DDS. We were served white rice blackened by the rust at the bottom of the cooking pot. Even my dog ​​would not eat it.”

Abaifouta told the court that he was later transferred to the notorious prison “Les Locaux” where he spent the rest of his detention—a total of 4 years. Throughout his imprisonment, he said he performed various tasks including cooking and laundry for other detainees and soldiers as well as serving as a gravedigger. The witness explained that there were a total of five gravediggers responsible for removing corpses from prison cells and placing them in empty sacks of rice. According to Abaifouta, there were between eight and ten corpses per day.

“When I was a gravedigger, all the bodies were buried in Amral Goz” he added. “The plain of the dead exists, it is real. That’s where I buried the dead and that no one can remove those memories from my mind.” Abaifouta also claimed to have witnessed women being raped in detention. He reported the following, “Adoum, who remained at the prison every night, took Clementine into the corner and raped her.”

In the same context of repression of political opponents, the court heard the testimony of the widow of Djamouss Hassan, a former aide to President Habré. On April 1, 1989, during a trip to Paris, she learned of her husband’s flight from Chad, in the company of Idriss Déby (current president of Chad who ousted Habré in a coup in 1990). Asked about the reasons for her husband’s flight, she stated, “The arrest of his military entourage and Zaghawa without his prior consultation, led him to revolt and flee. Habré drove him to revolt.” (Both Idriss Deby and Djamouss Hassan are members of the Zaghawa ethnic group which was systematically repressed under the Habré regime.) She also stated that contrary to popular claims, her husband and his companions were not planning a coup on the night of April 1st, 1989. “If they fled, it was because they heard rumors that President Habré was going to have them arrested.”

Djamouss later learned that her husband had been arrested and on April 25, 1989, she said, she was informed that her husband had been executed. She testified that upon her return to Chad on December 2, 1990, her family told her that they had “moved heaven and earth to find her husband, but had found no trace of him at the DDS or in prison or elsewhere.” According to the witness, Djamouss was unable to find any more details on her husband’s whereabouts. At the end of her testimony, the witness stated that she was convinced of the death of her husband and only wanted to know the place where he was buried so that she could “pay her respects, accept his death, and grieve.”

At the hearing on November 17, 2015, another witness spoke out against the crackdown on political opponents. Dr. Ngawara Nahor, member of the Movement for National Salvation of Chad (MOSSANAT) participated in the drafting of leaflets against the regime of Habré. He testified that he was arrested and threatened by a DDS officer for his alleged links with Haroun Godi, whose husband was considered a traitor by the regime.

The witness also discussed the circumstances of the death of Idriss Miskine, former number two of the Northern Command of the Armed Forces Council (COCOFAN) and the Habré regime. Idriss Miskine’s relations with the Habré regime soured because of discreet contacts that Miskine was alleged to have maintained with a representative of an Arab political group, the Revolutionary Democratic Council.

Having been at the bedside of Idriss Miskine, Dr. Ngawara confirmed that he had been contacted January 4, 1987 to provide urgent medical care at his home. On the night of January 5, 1987, he said, he went to Miskine’s home and found him lying inert on a mat on the floor. The witness said that Miskine’s wife told him that a friend of her husband had made him drink a potion. Questioned about the false medical certificate that he had issued and his refusal to perform an autopsy, the witness stated: “At the time, I could not produce a medical certificate. The autopsy was also not possible in Chad and I was very afraid because of the repression. Although I had no evidence, in my opinion, Miskine was probably poisoned. But at the time, those that publicly expressed views contrary to those of the regime were punished and therefore, saying that Idriss had been poisoned was to expose oneself.”

Finally, Souleymane Guengueng was heard during the hearings on November 18 and 19, 2015. A former accountant to the Lake Chad Basin Commission, he testified that he was arrested in Ndjamena in August 1988 on suspicion of arms trafficking for opponents and links with Facho Balaam. Led initially to the DDS, where he said he was assaulted by an officer, he said he was then transferred to the Camp des Martyrs prison, and finally to the local gendarmerie. Turning to the conditions of his detention, Guengueng said, “we were eight inmates in cell number 9 of the Camp des Martys which was 2.48 square meters; it was a real can of sardines. At the police station, we were locked in a cell with over our heads the bright light of a constantly lit bulb that burned our skin. Our skins stood out and became similar to the lizards.” The witness was finally released in 1990 after the fall of the Habré regime.

Guengueng explained that he held Habré responsible for everything that had happened to him and believed that the latter was aware of his detention. He claimed to have had this information confirmed through a cousin, who worked as a pilot for Habré, who told him that his name was highlighted in red on a sheet of paper at the presidential residence.

Ultimately, with all the testimonies heard by the EAC in November, the judges made further progress in their quest for truth about the violations that took place during the Habré regime. The trial is slated to end in mid-December following the testimony of remaining witnesses and closing statements by the prosecutor, defense lawyers, and civil parties.

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