Trial of Hissène Habré before the Extraordinary African Chambers: September 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 assistance of  TrustAfrica. The views expressed below do not necessarily reflect the views of the Open Society Justice Initiative.

 The trial of former Chadian President Hissène Habré opened in Dakar on July 20, 2015 before the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC). Habré is being prosecuted, after a 19-month investigation, for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and torture allegedly committed in Chad from June 7, 1982 to December 1, 1990.

However, there was an immediate delay to the start of trial hearings. Habré had asked his lawyers not to attend the trial and the court had to assign Habré defense lawyers. The trial was suspended for 45 days to allow the court-appointed lawyers time to familiarize themselves with the case. The decision to appoint defense lawyers was supported by the civil parties representing the victims in a September 4, 2015 brief. Hearings resumed on September 7, 2015.

The hearings held in September, including the testimony of the first witnesses and experts appointed by the EAC, were marked by the forced appearance of the accused, the disturbance caused by a young supporter of the accused, and testimony from a former agent of the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS), a key directorate in Habré’s government that was mentioned in his indictment.

Forced Appearance of the Accused before the Court

At the beginning of the hearing on Monday, September 7, 2015, the presiding judge, Gustave Kam, noted the absence of the accused. Judge Kam was informed that Habré refused to appear before the chamber, but was being held in the court’s cellar. After hearing the opinion of the parties, the presiding judge followed the procedure and―pursuant to Articles 298, 299, 300 and 301 of the Senegalese Code of Criminal Procedure, which applies when the statute of the EAC is silent on an issue―ordered Habré to be brought before the court by force.

When brought into the courtroom by the gendarmes, some of his supporters, who had come to attend the trial, attacked the gendarmes and other security forces. This disturbed the hearing and led to some of these people being forced out of the room.

Disorder Caused by a Supporter of the Accused

A similar confrontation happened during the testimony of Mahamat Hasssan Abakar, chairman of the Chadian National Inquiry Commission on September 16, 2015.

When Abakar was speaking to the court, a young man stood up and called him a “liar.” When the judge ordered that he be removed from the courtroom, the young man continued to shout, saying: “We don’t care what you say, bring evidence!”

The prosecutor general then took the floor and asked Judge Kam to try the man for disturbing the proceedings, as provided for in Article 278 of the Senegalese Code of Criminal Procedure. A mini-trial then commenced inside the Habré hearings. Lawyer Mohamad Togoyi, a Chadian national aged 29 and a student at Dakar’s Cheikh Anta Diop University, declared that he wanted to represent the man accused of disturbing the proceedings. The prosecutor argued that the offense was premeditated and recidivist, because, according to the prosecutor, he was one of those who caused the September 7 disturbance. The prosecutor requested the man be sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. Togoyi, his lawyer, asked the court to show mercy on him. The judge found him guilty and sentenced him to five months in prison. Once this ad hoc case was closed, the trial resumed its normal course and remained undisturbed throughout the various hearings held in September.

Testimony of a Former DDS Agent

Among the witnesses heard by the EAC in September was a former DDS agent who was not among those prosecuted by the EAC. He testified as a witness, although he was arrested and imprisoned in 1987.

Bandjim Bandoum, who was heard by the court on September 22 and September 23, 2015, declared that he was assigned to the DDS in May 1985 as deputy head of department, then as head of the Security Department, and finally as head of the Operations Department. The witness said that all the three decrees that appointed him to his various positions were signed by President Habré and not by the minister of interior.

The witness also testified about the repressive system that was put in place. He declared that torture was systematic and that the arrests whose minutes he wrote himself were mainly politically motivated. He stated further that Habré’s political party (UNIR) was involved in collecting information on alleged opponents to the regime through one of its bodies, the Food Security Commissioner.

Other witnesses heard during the first month of hearings shed light on the context of the Habré regime. They included Patrick Ball from the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, who testified about the high mortality rates in Chadian prisons during Habré’s reign; a handwriting expert who looked at documents allegedly written by Habré; and Danile Fransen, a Belgian judge who oversaw a four-year Belgian investigation and issuance of an arrest warrant against Habré. These experts set the stage for testimony from a series of Habré’s alleged victims.

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