Are the Extraordinary African Chambers soft on Habré?
By Franck Petit
The Outreach Consortium of the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC) recently carried a tour of Chad to discuss the trial of the former Chadian president, Hissein Habré. It visited various towns, including Bongor in the south of the country, for meetings with civil society and a public debate. Victims and representatives of civil society organisations came in large numbers to attend the event at the cultural centre [CLAC] in Bongor.
Hélène Morvan, who is now standing in for Hugo Jombwe as the coordinator of the EAC Outreach team, introduced the public to the video footage of the first two weeks of the trial. “When we see those pictures, we are confident that we have won the case,” remarked one contributor, Fadel, who heads a local association of unemployed graduates.
“Why is the EAC so soft on him?”
But Hissein Habré’s silence, as highlighted by the next contributor, Abdoulaye, is still a big concern in Bongor. He remarked, “why are they allowing this to happen?” Déosilas, of the Chadian human rights league, pointed out that watching the way the accused conducts himself in court – “being carried around like a hero” and refusing to speak despite the court’s orders – one gets the impression that he receives “above-the-law” treatment, and moreover, “why is the court so soft on him?”
Hélène Morvan explained that, indeed, Hissein Habré refused to participate in his trial from the outset, adding that, even so, he does attend the trial and is given no choice but to sit in the front of the courtroom each morning. She observed that for someone who is a former president, it is not exactly glorifying to be carried around, adding that for the many victims who travelled to Dakar, it was a big victory to see him being forcibly brought to his trial.
Necka Soua, a journalist with Radio Terre Nouvelle in Bongor, was invited to share his thoughts on what he has observed at the Habré trial, which he has covered several times. He was in Dakar on 20 October 2015, when Kadidja Hassan Zidane, a.k.a. La Rouge, testified that she was raped by Hissein Habré. She brought to court a photo of herself, dating back to the relevant period so as to make sure that the accused recognised her. Necka Soua said, “He was clearly embarrassed, judging from the way he kept swinging his feet back and forth, looking the other way and adjusting his turban.”
“It is him”
There is seems to be lingering doubt about the identity of the man with a turban. Franck Petit, the EAC Outreach Consortium’s communication expert explained, “The EAC placed Hissein Habré in pre-trial custody in July 2013, and, already at that time, the Senegalese police performed all of the requisite identification verifications. Besides, do you think his supporters would come if it was another person? There is absolutely no doubt about the fact that it is him.”
In the afternoon, the outreach team went to Lycée Jacques Moudeina for a video screening. The amphitheatre was filled to capacity with students, who asked a whole host of questions regarding, for example, Hissein’s responsibility for the crimes committed in Chad during his regime, the type of sentences he faces, why the current president of Chad has not been charged by the EAC, why Senegal and Belgium were competing for jurisdiction over him.
The outreach team ended the day with a live show on Radio Terre Nouvelle, a very popular local radio station. Listeners were invited to call in with questions about the Habré trial.
Drawing by Emanuele del Rosso/Justice Hub
Franck Petit is the EAC Outreach Consortium's communication expert.