The Outreach Consortium of the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC) was in the Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, for a dialogue with the victims and a town-hall meeting in the presence of witnesses in the Hissein Habré trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC). Emotions were still high among those who participated in Dakar.
Several hundred participants, including some students and journalists, gathered in N’Djamena’s CEFOD amphitheatre at the invitation of the EAC Outreach Consortium for a video sum-up of the trial of the former Chadian president. This was an opportunity for those who have participated in the trial as witnesses to describe how they feel about it.
Robert Hissein Gambier was among those who attended the morning session. He was nicknamed by the prison staff as Sabagalmout – “the man who runs faster than death” –and was among the remarkable witnesses in the trial, especially thanks to his poignantly accurate and theatrical account of N’Djamena’s detention centres, of which he is a survivor. While he did not speak during the debate, he followed it very attentively with the assistance of his 15 year-old son, Ibrahim, and a hearing aid.
“A common link between the facts”
In the afternoon, the DDS’s “grave digger”, Clément Abaïfouta, president of the Association of Victims of the Hissein Habré Regime (AVCRHH), shared his experience about the trial in Dakar. “Twenty-five years on, I am finally in position to say that tongues have loosened. After all the testimonies, Senegalese who considered Hissein Habré as someone who wouldn’t harm a fly, came up to us with apologies, saying how bad they felt upon realising that the person they had been harbouring is a monster.”
According to Abaïfouta, there is a common link between the facts recounted by the eyewitnesses and the victims, including the ones recounted by one defence witness who, in the end, testified against Hissein Habré. “Because one cannot do otherwise”, he says. Abaïfouta then went on to describe his sense of relief. “Before my testimony, I did not sleep for two nights. I kept thinking about the things I was going to say. Afterwards, I felt a sense of relief, as though I had finally delivered the ‘child’ I had been carrying for 25 years.”
Outman Moussa, a member of the Chadian human rights league (RADHT), and a survivor of the killing of 20 fellow Hadjarai, also testified at the trial. He urged for unity among the victims’ associations. “The few who testified in Dakar defended both their own cause and that of the victims. We must support our lawyers to the bitter end.” He described what he calls “security flaws” within the EAC, saying that some witnesses have received threats from partisans of the former president.
For Ousmane Abakar Taher also, those who testified took risks and this puts their lives on the line when they return to Chad. He explained, “I am Gorane, Hissein Habré’s ethnicity. When I left for Dakar, some of my relatives asked me why I was creating divisions among Goranes. I have received physical threats. But we must look beyond this community-centric approach. The outreach ought to help everyone all over Chad understand that we are not against Habré, but rather that our testimony is against a system and against the crimes which were committed.”
“Overcome the feeling that we are all guilty”
Gilbert Maoundonodji, director of Magic, which is responsible for the EAC outreach in Chad, said, “We must overcome the feeling that we are all guilty. Simply because a leader engages in wrongdoing does not mean that his entire community is to blame. Each and every community was impacted. We must explain that under the law, it is the individual who is held responsible, and not the community.”
The participants urged the EAC Outreach Consortium to extend its mission to remote corners of Chad. Clément Abaïfouta said, “I would like to thank the Consortium for the work it’s doing in places where we cannot reach. It is not doing this for its own sake, but for what we believe. The results are there for everyone to see. When the trial is shown on TV, there is no one in the streets.” In concluding, he said, “At the end of the day, we are now writing the history of our country. No one should miss out on this!”
Franck Petit is the EAC Outreach Consortium’s communication expert.
Lead image: Hissein Habré in court in Senegal (Photo: EPA/Str)
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