"I feel so light," says victim after first convictions of Habré political police agents
The court room was packed this morning at the Palais du 15 janvier to hear the verdict in the case of the former agents of Chadian dictator Hissène Habré's feared political police: the Directorate of Documentation and Security (DDS). Anti-riot police were posted all around the room to separate the hundreds of victims and the families of the accused present.
After more then 20 years of waiting for the victims, it took only 30 minutes for the president to read the verdict. You could hear a pin drop in the packed courtroom as all accused rose to hear their fate, their backs to the public gallery.
In all, 20 suspects were convicted. Five of the top suspects were given a sentence of “hard labour” for life, in fact a normal life sentence because inmates are not required to do physical work. Among the five given a life sentence were Saleh Younouss, first director of the DDS, and Mahamat Djibrine also known as 'El Djonto', an ex-DDS coordinator. Two others were convicted to life 'in absentia' and the court also issued arrest warrants in their cases.
The remaining convicted were given sentences ranging from five years to 20 years of hard labour and imprisonment.
While prosecutor had sought six acquittals because there was not enough evidence, the court only allowed three people to go free and enjoy the “benefit of the doubt”. Among them Toke Dady who was the last director of the DDS during the final three months of the Habré regime.
Victims and their lawyers couldn’t hide their joy at the verdict. “I feel so light, it’s like a burden has been lifted from my shoulders,” said Fatimeh, who declared she is now ready to go to Dakar to testify against Habré in the case against him before the EAC [IJT176] .
The court also ruled that 75 billion CFA Francs (some 114 million euros) should be paid in damages to compensate the 7,000 registered victims and not only the civil parties who were engaged in the trial. The Chadian state will have to pay half of the sum and the accused the half, the court ruled. The judges confiscated the real estate and personal assets of the convicts and removed them from their public positions and stripped them of any decorations – some were generals.
In addition to individual damages to be paid, the court also ordered that a memorial be built during the next 12 months on the site of La plaine des morts, the field of the dead: a mass gravesite near N’Djamena. The former headquarters of the DDS, now within the gates of the presidential palace, must become a museum, they said.
Some of the defence lawyers were combative in the face of defeat and while officially there is no right of appeal against Wednesday's verdict they said they would launch an appeal to the Court of Cassation, which can rule only on the interpretation of the law. “We lost a battle but not the war,” Sobdibé Zoua, the lawyer for Djibrine, told IJT.