Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission hearings | 10 September 2019
First witnesses in Chang-Him shooting take stand
Two witnesses in the shooting of Davidson Chang-Him on June 5, 1977, the day of the coup d’Etat, took the stand yesterday to recount what they know of the tragic death.
The two witnesses to testify in the case – Dr Maxime Ferrari and Georges Lefevre – were the first to appear before the Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission (TRNUC) which started to hear both witnesses and suspects in a first series of hearings which would go on until September 17.
Dr Ferrari was the Minister of Economic Planning and Foreign Affairs under the administration of late former President France Albert Rene, the then Prime Minister who allegedly led the coup against late former President James Mancham.
Dr Ferrari expressed remorse for his role in the coup and to the family of Mr Chang-Him, a vocal Seychelles Democratic Party supporter, who was shot in front of the Central Police Station on that tragic afternoon.
Dr Ferrari recounted the events of the tragic afternoon saying he was at the office of the Commissioner of Police in the Central Police Station on the said afternoon, when he and Mr Rene who was also present, heard the sound of a gunshot coming from outside. According to his account of events, he proceeded to go down the stairs, unaccompanied by Mr Rene, and outside in front of the station, where Mr Chang-Him, who had been shot, was staggering.
Dr Ferrari continued to state that he shouted for others on the scene to call an ambulance but that he failed to help Mr Chang-Him on account that he had never been confronted with a bullet wound in his prior experience as a doctor and that he was fearful and uneasy. Still on the scene of the incident, Dr Ferrari referred to a man, unknown to him and who he had never encountered since that day, who according to him was shouting at the scene “D’Offay has shot Son Chang-Him”, D’Offay referring to Phillip D’Offay.
According to his account of events, an ambulance arrived on the scene within five minutes but Mr Chang-Him sadly passed away on the way to the hospital.
Following his account of events of that afternoon, the commission proceeded to question Dr Ferrari referring to witness statements about his involvement in the coup, the incident and other matters relating to Mr Rene’s administration.
Frequently reciting quotes from a book entitled ‘Sunshine and Shadows’, Dr Ferrari admitted that he had no knowledge of whether Mr Chang-Him, who he refers to in the book as one of the three martyrs of the coup, had been shot in his back or chest, and that he was informed by Mr Rene that D’Offay had shot Chang-Him in self-defence.
In response to whether he had any knowledge of Mr Chang-Him’s son having been arrested the same day, with the motive to lure him to the police station, Dr Ferrari stated that he was only made aware fairly recently.
Dr Ferrari also denied administering drugs and injections, alleged to stimulate animalistic characteristics in the men involved in carrying out the coup.
Asked why the Chang-Him family was being targeted, based on a statement issued to the commission by the brother of Mr Chang-Him, Archbishop French Chang-Him who recalled petrol being poured outside their family house, Dr Ferrari stated that he had no knowledge of the reasons.
“After the coup d’Etat, there were three people in Seychelles who knew what was happening, Mr Rene, Mr Michel and Mr Berlouis. I was the doctor, Minister of Planning and I was doing my job, and I asked no questions, which is very bad. I was doing my job very faithfully, and I expected my other colleagues to also be doing their jobs faithfully.”
“But all these secrets about military affairs and police affairs were hidden away from me and when something obvious happened, and I asked a question as to what had happened, I would be told a lie,” Dr Ferrari stated.
He continued on to state that Mr Rene later informed him of two other murders in L’Exile, and that the army carried out the act. It was on that day that he said he resigned from his job at midday, hurried home and left the country that very evening at 8pm with nobody aware of his plans on June 15, 1984. On that same morning, Dr Ferrari recalled that upon entering the D’Offay Ward for his routine morning check-up, he came across a bed concealed entirely by a curtain, which upon opening, he saw a man heavily bandaged who informed him that he was a taxi driver, and the two men killed by soldiers were his passengers. The taxi driver had survived the incident after being pushed in a ditch and was transported to hospital by an unnamed individual.
Dr Ferrari spoke lengthily about the truth not being divulged to him by Mr Rene and his surrounding associates including Mr Rene’s successor, former President James Michel, adding that Mr Michel and others can shed light on many of the questions on the matter and that his account would make a positive contribution to the case.
He noted however that he is not in contact with former President James Michel since he left the country after betraying the government and leaving hastily.
The chairperson of the commission, Gabrielle Louise MacIntyre has meanwhile launched an appeal to former President Michel to come forward and provide the commission with information, stating that “the people expect him to come forward”. She said the commission had approached Mr Michel on two previous occasions with no positive response on both occasions.
Asked about a statement made in his written account issued to the commission asking for the people’s forgiveness, Dr Ferrari, claimed responsibility for playing a role within the government, for seven years, responsible for such acts and expressed his apologies to the family of Mr Chang-Him.
He offered to help in future matters where information may be needed from him before being dismissed by the commission.
Georges Lefevre gives his account
The second witness in the case, Georges Lefevre appeared before the commission during the afternoon session.
Mr Lefevre had issued a written statement to the commission regarding matters that were told to him with respect to the coup d’Etat. An emotional Mr Lefevre recounted his account of the coup stating that around 6am where one of his workers, Raoul Albert arrived at his house and informed him that there was a coup and that Mr Rene had taken over the country and that he was to deliver guns to Mr Rene, in Mr Lefevre’s pick-up.
As per his account, at around 11am, a Land Rover entered his property and it was packed with people including Phillip D’Offay, a guy called Jamaican and Dr Ferrari’s son, Jean-François Ferrari in the back, armed with a gun. Mr Lefevre stated that he was later informed that they had gone to Mr Chang-Him’s house looking for him and that he was informed later that day that Chang-Him had been killed near the police station.
An emotional Mr Lefevre continued to state that a few weeks later, when his employee Amede Bonnelame came to work, on a project on which they were working at Intendance, he informed him of an incident whereby former President Michel picked him up along with six other passengers and enquired where he could purchase a specific type of rope and they made their way to L’Exile. Mr Bonnelame apparently continued to state that they were informed by Mr Rene that if they were to not take part in the coup, they would have to stay at L’Exile for the night but that Dr Ferrari then administered the injections, allegedly to stimulate animal-like characteristics in them.
On the day of the coup, they descended to town around midnight and Mr Bonnelame had been instructed to tie individuals found around town to the clock tower. According to Mr Lefevre, Mr Bonnelame also told him about stumbling upon the incident at the Central Police Station where at around 3pm, he found D’Offay and Mr Chang-Him arguing, and that Dr Ferrari, had witnessed the incident from the stairway of the police station. He alleged that Mr Chang-Him had been shot from the back and the bullet pierced his chest before grazing the car door of Dr Ferrari.
Mr Lefevre also recounted two instances where he was arrested and former President Rene denying any knowledge of his arrest and being advised to leave the country by James Pillay. It was at that point that he decided to leave Seychelles to live in exile in America.
“A lot of Seychellois was hurt, leaving this island, and I know, I don’t care what anybody says. I am only telling the truth. I am 72 years old, I lost the best part of my life from this country…I lost my life, I lost my business, I lost my dignity,” a tearful Mr Lefevre expressed.
He continued on to express that he lost a business and thanked the commission for the chance to tell the truth about his experience.
It is understood that Mr Lefevre has himself also filed a personal case to be heard later by the commission.
The case will continue with a closed hearing in which the family members of Mr Chang-Him will appear before the commission today before Bishop Chang-Him takes to the stand at 1pm.
Evidence collected by the commission is not admissible in any court of law except in matters of perjury and rather than seek for retribution, the commission’s objective is to establish the truth. Perpetrators of violations are granted amnesty under the commission’s parent Act if the commission is satisfied that they claim responsibility for their actions and express sincere apologies for the violations.