Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission meets for eighth day of hearings | 19 September 2019
The Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission (TRNUC) yesterday continued hearing testimonies relating to human rights allegations during the 1977 coup d’état and following years in its eight day of hearings.
Case #4 Patrick Walter Tirant: Former principal secretary Jean-Claude D’Offay called back before the commission
Jean-Claude D’Offay, former principal secretary for housing, was called again yesterday to answer to questions pertaining to the case of Patrick Tirant, who had made his case before the TRNUC on Tuesday in closed session.
The commission heard evidence that when Mr Tirant advised the Seychelles Housing Development Corporation (SHDC) he was selling his property, he was told that he will not have to issue any further payments.
Mr D’Offay noted that this would be a strange occurrence because it was customary for mortgages to be paid up until the property is sold.
“They will not give you that benefit,” adding that if Mr Tirant had not been paying his mortgage, he would have received notification of arrears.
“They should have sent him an arrears notification and they should have prepared a case to go to court as well,” Mr D’Offay said.
According to the chairperson of the commission Gabrielle McIntyre, Mr Tirant said he originally borrowed R93,000 from the SHDC to buy his property but after five years decided to sell back the land to SHDC.
But he said his property was sold for half its worth at R120,000 and he received nothing from the disproportionate sale.
“Like I said last time, I was in the ministry and loans were on the other side but it would have been properly checked because usually they had to send it to the PS who was George Payet at the time, if I remember correctly, and sent to the minister for approval. The GM [general manager of SHDC] couldn’t do anything to give a rebate or whatever it is.
Case #1 Shooting of Davidson Chang-Him: Former police officer Winsley Joubert comes forward after his name was mentioned by previous witness
Following Mr D’Offay, Winsley Joubert, a witness who had voluntarily come forward to give the commission evidence, took to the stand.
Mr Joubert was mentioned in the testimony of Solano Savy who provided the commission with evidence pertaining to Case #1 which seeks to establish the circumstances around the shooting and killing of Davidson Chang-Him on June 5, 1977.
Mr Joubert, a member of the police force at the time, commenced his account before the commission by addressing the statement made by Mr Savy during the commission’s previous hearings confirming that he was indeed tied up at the Mont Fleuri barracks on the night of June 4, as the Coup was in full swing.
He recounted that on the particular day, he was attending a ball at a club in Rochons and around 11.45pm he left in order to get enough sleep for his duties the following day, where he was expected to relieve his other colleagues at 8am. Upon arriving back to the barracks at Mont Fleuri, he heard noises in the bushes but couldn’t see anyone. In the barracks were Berard Jeannie and another officer by the name of Roucou. Mr Joubert recounted that he nonetheless returned to his barracks, where his colleague, Ackson Fred, was also present.
“Around 1am, I heard a gunshot, but not like that of a SLR which we were used to using. It was followed by rapid fire straight after so I told Ackson ‘we are being attacked’. I told him to crawl to the bathroom. I didn’t see when he left but when I opened to door to get out, two people pointed their guns at me in camouflaged clothing and they instructed me to go down and escorted me.”
“Another one of them joined us slightly further down and when we reached the staircase leading to the first floor, there was a person lying down in the stairway and gasping for breath. They instructed me to step over him and upon reaching below, we were confronted by two others, who kicked me in the back of my knees. I fell and they kept pushing me down, and pressing me down with their shoes and tied my hands behind my back and my feet. They dragged me on the floor and threw me to the wall,” Mr Joubert stated.
He noted that at that point, his colleague Mr Fred, had also been tied up. Allegedly, when Mr Fred questioned the armed men as to what is happening, they hit him repeatedly until another one grabbed a metal bar, and struck him in the head, missing him the first time, but hitting him the second time. The armed men proceeded to patrol the barracks in search of other officers.
Recalling the person in the staircase whom they encountered on the way down, Mr Joubert suggested that he was shot, although he remarked that he had not witnessed the shooting and that from where he was tied up below the staircase, blood from the said person was dripping on him below. Mr Joubert noted that he had also suffered some minor injuries from being dragged across the tarmac outside.
Mr Joubert recalled that at that point he was praying to God to save his life and at that point he tried to restrict his breathing and ‘play dead’. According to Mr Joubert, he was hit with the barrels of the gun numerous times and kicked in the head but he remained still.
A vehicle then approached, and the men, who had finally succeeded in breaking the door to the armoury, loaded the weapons into it. Before leaving in the vehicle, one of the men allegedly asked Mr Fred for the keys to the Land Rover (used by the police) to which he answered that he didn’t know as he was new on the force. Another of the men who attacked the barracks, then suggested that Mr Joubert was the one who was aware of the whereabouts of the keys but that unfortunately he was dead. After failing to find the keys to the Land Rover, they shot at it numerous times but luckily it did not explode.
He suggested that one of the men implied that two officers had been killed by them but he was unaware who the other officer was. The men apparently celebrated by shouting, chanting and firing shots in the air as they walked away from the barracks. At this point, Mr Joubert proposed to the commission that the weapons used that particular evening were a “Kalashnikova”, commonly known as AK-47.
Mr Joubert continued his account by stating that he was able to break free from his restraints and free his colleague Mr Fred, who had been shot, where they crawled to the gate of the barracks and ran to a fellow officer, identified as ‘Leon’ who allegedly turned them away.
Mr Joubert continued to state that they witnessed a white car driving past as they tried to escape the barracks with guns pointing from the windows. The officers received help from a nearby neighbour where they remained for the night until the early hours of the morning, when Mr Joubert recalls that there were announcements on the radio of the Coup and calling for all officers to report to their respective stations.
Regardless, Mr Joubert, along with the other officers decided to report to the station and Mr Joubert recalls making the same route to the Mont Fleuri station. He remembers seeing Superintendent Isnard at the station who instructed him to get dressed. At that point, Mr Joubert was informed by his colleagues that Berard Jeannie had died.
“I saw his head turned to the left side and was placed on his desk as if he had assumed a sleeping position. Beside him was a bowl of potatoes or sweet potatoes and he had vomited whatever he had been eating on the table. To the back of the wall, I saw where the bullet hit and debris from his head, as you know, gunshots have small entrance wounds and large exit wounds and on the floor was some blood,” Mr Joubert stated, adding that the situation saddened him since Mr Jeannie was a good colleague of his and a person dedicated to his job.
Mr Joubert noted that he and some colleagues were later called to the Central Police Station and around 2pm, he was deployed, unarmed, to the quay where he recalls witnessing a man dressed in camouflage around 5pm in a car who said to him “You resemble the one who had died”. Mr Joubert recalls seeing the barrel of a gun and a revolver in the car before the man threatened to shoot him if he spoke. At that point, Mr Joubert backed away and confirmed that he did not report the incident due to fear.
Mr Joubert reiterated to the commission how uneasy he felt to stay in the barracks following the incident and that he moved in with a neighbour until he was posted to work on one of Mr Rene’s properties where he was once again threatened for playing dead.
Mr Joubert further stated that he had not witnessed any shootings, neither that of Jeannie or Chang-Him and stated that the “violent” experience has been traumatising for him.
As with previous witnesses in the matter, the commission was interested to know whether the men who carried out the attack at the barracks, presumably the same men who participated in the Coup appeared to be under the influence of substances but Mr Joubert stated that he had no knowledge of such.
Mr Joubert concluded his testimony by noting the impact of the experience on his personal life but made it clear that he holds no grudges against anyone and that he is willing to forgive the perpetrators for the actions, although he acknowledged that he cannot simply forget the experience.
The commission commended Mr Joubert on his attitude and thanked him for his simple yet clear evidence deeming him as an “honourable man”.
Case #6 Paul Michaud: Commission calls on Patrick Lablache for more specific evidence pertaining to the land acquisition complaint
Following a closed session in which Guy Monthy provided the commission with evidence, Patrick Lablache was once again called upon to shed more light on the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of land belonging to the Michaud family. Paul Michaud, during his complaint, alleged that the land was acquired unlawfully and that his mother was under duress, after being given 7 days to sign over the property otherwise have her son expelled from the United Kingdom (UK) where he had completed his studies after being offered a British Council Scholarship.
It must be noted that a witness, Maryse Berlouis, an officer with the Ministry of Education who appeared before the commission earlier this week, suggested that the correct procedure had been followed and that Mrs Michaud was unable at the time to pay the stated bond value of R180,000.
In yesterday’s session, Mr Lablache, an official at the Lands Department at the time, presented the commission with the file containing documents from the case in which he explained a letter by Mrs Michaud, dated May 24, 1998, in which she proposed the exchange of the house at Mont Fleuri, in settlement for the bond.
He also presented a letter from Mrs Berlouis, who wrote to the ministry in charge of lands in which she referred to Mrs Michaud’s letter and reiterated her proposal for the exchange of the house to cover the bond expenditures for her son Roland.
Mr Lablache also presented the commission with the acquisition notice for the house as provided for under the Lands Acquisition Act. He made mention of some correspondence contained in the file valuing the property under dispute at R140,000 in 1986. The acquisition happened in 1988 according to him. He justified the government’s interest in the property prior to the bond issue for the construction of a health centre to serve the Mont Fleuri district but the idea was dropped on account of parking constraints.
In response to allegations that Mrs Michaud signed over the property under duress even after being prepared to pay off the value of the bond, Mr Lablache made reference to the letter by then Minister James Michel who advised that repayment of R1500 per month for a period of 10 years is too long a period.
Mr Lablache further stated that the land had not been mortgaged at the time, presenting the commission with a claim for compensation, submitted by the heirs of Mr Michaud, including Mrs Michaud for R180,051.36. The compensation claim dated September 1, 1988, allegedly includes a note by Mrs Michaud in which she makes reference to the exchange as compensation for the bond value.
A letter of an agreement dated 1990 was also presented to the commission. The letter appears to not have been signed by Mrs Michaud but Mr Lablache notes that that was the last they heard of the matter and therefore considered it settled.
Asked why Mrs Michaud did not simply transfer the land over to the government as opposed to issuing a land acquisition order, Mr Lablache noted that he was unclear and that she may not have had the legal standing to make the transfer.
The commission heard evidence from Flavia Contoret during another closed session in the afternoon.
It will resume this morning with evidence from Case #1 with witness Leopold Payet taking to the stand and evidence from Paul Chow pertaining to Case #17.