Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission (TRNUC) hearing | 24 November 2020
Legal expert, two complainants before commission
The Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission yesterday during its 129th hearing heard from three individuals, namely legal expert Philippe Boulle and two complainants ‒ Paulina Michel and Antoine Banane.
Legal expert Philippe Boulle
Philippe Boulle appeared before the commission as an expert in legal and Constitutional matters.
He highlighted that while the Constitution imparts certain rights to individuals, it is the law that either acts as a restriction or limitation or as mechanisms enabling citizens to exercise a constitutional right, going further to note that in some instances, it is left up to the courts to decide if the law does indeed violate the Constitution, citing the Constitutional Court decision in 2015 which declared as “unconstitutional” certain provisions of the Public Order Act (POA) 2013.
Outlining legal principles and the operation of the law, Mr Boulle elaborated further to unravel the legal notions of precedence, compensation, damages and restitution, among others.
In response to the commission’s queries about laws which were in existence and enforced during the one-party era, such as the Presidential detention and land acquisition orders common in the years subsequent to the coup d’Etat up to the inception of the second Constitution, Mr Boulle clarified that the country’s first Constitution, which existed and applied to the Colonial era was applicable and enforceable up to 1983, despite the government in power at the time claiming to have abolished the first Constitution with the 1977 Coup d’Etat.
He further went on to state that the second Constitution appears to have been conceived in a rush, and failed to make certain important provisions which other Constitutions have accounted for. In fact, he said, Seychelles is the only Commonwealth country which allows for an individual to remain in custody (remand) while investigations are pending.
The commission called Mr Boulle as it sets out to develop a broad compensation policy so as to compensate citizens who have suffered human rights violations and who have brought their complaints before the commission in the hopes of finding some form of redress.
“I think the compensation is an important element for people to feel that they have been listened to, it’s been understood what has happened to them, and there has been a real serious attempt to redress what has happened, especially when we balance that against the amnesty, the understanding we are going to extend to the perpetrator. I think fairness requires that there be compensation,” chairperson of the commission Gabrielle McIntyre stated.
Case 425 Paulina Michel
Former teacher and once vice-chairperson of one of the district councils during former President France Albert Rene’s reign, Paulina Michel laid out her plaint before the commissioners as to her experiences and that of her husband when she fell out of favour with the ruling party.
According to her emotional testimony, Mrs Michel was motivated to join the party on the premise that President Rene’s leadership was founded on religious principles, until she much later discovered that his motives were not as innocent as they seemed initially.
Recounting her journey as a teacher, she stated that after a major operation, she took up teaching at the Pointe Larue school. Mrs Michel recalled certain mishaps at the school, and that her husband was a member of the National Assembly (MNA) at the time, when a Termination Pregnancy Act was tabled before the National Assembly, and as Christians, he voted against the Bill. As a result of his vote against the Bill, he was terminated from his position and was instructed by Mr Rene that he should not have encouraged others to also vote against the Bill.
Mrs Michel went on to state that in hindsight, her family was under surveillance, as a result of her husband’s act and her outspoken nature against what she considered as wrong within the administration, which was seen by the administration as an expression of opposition. Her six children have also experienced victimisation at school, as well as when trying to secure a job, on account that they were unable to receive security clearance documents, as was the practice at the time.
On another occasion, she sought to purchase a plot of land bordering hers on which she intended to construct a property for her daughter while she was abroad pursuing further studies, to find out that it was registered to Raymond Bonté. A week after meeting with Mr Bonté, she claims, the land was then transferred to the government and she was denied the right to buy the plot, which was subsequently sold, as a result of her voting against the system during the elections, she claimed.
In giving her testimony, Mrs Michel urged other perpetrators to come forward and seek pardon for acts committed by them. Apologetically, she sought pardon for the violations and inconveniences that she may have caused others, in her tenure as a member of the ruling party at the time and in the various positions she held over the years.
“I am asking all the democrats sorry for asking like this. It was a lack of political maturity or ignorance that caused me to act in such a way,” Mrs Michel said emotionally.
Case 195 Antoine Banane
The second complainant before the commission yesterday, Antoine Banane, an outright opposition supporter, outlined the different instances of victimisation throughout his life, based on his political opinion.
Mr Banane noted that he was expelled from school in 1981 when he was enrolled in Form 5 after having written critical statements about the ruling party on the blackboard. He has throughout the years been refused employment and despite numerous letters to President Rene and other ministers, was refused appointments. His aspirations at the time were to be an army man or pilot.
He outlined in detail numerous occasions where he was harassed and threatened by the militia, including when he worked briefly for an American expatriate employed at the Tracking Station and was residing at his residence in Anse Soleil. Having expressed his aspirations to his superior, he was advised to travel to Florida, United States with the intent of not returning. Mr Banane recounted that on March 3, 1985, when they were scheduled to fly to USA, his superior was allowed to go through the security checks untouched, while he was stopped, pulled aside and strip searched. Having arrived at their destination regardless and having started the processes for him to remain in Florida, he was advised that his superior had been contacted by President Rene and instructed to return with Banane or face being blacklisted from entering Seychelles.
Mr Banane further claims to have been followed and under surveillance and was on numerous occasions denied the right to employment, again for the reason of not having security clearance.
Another incident in 1992 which Mr Banane spoke of was when he was employed as of 1989 with Bodco Ltd whereby he was involved in the stock-taking and was two years later promoted to chief cashier. At the time he was involved in photocopying and distributing papers for Parti Seselwa opposition party. Subsequently, he was harassed by the militia for donning party memorabilia, and was a few weeks later again faced with a squad of officers at his work place, who placed him under arrest and transported him to a superior officer at Petit Paris. He went on to note that he refused to give a statement for criticising the ruling party and contributing towards political unrest.
Still about being denied the right to employment, Mr Banane provided the commissioners with a negative security clearance in 1995, when he was proposed for the post of assistant island manager, through an acquaintance of the American expat for whom he worked earlier. He claims that he faced difficulties in obtaining the job and that former President Rene’s successor, former President James Michel, instructed management that he should be given the post. Without Mr Michel intervening he would have been denied the post, he further claimed.
Mr Banane proposed to the commission that he be compensated for his grievances. Mr Banane is to be rescheduled for a closed session in which he will provide evidence relating to other cases.
Photos: Anel Robert