Norbert Dabira was born on 24 June 1949 at M’Bomo, in the Republic of Congo. He was Overall Superintendent of the Armed Forces and the Gendarmerie at the time of the allegations.
In the affair known as Brazzaville Beach (the name given to the river port of Brazzaville), the following facts were established according to Congolese courts. During the years 1998-1999, Brazzaville and its surroundings were prey to multiple conflicts which pitted the regular troops of the Congolese armed forces against politico-military groups known as the Ninjas. These non-international conflicts led to the exodus of many people to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In order to put an end to the multiple sufferings being endured by the Congolese refugees in the DRC, the governments of the two Congos and the High Commissioner for Refugees concluded a tripartite agreement aimed at facilitating the voluntary repatriation of those Congolese forced into exile as a result of the armed violence. With this agreement in mind, between 5 and 14 May 1999, 6599 refugees coming from Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, voluntarily decided to cross the river Congo, towards Brazzaville Beach. According to several witnesses, the security disposition set up to receive them at the Brazzaville port was made up of several diverse undisciplined military units. As a consequence, after police formalities were accomplished, certain of these refugees, for unexplainable reasons, were detained, many of them to disappear without trace even until today.
According to the indictment, at the river port known as Beach and the Yoro, these refugees, were split up into separate groups: soldiers, women, able bodied-and especially young- men. The latter were reportedly, taken out of the line-up, to be led off to premises at the Brazzaville Beach before being subsequently transferred to secret locations from which, thereafter, they simply disappeared. From sources close to the relatives of the victims, those missing persons were said to have been transferred to the Headquarters for Military Intelligence (French acronym DRM) and to the Presidential Palace in the Plateau district, in the town centre. The DRM subsequently informed the relatives of those missing that they had detained only the soldiers who had been intercepted at the Beach.
In the framework of the French proceedings, a complaint was filed on 7 December 2001 against Dabira and other officials. As for the proceedings in the Republic of Congo, Dabira was indicted on 7 July 2004.
PROCEDURE IN FRANCE
On 7 December 2001, the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) and the French League of Human Rights (LDH) voiced support for the Congolese Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) and the associations of relatives of the victims in a complaint lodged in Paris against Denis Sassou Nguesso, President of the Republic of the Congo; General Pierre Oba, Minister of the Interior, of Public Security and of Territorial Administration, General Norbert Dabira, Inspector-General of the Armed Forces, resident in France; General Blaise Adoua, Commander of the Presidential Guard, known as the Presidential Guard, and any other individuals having Congolese nationality that the investigation might reveal.
This complaint was lodged on the principle of universal jurisdiction for torture, forced disappearances as a crime constituting torture, and for crimes against humanity (Article 689-1 and 689-2 of the French Code of Criminal Procedure and the Convention against Torture, and further as a crime against humanity (under Article 212-1 of the Criminal Code). It highlighted the fact that General Norbert was known to be resident in France at the time the complaint was lodged, thus constituting sufficient grounds on which to base the jurisdiction of the French prosecuting authorities.
On 1 February 2002, the complaint was transferred to the High Court of the town of Meaux (where General Dabira possessed a residence).
On 16 March 2002, General Dabira was found to be in France, at his domicile in Meaux. He was taken into custody on 23 May 2002, but subsequently released. On 19 June 2002, after being called by the investigating judge to give testimony as a “témoin assisté” (legally represented witness), General Dabira invoked his inability to travel due to the recent events which had befallen the Congo, and so could not be heard by the French judicial authorities. He was given a hearing for the first time on 8 July 2002.
On 10 September 2002, however, the Congolese authorities refused to comply with another hearing for General Dabira, expressing their refusal to accept that France could apply the principle of universal jurisdiction. They indicated their desire for the affair to be brought before the International Court of Justice due to the conflict of jurisdiction between France and the Congo.
On 16 September 2002, the investigating judge issued against General Norbert Dabiraa warrant for immediate appearance. He was at the same time, indicted for crimes against humanity, large scale and systematic abduction of people followed by their total disappearance for ideological reasons through the execution of a concerted plan directed against a defined group of civilians between April 1999 and July 1999. An international arrest warrant was issued against him on 15 January 2004.
At the beginning of December 2002, the Congolese Government lodged an official request with the International Court of Justice to declare that the French Republic “shall cause to be annulled the measures of investigation and prosecution taken by the prosecutor of the Meaux Tribunal” (see “spotlight”).
On 27 September 2004, the Paris Court of Appeals examined a request for the annulment of the procedure concerning Jean-François Ndengue lodged by the public prosecutor on the grounds that the French magistrate did not have the jurisdiction to investigate the case concerning the “Beach Disappearances” and should, purely and simply, under these conditions, not be allowed to continue with the proceedings. The Court, however, did not simply consider the “Ndengue” case. On 18 November 2004 it annulled the overall procedure in France concerning the Beach Affair, on the basis that the complaint was too general to provide a basis to apply the principle of universal jurisdiction before the French courts.
The plaintiffs appealed this ruling.
On 10 January 2007, the Criminal Chamber of the French Supreme Court (Cour de cassation) issued a decision quashing “in its entirety” the decision of November 2004 of the Paris Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court remitted the case to the Court of Versailles thereby ordering it to resume jurisdiction over this case paving the way to the reopening of an investigation.
On 20 June 2007, the Court of Versailles recognized the legality of the prosecution against X and allowed the proceedings to continue.
Dabira presented an appeal before the French Supreme Court on the question of his presence in France at the moment of the initial indictment and the validity of the indictment. On 9 April 2008, the Court rejected his appeal and permitted the continuance of the investigation.
On 30 March 2012, the investigating judge of Meaux decline jurisdiction in favour of the genocide and crimes against humanity section at the Tribunal of Paris.
On 9 October 2014, the Paris criminal procedural Chamber (Chambre de l’instruction de la Cour d’Appel de Paris) confirmed the indictment of Norbert Dabira for crimes against humanity. On 5 December 2014, he was interrogated by the investigating judge.
On 13 May 2016, a hearing on a request submitted by the defence for the annulment of Norbert Dabira‘s interrogation of 5 December 2014 was held before the Paris criminal procedural Chamber. The defence argued that the investigating magistrate had violated his right to remain silent.
On 3 June 2016, the Chamber dismissed Norbert Dabira’s request. The investigation is ongoing.
PROCEDURE IN CONGO-BRAZZAVILLE
Following a complaint lodged by the families of the victims in August 2000, the Prosecutor of the High Court of Brazzaville took the first steps towards what would have permitted, according to the government, the opening up of a judicial investigation.
However, the first legal proceedings only took place in July 2004, five years after the first complaint was lodged with the Congolese judicial authorities. Norbert Dabira was thus indicted only in July 2004.
The trial, known as the “Beach Disappearances” finally opened up before the Brazzaville Criminal Court on 19 July 2005 in the absence of the plaintiffs who had not been summoned to attend.
On 17 August 2005, the Brazzaville Criminal Court found all of the 15 indicted not guilty of the charges held against them, adding that the proof necessary to reconstitute the chain of command and thus establish the responsibility of the accused concerning the disappearances was lacking.
Nevertheless, the judge recognized the disappearances of more than 85 persons during the events and assigned the civil costs for these disappearances to the Congolese state which, during this time of war, was not sufficiently prepared to ensure the safety of the Congolese repatriates who had answered its call. The Congolese state, as a result, was therefore sentenced to pay reparations of up to 10 million FCFA (15.000 Euros), to the eligible claimants of each missing person whose name figured on the sailing manifest established by the High Commissioner for Refugees.
Some families of the victims filed an appeal. On 4 May 2007, the Congolese Supreme Court decided to increase the amount of the pay reparations and rejected all the other demands. This decision closes the proceedings in front of the Congolese courts.
On 9 December 2002, the Republic of Congo filed an application against France with the International Court of Justice aimed at the annulment of the legal proceedings instituted by the French judiciary following a complaint for crimes against humanity and torture supposedly committed against Congolese citizens, and which tended to incriminate the President of Congo, M. Denis Sassou Nguesso, the Congolese Interior Minister, General Pierre Oba, together with other persons, including General Norbert Dabira, Inspector General of the Congolese Armed Forces and General Blaise Adoua, Commander of the Presidential Guard.
The Congolese state holds that in “unilaterally attributing to itself the right of universal competence in a criminal case and in appropriating the power to initiate proceedings and bring to trial the Interior Minister of a foreign State for alleged breaches of law committed in the exercise of his prerogatives in relation to the maintenance of law and order in his country” France was “in violation of the principle whereby a State cannot, in defiance of the principle of sovereign equality amongst all of the Member States (of the UN), (…) exercise its power in the territory of another State. Congo added that in setting up a rogatory commission ordering officers of the judicial police to hear the President of Congo as a witness in the affair, France was in breach of the principle of “criminal immunity of a foreign Head of State—an international custom recognised by the jurisprudence of the Court”.
On 8 April 2003, France indicated that it accepted the competence of the Court to rule on the application.
The application by Congo aimed at the immediate suspension of French legal proceedings was rejected by an ordinance of the Court dated 17 June 2003.
On 5 November 2010, Congo informed the Court that his government renounced to the proceedings against France and requested the Court to “make an order officially recording the discontinuance of the proceedings and directing the removal of the case from the list“. On 16 November 2010, the Court removed the case from the list.
THE CIVIL WAR
June 1997- December 1999
The civil war in the Republic of Congo, commonly known as the War of 5 June (Guerre du 5 juin), lasted from June 1997 until December 1999.
Presidential elections were scheduled to take place in July 1997, but tensions between two candidates President Pascal Lissouba and former President Denis Sassou Nguesso culminated the same year.
On 5 June 1997, the Congolese army, backed by the militia supporting President Lissouba, surrounded and attacked Sassou’s home in Brazzaville, to which Sassou’s own militia retaliated. This led to a four-month clash between partisans of the two presidential candidates. The army was ethnically split, with most northern officers joining Sassou, while southern officers joined the rebels.
Over 90 per cent of the population of the Republic of Congo is made up of four main ethnic groups. The largest ethnic group in the south – the Kongo – constitutes about half of the population. The Sangha and Teke account for 20 per cent of population each, while the M’Bochi live in the north of the country and account for about 12 percent of the population. These main groups comprise more than 40 different tribes.
In early October 1997, Angolan armed forces invaded the Republic of Congo, on the side of Sassou, while the Democratic Republic of the Congo sent troops to fight on Lissouba’s behalf.
However, in the second half of October 1997, Sassou declared himself president of the Republic of Congo, and appointed a new government.
In 1998, the National Forum for Reconciliation was held, with a mandate of determining the nature and duration of the transition period. The Forum, controlled by the government, decided that new elections should be held in 2001, and they passed transition advisory legislature.
This transition into democracy was, however, interrupted by the clash between Sassou’s government forces and armed opposition in the form of civil unrest in the south of the country and around Brazzaville.
In late 1998, government troops reportedly committed extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, rape, physical abuse of detainees and civilian population, looting and other crimes. Consequently, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, and in total more than 10’000 people were killed in Brazzaville alone.
One of the most notable events during the conflicts is the so-called “Brazzaville Beach affair”. This affair refers to over 350 people who disappeared between April and November 1999. These were refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and internally displaced people returning from the Pool region of the country.
The governments of the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) concluded a tripartite agreement on 10 April 1999, for the repatriation of refugees who voluntarily wanted to return to Brazzaville through the humanitarian corridor.
However, the security team set up to receive refugees at the Brazzaville port was made up of several diverse and undisciplined military units. As a consequence, after police formalities were accomplished, people were detained, many of whom disappeared without trace even until today.
At the river port known as Beach and the Yoro in Brazzaville, these refugees were split up into separate groups: soldiers, women, able-bodied men and young men. The young men are believed to have been arrested by Sassou on suspicion that they were supporters of Ninjas, a militia which supported Lissouba’s forces during the war.
According to sources close to the relatives of the victims, missing persons were transferred to the Headquarters for Military Intelligence (DRM in French) and to the Presidential Palace in the Plateau district, in the centre of Brazzaville. The DRM subsequently informed the relatives of those missing that they had detained only the soldiers who had been intercepted at the Beach.
In late 1999, the government signed agreements with many but not all opposition groups. The agreements called for disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration of former militias, and national dialogue to resolve all the underlying political disputes.
Sassou was elected president in March 2002, for a seven-year term.
On 17 March 2003, government and Ninjas signed a peace agreement. Ninjas were disarmed, given amnesty, and they were either integrated in the society, or returned to civilian life.
JUDICIAL PROCEEDINGS IN BRAZZAVILLE AND FRANCE
In 2001, relatives of the victims in the Brazzaville Beach Affair formed the Collective of Relatives of the Disappeared of the Beach, and demanded prosecution of the suspected perpetrators.
An investigation was subsequently opened in the Criminal Court of Brazzaville, and in 2005 trials for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity started.
Also, in 2001, separate legal proceedings started in France pursuant to universal jurisdiction.
Hence, the International Federation for Human Rights, French League for Human Rights and the Observatoire Congolais de Droits de l’Homme have advocated before French authorities for the prosecution of said crimes. Following this, several Congolese officials have been indicted in France.