Mon, Nov 19, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Zoe's Ark scandal casts spotlight on city court in Chad


The local court that first took on a tangled child abduction scandal involving a French charity is a bare-bones affair: one prosecutor, no computers, no clerk -- and no defense lawyers.

"I've always felt the case was too big for a place like ours," said the prosecutor in question, Ahmad Daoud Chari, sitting in his tiny, shabby office in the law court of Abeche, the eastern Chadian city thrown into the international spotlight last month after authorities stopped French charity Zoe's Ark from flying 103 African children from Chad to France.

The case, initially involving 17 Europeans and four Chadians, was quickly transferred from Abeche to the country's capital, N'Djamena.


Eleven of the Europeans have since been released, but six French members of Zoe's Ark and the Chadians remain in jail as an investigation into alleged child abduction unfolds.

But Abeche's brief connection casts a bleak spotlight on this city's woefully inadequate justice system, in a region where vendettas and the seeming impunity of powerful figures reign.

"A number of the cases that we get are very serious ones: murders, assassinations, rapes, kidnappings," said Chari, a slender man with a soft voice and steady smile.

Short of hiring a lawyer in N'Djamena, the accused assume their own defense -- a tall order in a region where many have scant knowledge of modern judicial proceedings.

Not only lawyers are missing.

The court has no computer, no typewriter, no photocopy machine. No clerk either one recent day -- the current one was out sick and the replacement had joined one of region's numerous rebel movements.


So Chari fills in, armed with administrative documents and carbon copy paper.

"A large part of my time is devoted to administrative work," the prosecutor said.

At least a dozen people wait outside to make their case.

The penury of human and material resources translates into a sluggish justice system, says Ramadan Ahmat, local representative for The Association for the Promotion of Fundamental Liberties in Chad, one of Chad's main human rights groups.

"People are incarcerated for many years and complain of never getting a hearing," Ahmat said.

Described by one observer as "an honest and courageous man," prosecutor Chari regularly receives threats as he tries to destroy the virtual impunity enjoyed by so-called "untouchables" -- notably members of the military and police and high-level officials.

That included threatening calls he received recently, when Chari issued arrest warrants against soldiers and interviewed high-level police officials in connection with the disappearance of a professor.

"I take my hat off to the prosecutor," Ahmat said. "He's someone who does his work well. More than just well."

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