(Nairobi) – Chad's transitional military council should scrupulously respect human rights and the rule of law, ensuring that civilians are protected and avoid any escalation of abuses against civilians, Human Rights Watch said today. The military council should also ensure a swift transition to democratic civilian rule, upholding the right of Chadians to elect their leaders in free and fair elections.
A spokesman for the Chadian army announced on national television on April 20, 2021, that President Idriss Déby Itno, 68, had died of injuries suffered in clashes between rebels and government forces. The exact circumstances of his death remain unclear. The spokesman said that the government and parliament have been dissolved, all borders have been shut, and a transitional military council headed by Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, one of Déby's sons, will be in charge of the country for the next 18 months. This is contrary to Chad’s Constitution, which provides that in the event of the death of a president, the president of the national assembly should provisionally lead the country for 45 to 90 days before a new election.
“The potentially explosive consequences of President Déby’s death cannot be underestimated – both for the future of Chad and across the region,” said Ida Sawyer, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Chad’s regional and international partners should closely monitor the situation and use their influence to prevent abuses against civilians.”
On April 19, the Chadian electoral commission announced that Déby had won a sixth term in the presidential elections held on April 11. The pre-election period was marred by a ruthless government crackdown on protesters and the political opposition. On election day, rebels from the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), based in Libya, invaded Chad, attacked a military post, and called on Déby to step down. Clashes between rebels and government forces continued over the following days in the western Kanem province.
The African Union (AU) should urgently deploy a crisis team from its Early Warning and Conflict Prevention Division, including human rights observers, to monitor developments and urge Chadian security forces as well as armed groups to refrain from attacking civilians, Human Rights Watch said. The AU should appoint a new special envoy to the Sahel to help bolster and coordinate AU efforts across the region.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) should also closely monitor the situation and support the work of local human rights defenders.
For years, international players have propped up Déby’s government for its support for counterterrorism operations in the Sahel and the Lake Chad basin and involvement in other regional initiatives while largely turning a blind eye to his legacy of repression and violations of social and economic rights at home.
“Chad’s transitional leaders, with support from regional and international partners, should work toward reversing Chad’s downward human rights trajectory,” Sawyer said. “They should ensure a prompt and peaceful transition to civilian government, based on Chadians’ free exercise of their wishes in a fair election.”
For more background, please see below.
Déby has ruled Chad since December 1990 when he removed the autocratic leader Hissène Habré, who has since been convicted by a special court in Senegal for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture, including rape and sexual slavery. While Déby backed the prosecution of his predecessor, he prevented the airing of his role as army chief when the atrocities were committed, and he broke his promise to compensate Habré’s victims.
Despite its vast oil wealth, Chad remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Chad was placed last in the World Bank’s 2020 Human Capital Index, while the United Nations Development Programme ranked Chad 187 out of 189 countries in its 2020 human development index.
Déby’s government received significant international support for its role in the fight against armed Islamist groups in the Sahel and Lake Chad basin. Chad has committed 1,000 troops to the G5 Sahel Joint Force – a military force created to counter Islamist armed groups in the Sahel region, with support from the European Union, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, among others. It has also contributed 3,000 soldiers to the Multinational Joint Task Force, a joint military force mandated by the African Union to respond to Boko Haram attacks across the Lake Chad basin, with support from the European Union, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. N’Djamena, Chad’s capital, hosts the headquarters of Barkhane, the French counterterrorism force operating in Mali.
Between October 2017 and 2020, Chad reportedly sent troops to Libya in support of east-based commander Khalifa Haftar and his armed group known as the Libyan Arab Armed Forces. Chad and Sudan also engaged in proxy wars for years, with armed tribal militias active on both sides of the borders. Chad currently hosts around 370,000 Sudanese refugees from Darfur.