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Events of 2009

Chad continues to be destabilized by its ongoing proxy conflict with neighboring Sudan, although the government was bolstered by the defeat of Chadian rebels backed by Khartoum in combat in eastern Chad in May. Reports indicate that during the fighting government forces carried out extrajudicial executions of rebels, acts of gender-based violence, and used child soldiers. These have also been features of previous counterinsurgency efforts since the start of hostilities in late 2005. The government's Chadian rebel adversaries and Sudanese rebel allies have also been responsible for serious human rights violations, particularly the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

Civilians suspected of harboring sympathies for Chadian rebels, and members of ethnic groups associated with rebel groups, were subject to arbitrary arrest, torture, and enforced disappearance at the hands of Chadian government security forces. The government generally failed to ensure accountability for war crimes and other serious rights abuses, particularly in cases involving government officials and members of the armed forces.

This impunity raises concerns about the legislative elections scheduled to take place in 2010, as well as the presidential election slated for 2011. In the current climate, where security forces are free to abuse civilians without sanction, often on the basis of ethnicity, the ability of individuals to associate freely and the ability of political parties to campaign are highly questionable.

Combat near Sudan Border

Government security forces were responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law during and after combat with Chadian rebels in the town of Am Dam, in the Dar Sila region near the border with Sudan. On the morning of May 7, 2009, members of the Chadian National Army (ANT) summarily executed at least nine rebel combatants and were responsible for indiscriminate attacks on civilians, several of whom were crushed to death when government tanks flattened homes where rebels were thought to be hiding.

Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons

Eastern Chad hosts more than 250,000 refugees from conflicts in Sudan and the Central African Republic, as well as at least 167,000 internally displaced Chadians who abandoned their homes between 2005 and 2007. Refugees and IDPs are exposed to rights abuses in the camp environment, particularly vulnerable groups such as women, who suffer from sexual- and gender-based violence, and children, who are targeted for recruitment into armed groups.

In an effort to restore the civilian character of Oure Cassoni camp, which is situated on the border in close proximity to a military base of the Darfur rebel group the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the United Nations revived calls to relocate the camp 40 kilometers to the west. Refugees refused to comply with similar efforts in 2007.

Nearly 30,000 internally displaced persons returned to their areas of origin in southeastern Chad in 2009, primarily to cultivate crops or to reassert land claims. Information about security conditions outside the camps was scarce, and some IDPs were killed by unidentified gunmen during these temporary returns; other civilians returned to find that their land had been confiscated by former neighbors. The Chadian government failed to restore security to the rural areas where many of these returns took place.

Sexual Violence

Owing to chronic insecurity related to the ongoing conflict and an entrenched culture of impunity, women and girls in eastern Chad face high levels of sexual violence. Despite the presence of UN troops and UN-trained Chadian police units, refugee and IDP women and girls are exposed to sexual abuse both inside the camps and when they venture outside for water and firewood. The proximity of Chadian government soldiers constitutes a risk factor for sexual- and gender-based violence. Human Rights Watch documented numerous instances of rape and attempted rape by government soldiers following military mobilizations and clashes with rebel forces in border areas of eastern Chad.

During the May hostilities government soldiers sexually assaulted women and girls in Am Dam and in surrounding areas, which in conflict constitutes a war crime. Women and girls abandoned the village of Galbassa, 2 kilometers east of Am Dam, after ANT soldiers sexually assaulted two sisters, ages 14 and 19, on the night of May 7; they returned only after government security forces had withdrawn from the area.

Child Soldiers

Government security forces continued to recruit and use children, including the ANT, the gendarmerie, and the Office of Security Services for State Institutions (DGSSIE), an elite fighting force that answers directly to President Idriss Deby Itno. The JEM, which receives backing from the Chadian government, actively and openly recruited children from refugee camps in eastern Chad, in some cases threatening refugees and child protection officials for attempting to intervene.

Since May 2007, when the Chadian government reached an agreement with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to release all children from the armed forces, 654 child soldiers have been released from the army. However, fewer than 10 percent of those demobilized came from the government ranks; most were from former rebel groups that had joined forces with the government in peace accords. UNICEF is allowed to inspect ANT bases for the presence of children, but access to DGSSIE positions, many of them situated in frontline areas, was routinely denied. DGSSIE soldiers contacted by Human Rights Watch reported the presence of children under age 15 in their units. A member of the officer corps estimated that as much as 5 percent of the 8,000 to 10,000 soldiers in the DGSSIE were under 18.

United Nations Mission in Chad

The United Nations Mission in Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT), established by the UN Security Council in September 2007 to protect civilians at risk in eastern Chad, struggled to implement its protection mandate, with just over half of its 5,200 troops deployed to the field. MINURCAT also failed to exercise elements of its mandate allowing for reporting on human rights violations; its human rights unit has not issued any reports on rights abuses in Chad since the mission was established. MINURCAT forces were able to provide limited escorts to humanitarian actors, as well as area security for refugee and IDP camps in eastern Chad.

The Integrated Security Detachment (DIS), a component of MINURCAT comprised of 850 Chadian police officers trained by the UN, has been implicated in serious abuses against civilians since being deployed to eastern Chad in June 2009. In response to abuses including unlawful killings of civilians, MINURCAT has withdrawn the certification of DIS officers implicated in abuses, but the UN has encountered difficulties ensuring that Chadian authorities launch criminal proceedings against the accused. MINURCAT human rights officers can monitor abuses committed by members of the DIS but are prevented by mandate from public reporting on such abuses. As a result, the DIS is allowed to operate with scant accountability for crimes committed.

Hissène Habré Trial

Government officials in Senegal continued to stymie judicial proceedings against former Chadian president Hissène Habré, who stands accused of crimes against humanity and torture during his 1982-90 rule. Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade publicly suggested that Habré could be expelled from Senegal if international donors did not assume the full expense of organizing a trial, which Senegal estimated at US$40 million. In February 2009 Belgium asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to order Senegal to prosecute or extradite Habré, and to keep Habré in Senegal pending a final ICJ decision. In May the ICJ accepted Senegal's formal assurance that it would not let Habré leave while the case was being heard. Belgium was given until July 2010 to file pleadings in the case, while Senegal was ordered to file its response by July 2011.

Key International Actors

France was instrumental in pushing the Chadian government to agree to an international inquiry into serious abuses by government forces during and after fighting with rebel forces in February 2008, and in 2009 French diplomats quietly urged the government to shed light on the fate of opposition leader Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh, who was "disappeared" by government security forces in February 2008 and is presumed dead. However, France has done little to ensure the independence of a follow-up body established in January 2009 to carry forward investigations into crimes committed in February 2008. France historically has provided crucial military support to the government, but it signaled its displeasure with the government's reluctance to negotiate an end of hostilities with Chadian rebel groups by sending French military aircraft out of the country during the May 2009 hostilities.

The United States maintains interests in Chad's petroleum sector, partners with the Chadian government in counterterrorism efforts, and it is the single largest contributor to humanitarian operations in the east of the country. On September 15 the US State Department Office of Trafficking in Persons imposed sanctions on the Chadian government, including the withdrawal of all US military assistance, for failing to make adequate efforts to combat the recruitment and use of child soldiers and other instances of child trafficking. That same day President Barack Obama waived the sanctions, citing US national interests.