Freedom in the World
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In 2001 President Idriss Deby continued to maintain control through a carefully managed electoral process resulting in his reelection as president. Intermittent fighting with rebels from the Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad (MDJT), headed by former Defense Minister Youssouf Togoimi, continued, although negotiations designed to resolve the conflict were under way at years' end. Resources began to flow as a result of an economically crucial and environmentally sensitive $3 billion oil pipeline project supported by the World Bank. The pipeline could bring Chad, one of the world's poorest countries, billions of dollars in new revenue, but serious questions remain about the government's ability to manage these revenues in a transparent and accountable fashion.
Chad has been in a state of almost constant war since achieving its independence from France in 1960. President Deby gained power by overthrowing Hissein Habre in 1990. Turmoil exacerbated by ethnic and religious differences is also fanned by clan rivalries and external interference. The country is divided between Nilotic and Bantu Christian farmers who inhabit the country's south and Arab and Saharan peoples who occupy arid deserts in the north.
Chad was a militarily dominated one-party state until Deby lifted the ban on political parties in 1993. A national conference that included a broad array of civic and political groups then created a transitional parliament, which was controlled by Deby's Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS). Scores of political parties are registered.
Chad's army and political life are largely in the hands of members of the small Zaghawa and Bideyat groups from President Deby's northeastern region. This is a source of ongoing resentment among the more than 200 other ethnic groups in the country. The formal exercise of deeply flawed elections and democratic processes has produced some opening of Chadian society, but real power remains with President Deby.
France, which remains highly influential in Chad, maintains a 1,000-member garrison in the country and, despite a sometimes rocky bilateral relationship, serves as Deby's main political and commercial supporter. Brutality by Chadian soldiers and rebels marked insurgencies in the vast countryside, but the large-scale abuses of the past have abated somewhat.
In theory Chadians have the right to choose their political leaders. In practice, this right is severely restricted. Chad has never experienced a peaceful, fair, and orderly transfer of political power. Recent presidential and legislative elections have been marred by serious irregularities and indications of outright fraud. In May, Deby was reelected president of Chad with more than 67 percent of the vote. The six opposition presidential candidates alleged that the election was marred by fraud and called for the result to be annulled. They undertook a civil disobedience campaign and were briefly arrested. The government subsequently banned gatherings of more than 20 people, although political protests continued. The European Union "regretted" the many shortcomings in the organization of the poll and the resultant irregularities, and expressed concern about the restriction of liberties observed during the electoral period.
The legislature is unicameral. The sole chamber, the national assembly, has 125 members, directly elected for a four-year term. There is some multiparty representation in parliament. The current coalition government is dominated by the ruling Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS) with 65 seats. Intimidation and harassment by the National Security Agency hinder opposition efforts to organize.
In a referendum held in March 1996, voters approved a new constitution based on the French model which provides for a unified and presidential state. An ostensibly independent election commission law was passed in 2000, despite significant opposition. The law gives the predominance of seats to government representatives and to those of parties in the ruling coalition.
In 2001, killings and torture with impunity by Chadian security forces and rebel groups reportedly continued. In recent years tens of thousands of Chadians have fled their country to escape the violence. Several of the 20 or more armed factions have reached peace pacts, but many of these agreements have failed. Chad's long and porous borders are virtually unpoliced. Trade in weapons among nomadic Sahelian peoples is rife, and banditry adds to the pervasive insecurity.
The rule of law and the judicial system remain weak, with courts heavily influenced by the executive. Security forces routinely ignore constitutional protections regarding search, seizure, and detention. Overcrowding, disease, and malnutrition make prison conditions life threatening, and many inmates spend years in prison without charges.
State control of broadcast media allows little exposure for dissenting views. Newspapers critical of the government circulate freely in N'Djamena, but have little impact among the largely rural and illiterate population.
Despite harassment and occasional physical intimidation, the Chadian Human Rights League, Chad Nonviolence, and several other human rights groups operate openly and publish findings critical of the government. Although religion is a source of division in society, Chad is a secular state and freedom of religion is generally respected. Women's rights are protected by neither traditional law nor the penal code, and few educational opportunities are available. Female genital mutilation is commonplace. Workers' right to organize and to strike is generally respected, but the formal economy is small. Union membership is low. Most Chadians are subsistence farmers.