Freedom in the World
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In 2002, President Idriss Deby continued to dominate Chad's political landscape as a result of his government's control of Chad's political and electoral processes. Deby's Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS) increased its dominance of the parliament in elections held in May. The elections were boycotted by several opposition parties that claimed the electoral process lacked transparency. The government was buoyed by progress on a financially lucrative ($3 billion) but controversial oil pipeline project. Serious questions remain about the government's ability to manage these revenues in a transparent and accountable fashion. In northern Chad intermittent fighting continued as part of a long-standing conflict between government forces and Libyan-supported rebels, whose leader, former Defense Minister Youssouf Togoimi, died in 2001 from wounds received in a land mine explosion.
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 resulting from ethnic and religious differences is exacerbated 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 the 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 alike marked insurgencies in the vast countryside, but the large-scale abuses of the past have abated somewhat.
Tensions rose with the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002, and several skirmishes were reported. The former CAR army commander, General Francois Bozize, was granted asylum in Chad in November 2001, having fled his country following his alleged involvement in a failed coup d'etat. Adding to the tension was the concurrent raiding of southern Chad by Chadian rebels based in CAR territory.
In September 2002, the World Bank reaffirmed its support of the Chad-Cameroon pipeline project despite earlier concerns expressed by bank personnel that the project could harm the environment and fail to meet other goals.
In theory Chadians have the right to choose their political leaders. In practice, this right is severely restricted. In a referendum held in March 1996, voters approved a new constitution based on the French model and providing 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 those of parties in the ruling coalition.
Chad has never experienced a peaceful, fair, and orderly transfer of political power. Recent legislative and presidential elections have been marred by serious irregularities and indications of outright fraud. In May 2001, Idriss 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 155 members, directly elected for a four-year term. In April the ruling MPS won a sweeping majority in parliament, capturing 110 of the 155 parliamentary seats. Its parliamentary ally, the Rally for Democracy and Progress, won 12 seats, with the opposition Action Federation for the Republic obtaining 9 seats. Two opposition parties--the Union for Democracy and the Republic and the Party for Liberty and Development--boycotted the election, saying the authorities had not provided sufficient guarantees that the vote would be free and fair. They had held 7 seats between them in the outgoing 125-seat parliament.
Independent human rights groups have credibly charged Chadian security forces and rebel groups with killing and torturing with impunity, although such claims diminished in 2002. A comprehensive peace agreement with northern rebels was signed in Libya in January 2002, but factions of the Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad (MDJT) resumed fighting in May 2002. In recent years tens of thousands of Chadians have fled their country to escape politically inspired violence. Several of the 20 or more other 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.
Newspapers critical of the government circulate freely in N'Djamena, but have little impact among the largely rural and illiterate population. According to the BBC, radio is the medium of mass communication, but state control of broadcast media allows few dissenting views. Radiodiffusion Nationale Tchadienne, the national broadcaster, operates a network of national and regional radio stations. Despite high licensing fees for commercial radio stations, a number of private stations are on the air, some operated by nonprofit groups including human rights groups and the Roman Catholic Church. These broadcasters are subject to close official scrutiny and were banned from airing political material in the run-ups to recent parliamentary and presidential elections. The only television station, Teletchad, is state owned and its coverage favors the government. 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.