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Chad held a national referendum in June 2005 that approved a constitutional amendment abolishing term limits for the presidency, paving the way for President Idriss Deby to seek a third term in office. In September, a Belgian court issued an international warrant for the arrest of former Chadian leader Hissene Habre for atrocities committed during his 1982-1990 rule. Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis in Darfur continued to affect Chad, with more than 200,000 Sudanese refugees sheltering along the eastern border.
Civil war and rebellions have been commonplace in Chad since independence from France in 1960. In 1989, Idriss Deby, a leading military commander, launched an insurgency from Sudan against Hissene Habre, whose one-party regime had been in power since 1981. Habre's dictatorship was marked by widespread atrocities against individuals and ethnic groups perceived as threats to the regime. With support from Libya and no opposition from French troops stationed in Chad, Deby overthrew Habre in 1990.
Deby's Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS) installed him as president in 1991. Elections were held in 1996, despite threats posed by ongoing rebel insurgencies. Deby won in the second round, and his MPS party won 63 of 125 seats in the following year's legislative elections. International observers noted numerous serious irregularities in both elections.
In May 2001, Deby was reelected president with more than 67 percent of the vote. Alleging widespread fraud, the six opposition candidates called for the results to be annulled and were briefly arrested. The government subsequently banned gatherings of more than 20 people, although political protests continued.
During parliamentary elections in May 2002, the MPS won 110 of 155 seats. An allied party won 12 seats, with smaller parties and independent candidates taking the remainder. Several opposition parties boycotted the polls.
In 2004, Deby's government proposed a constitutional amendment that eliminated presidential term limits. The subsequent June 2005 referendum, during which voters also approved an amendment to replace the Senate with an Economic, Social, and Cultural Council appointed by the president and a clause making constitutional revisions a presidential prerogative, passed with approximately 71 percent of the vote. There were reports of widespread irregularities in the voter registration process, and the government muzzled independent media outlets during the campaign period. Opposition groups, human rights activists, and representatives of the international community criticized the referendum as an attempt by the government to consolidate power in advance of scheduled 2006 elections. Meanwhile, Deby dismissed his 5,000 man presidential guard in October following a string of desertions.
Approximately 200,000 Sudanese refugees escaping the humanitarian crisis in Darfur in the Sudan are in Chad. Deby has sought in the past to broker ceasefire agreements between the Sudanese government and rebels from his native Zaghawa clan, but relations between Chad and Sudan soured during the year. In April, Deby accused Sudan of recruiting Chadian Arabs into the Sudanese Janjaweed militia to destabilize Chad and of broader support to deserters from the Chadian military.
In response to a July 2005 report from Human Rights Watch identifying 41 accomplices of the former dictator Habre still serving in government, the Chadian government declared its intent to remove those accused of murder and torture from their posts to stand trial in the future. The government also agreed to expedite a draft law to compensate victims of Habre's brutality. Habre currently lives in exile in Senegal, where he was indicted in 2000 on charges of torture and crimes against humanity, though a Senegalese court later ruled that he could not be tried there. Human rights groups pursued a similar case in Belgium that led to the issuance of an international warrant for Habre's arrest in September 2005. Arrested and released several times by the Senegalese authorities, the Senegalese government referred the extradition request to the African Union for resolution in November.
France maintains a 1,000-member garrison in the country and serves as Deby's main political and commercial supporter. Chad is part of the Pan Sahel Initiative (PSI), a U.S. government military-to-military assistance program designed to counter terrorist operations, border incursions, and the trafficking of people, as well as illicit materials and other goods.
Millions of dollars in oil revenues began flowing into government coffers in 2004. In return for World Bank financing, Chad promised to spend 80 percent of oil revenues on schools, clinics, roads, and other basic needs, and to set aside 10 percent of oil revenues for future generations. However, the revenue management and oversight mechanisms in place to ensure compliance lack the capacity, funding, and information necessary from the government and its oil company partners to fulfill their responsibilities. In October 2005, the government announced its intent to revise legislation in order to gain more discretion over the use of oil revenues. Amnesty International has claimed that recently signed contracts with Exxon-Mobil include disincentives for the Chadian government to protect human rights.
Eighty percent of the Chadian population lives at or below the poverty level, with most dependent on subsistence agriculture. The country ranked 173 out of 177 on the UN's 2005 Human Development Index.
Citizens of Chad cannot change their government democratically. Chad has never experienced a free and fair transfer of power through elections. Democratic rights were further eroded in 2005 with the passage by referendum of a constitutional amendment that abolished term limits for the president. Chad's electoral commission is dominated by representatives from the government and parties of the ruling coalition. The 155 members of the unicameral National Assembly are elected for four-year terms. The president is elected for a five-year term. Presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for 2006.
Approximately 60 political parties exist legally. With the exception of the ruling MPS, however, their influence is limited. Despite infighting among members of Deby's northeastern Zaghawa ethnic group, Zaghawa control over Chad's political and economic levers is a source of ongoing resentment among the more than 200 other ethnic groups in the country.
Human rights groups have expressed concern that weaknesses in revenue management and oversight mechanisms are leading to the diversion of the country's oil revenues from national development. Despite limited steps toward reducing corruption and improving transparency, Chad ranked at the bottom of the 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.
President Idriss Deby's government continued in 2005 to deal harshly with independent journalists critical of government actions and policies. During the year, four journalists were arrested and convicted of charges ranging from libel to inciting hate, though three of the cases were overturned on appeal and all four journalists were released from prison. The print media have limited impact on the overwhelmingly illiterate population, and radio reaches a much broader audience. The High Council of Communications, Chad's media regulatory body, exerts control over the content of most radio broadcasts, and limits private outlets through high licensing fees. Radio Brakos, a small independent station, was banned from broadcasting from June to August 2005 after airing reports of corruption by a local official in southern Chad. Radio Brakos' station manager was arrested in September on charges of threatening state security and held in detention until Chad's Supreme Court ordered him released in November. Internet access is not restricted.
Though Chad's constitution provides for a secular state, religion is a source of division in society, and the government does on occasion limit religious freedom. A disproportionately large number of senior government officials are Muslims, and some policies favor Islam in practice. The government does not restrict academic freedom.
Despite harassment and occasional physical intimidation, Chadian human rights groups operate openly and publish findings critical of the government. The right to organize and to strike is generally respected, but the formal economy is small, and union membership is low.
The rule of law and the judicial system remain weak, with courts heavily influenced by the executive. Civilian authorities do not maintain effective control of the security forces, which routinely ignore constitutional protections regarding search, seizure, and detention. Human rights groups credibly charge Chadian security forces and rebel groups with killing and torturing with impunity, though such incidents appear to have declined. Overcrowding, disease, and malnutrition make prison conditions life-threatening, and many inmates spend years in prison without being charged.
Interethnic clashes are common between the Nilotic and Bantu Christian farmers, who inhabit the country's south, and the Arab Saharan peoples who occupy the arid deserts of northern Chad. Turmoil resulting from ethnic and religious differences is exacerbated by clan rivalries and external interference along the insecure borders. Discrimination against Chadians who are not members of the Zaghawa ethnic group or its allies is common.
In recent years, tens of thousands of Chadians have fled their country to escape politically inspired violence and general insecurity caused by banditry. Chad's borders are porous, and trade in weapons among nomadic Sahelian peoples flourishes.
Widespread discrimination against women exists. Despite legal protections, violence against women is common. Female genital mutilation is illegal but routinely practiced by a number of ethnic groups. Abortion is prohibited, with exceptions to preserve the physical health of the mother or in case of fetal impairment. Prostitution, also illegal, is a growing problem in the southern oil-producing region.