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In early February 2008, a coalition of three rebel groups attacked the capital, prompting the government to impose a state of emergency and arrest top opposition politicians. Clashes broke out again in eastern Chad in April, June, and August, and tensions remained high at year’s end. The insecurity forced many humanitarian organizations to cease operations, and as many as 180,000 Chadians were internally displaced during the year. Chad was also home to some 250,000 refugees from Sudan and 50,000 from the Central African Republic.
Since gaining independence from France in 1960, Chad has been beset by civil conflict and rebellions.Hissene Habre seized control in 1982 and led a one-party dictatorship characterized by widespread atrocities against individuals and ethnic groups perceived as threats to the regime. In 1989, Idriss Deby, a military commander, launched a rebellion against Habre from Sudan. With support from Libya and no opposition from French troops stationed in Chad, Deby overthrew Habre in 1990.
Deby won a presidential election held under a new constitution in June 1996 despite the ongoing threat of rebel insurgencies. In 1997 legislative elections, Deby’s Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS) party won 65 of the 125 seats. International observers charged that both elections were marred by irregularities.
Deby was reelected president in 2001, and the six opposition candidates were briefly detained for alleging that the election results were fraudulent. The MPS secured 110 seats in the recently enlarged, 155-seat National Assembly during the 2002 legislative elections, which were boycotted by several opposition parties. Voters approved the elimination of presidential term limits in a June 2005 constitutional referendum, although the balloting featured irregularities and the government cracked down on the media during the campaign.
Security forces, assisted by French intelligence and air support, repelled an April 2006 attack on the capital by the United Front for Change (FUC) rebel group. The May presidential election was then held on schedule despite an opposition boycott, and Deby secured a third term with just under 65 percent of the vote. The military, again with French support, launched a new assault on rebel forces in September 2006, and the fighting led many aid organizations to withdraw staff from the region. In November, the government declared a six-month state of emergency for the capital and most of the east, including a ban on media coverage of sensitive issues.
By late 2006, there were about 300,000 internally displaced Chadians and refugees from Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR) in the country, and the number continued to grow. Several hundred Chadians were killed in March 2007 attacks that the government attributed to Sudanese and Chadian Arab militias. In September, the UN Security Council established the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) to assist with police training, judicial reform, and security inside refugee camps. A European Union military force (EUFOR), expected to consist of 3,700 troops, would provide general civilian security. The government and four rebel groups reached an agreement to end fighting in early October 2007, but renewed clashes soon erupted between the government and FUC rebels, prompting another state of emergency in the north and east in November. At year’s end, the ongoing fighting involved several rebel groups, including the FUC, the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) (which later absorbed the FUC), and the Rally of Forces for Change (RFC).
On February 2 and 3, 2008, a 2,000-strong coalition of the UFDD, the RFC, and the UFDD-Fundamental—a recently-formed UFDD splinter group—attacked the capital. Deby’s regime responded harshly, beginning with the February 3 arrests of three prominent opposition politicians—Lol Mahamat Choua, Ngarjely Yorongar, and Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh. The government and rebels agreed to a ceasefire several days later, and by February 11, the rebels had begun to withdraw to the east. Deby nonetheless declared a state of emergency between February 14 and March 15, on top of a countrywide curfew imposed after the clashes. The new order suspended due process rights and tightened already harsh media restrictions.
Human rights groups accused the regime of extrajudicial detention and killing of suspected rebels, their supporters, and members of the Goran ethnic group, some of whom were involved in the coup attempt. As many as 135 rebels were captured during the attack, including juveniles; there was no information on the whereabouts of these detainees by the end of the year, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2008 human rights report. Amid international condemnation of the opposition arrests, Choua was released from custody on February 14 and placed under house arrest on February 26. Yorongar was released on February 21 and ultimately received asylum in France. It was revealed in September that Saleh had died shortly after arrest. The state of emergency was lifted on March 15.
In April, a reorganized coalition of rebels known as the National Alliance (NA) and headed by UFDD leader Mahamat Nouri began a new series of attacks in the east. It struck several eastern towns in June, causing the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to temporarily suspend operations in the area. Further clashes broke out in mid-August.
A government committee established at the behest of French president Nicolas Sarkozy to investigate the February coup attempt and aftermath concluded in September that the violence had killed roughly 1,000 people and injured as many as 2,000. Meanwhile, insecurity in the region continued to displace thousands of civilians. By October, as many as 180,000 Chadians were internally displaced, and there were also some 250,000 Sudanese refugees and 50,000 CAR refugees in Chad.
Deby and Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir continued to trade accusations in 2008 that one was supporting rebels on the other’s territory. Despite a May 2007 agreement intended to stop cross-border raids, al-Bashir cut diplomatic ties with Chad in May 2008 following a rebel attack on Khartoum that al-Bashir accused Deby of supporting. The two leaders met again in July, when al-Bashir agreed to restore ties.
In January 2008, a French court sentenced six French nationals from the relief organization Zoe’s Ark to eight years in prison for attempting to send 103 supposed Darfuri orphans to France via Chad in 2007. The six had been arrested in Chad in October 2007 and sentenced to eight years of hard labor in December, but they had then been returned to France. Separately during the year, preparations continued in Senegal for the trial of Habre, who lived in exile in Senegal but was charged in Belgium in 2005 with crimes against humanity dating to his presidency. Senegal’s parliament amended the constitution in April 2008 to allow the national courts to hear cases of past human rights abuses.
Chad remains mired in poverty despite oil revenues expected to total $1.4 billion in 2008. In September 2008, the World Bank withdrew from a project launched in 2001 in which the bank financed development of the oil sector and Chad agreed to invest the revenue in poverty-alleviation projects. The Chadian government had repeatedly sought greater control over revenues, and the bank suspended loans for half of 2006 due to breaches of the agreement.
Chad is not an electoral democracy. The country has never experienced a free and fair transfer of power through elections. The president is elected for five-year terms, and a 2005 constitutional amendment abolished term limits. The last presidential election was held in 2006 shortly after a rebel assault on the capital, despite calls for a postponement. Many opposition members boycotted the election, which was reportedly marred by irregularities, and voter turnout may have been as low as 10 percent in some areas. The executive branch dominates the judicial and legislative branches, and the president appoints the prime minister. The unicameral National Assembly consists of 155 members elected for four-year terms. The last legislative elections, in 2002, also featured widespread irregularities. In August 2007, government and opposition leaders agreed to postpone the next legislative elections until 2009. The accord mandated that future votes be overseen by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), composed of 15 members from the governing party and 15 from the opposition.
There are over 70 political parties, although a number were created by the government to divide the opposition. Only the ruling MPS has significant influence. Despite rivalries within President Idriss Deby’s northeastern Zaghawa ethnic group, members of that and other northern ethnic groups continue to control Chad’s political and economic levers, causing resentment among the country’s more than 200 other ethnic groups.
Corruption is rampant within Deby’s inner circle.Weaknesses in revenue management and oversight facilitate the diversion of oil revenues from national development projects to private interests as well as growing military expenditures, which amount to at least 12 percent of the budget. Chad was ranked 173 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of expression is severely restricted, and self-censorship is common. In response to the 2008 coup attempt, the government imposed a new press law, Decree No. 5, on February 20. It increased the maximum penalty for false news and defamation to three years in prison, and the maximum penalty for insulting the president to five years. It also requires permission from both the prosecutor’s office and the High Council of Communication (HCC), Chad’s media regulatory body, to establish a newspaper; previously it was only necessary to register with the Ministry of Commerce. The HCC also banned reporting on the activities of rebels or any other information that could harm national unity. The International Federation of Journalists reported that the repressive media environment caused at least 10 journalists to go into hiding or flee the country during the year. The government on March 20 revoked the accreditation of a Radio France International and Agence France-Presse correspondent, further limiting the flow of information. On March 28, a coalition of private newspapers in the capital, with the backing of the press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders, jointly issued a single edition that called for the regime to reverse the recent media rules.
Prior to the 2008 crackdown, there were at least four private weekly newspapers that circulated regularly in the capital, but low literacy levels limited their influence. Broadcast media are controlled by the state. The HCC exerts control over the content of most radio broadcasts, and while there are roughly a dozen private stations, they face high licensing fees and the threat of closure for sensitive coverage. There are no restrictions on internet access, but the government reportedly monitors online communications, and less than 1 percent of the population had access to this resource in 2007.
Although Chad is a secular state, religion is a divisive force. Muslims, who make up slightly more than half of the population, hold a disproportionately large number of senior government posts, and some policies favor Islam in practice, such as government sponsorship of hajj trips to Mecca. Nevertheless, the government bans groups whose messages could lead to social tension. In June 2008, security forces clashed with supporters of a radical Islamist preacher, and 72 people were killed, most of them civilians. The government does not restrict academic freedom.
Despite the constitutional guarantee of free assembly, the authorities ban demonstrations by groups thought to be critical of the government. Insecurity in the east and south severely hindered the activities of humanitarian organizations in 2008, with more than 120 attacks against relief workers by October 2008, including four fatalities. In response to the death of a Save the Children worker on May 1, many groups suspended their activities on May 2 and 3 to protest the country’s lawlessness and climate of impunity. The constitution guarantees the rights to strike and unionize, which are generally respected in practice.
The rule of law and the judicial system remain weak, with courts heavily influenced by Deby and his inner circle. In addition to his upcoming trial in Senegal, former president Hissene Habre was sentenced to death in absentia—along with 11 suspected rebel leaders, including NA head Mahamat Nouri—by a Chadian court in August 2008; an additional 31 suspected rebels received life sentences. Civilian leaders do not maintain effective control of the security forces, which routinely ignore constitutional protections regarding search, seizure, and detention. Human rights groups credibly accuse the security forces and rebel groups of killing and torturing with impunity. Overcrowding, disease, and malnutrition make prison conditions harsh, and many inmates are held for years without charge.
Interethnic clashes are common between Christian farmers of the various Nilotic and Bantu ethnic groups generally living in the south, and Muslim Arab groups living largely in the north. Turmoil linked to ethnic and religious differences is exacerbated by clan rivalries and external interference along the insecure borders. Communal tensions in eastern Chad have worsened due to the proliferation of small arms and ongoing disputes over the use of land and water resources. Reports of armed violence and vandalism throughout Chad are on the rise.
The government restricts the movement of citizens within the country, a practice that has increased in tandem with the civil conflicts. The army and its paramilitary forces, as well as rebel forces, have recruited child soldiers. The government has been slow to follow through on its agreement to demobilize them. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that as of June 2008, the army continued to recruit children, primarily in camps for the internally displaced in eastern Chad. HRW also found that Sudan’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebel group has recruited children in camps for Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad.
Chadian women face widespread discrimination and violence. Female genital mutilation is illegal but routinely practiced by several ethnic groups. Chad is a source, transit, and destination country for child trafficking, and the government has not made significant efforts to eliminate the problem.