Stop Chad's Rights Abuses
President Deby's pledge, `never again,' rings hollow in the face of atrocities
AMNESTY International is deeply concerned about the emerging pattern of human rights abuses being committed by forces loyal to various African leaders. Chad, under the leadership of President Idriss Deby, is no exception to this increasingly common phenomenon of gross human rights violations perpetrated against a people by a government that is desperately trying to secure and maintain its hold on power.
President Deby seized power in Chad in a military coup in December of 1990. His regime inherited a legacy of devastating violence and human rights abuses that had been notably exacerbated under the deposed government of Hissein Habre (1982-1990). Under President Habrs rule, approximately 40,000 Chadians disappeared or were killed by government forces who shot, burned alive, poisoned, tortured, or starved their victims to death.
Aware that the people of Chad knew well the frustrations, torture, and killings brought about by the absence of freedom and peace, Deby tried to win national and international support and legitimacy by appointing a commission to investigate human rights abuses under the former regime. He dissolved the security police, released political prisoners, and promised to hold free elections and restore democracy.
In a letter to Amnesty International in January 1991, Deby claimed that his government's slogan was, "Plus jamais ca!" (Never again!). The international human rights community hoped this phrase would remain a credible motto, but today, as hundreds of Chadians continue to be killed, tortured, detained, and disappear, we are reminded only of dashed hopes and expectations.
Although the situation in Chad has been complicated by division within the armed forces and by the rebel insurgency in the South, Deby is clearly to blame for his government's failure to bring to justice those who have committed abuses. Deby has not responded positively to international pressure, and he seems to lack the political will to do so. It can be inferred that Deby has avoided launching investigations into human rights violations because he has assumed that eventually the international community
will resign itself to accepting this pattern of violence.
The international community cannot resign itself, not if it listens to the voice of Mingue Ouadaye, a six-year-old from Doba who was wounded by bullets as her grandmother was killed trying to save an eight-year-old girl hit by a bullet. On Aug. 17, 1992, government forces went on a rampage in Doba, a town in the south of Chad, shooting people indiscriminately in their houses and in the streets and fields. More than 100 unarmed civilians, including children, were killed; many more were injured. The author ities claim that the soldiers were hunting for armed rebels suspected to be hiding among the civilian population. In reality, soldiers deliberately shot at children, who were unarmed and posed no danger.
Listen to the voice of Irene Remadji who was two-and-a-half years old when, while she was being carried on her mother's back, soldiers shot and killed her mother in N'Djamena in February 1992. Irene's young mother had just arrived in N'Djamena on her way to visit her sister, when the truck she was in was stopped by soldiers. Passengers, who were all from the south of Chad, were ordered off the truck at gunpoint and then fired on without provocation. The body of Irene's mother was taken to the morgue with
Irene still tied to her back. When it was discovered that Irene was still alive, she was kept in police custody without food or treatment for her bullet wounds until the following day when she was released to her relatives.
Listen to the family of Joseph Behidi, an outspoken 40-year-old lawyer and vice president of the Chadian Human Rights League (LTDH), who was driving home from a nightclub at 3 a.m. on Feb. 16, 1992, when armed men in military uniform forced his car to stop and shot him dead at point blank range.
The fact that Mr. Behidi's car was later found near the headquarters of the security force seems to contradict the verdict of a six-month official investigation into the murder. Chadian authorities announced that the killing was committed by "des elements incontroles": armed groups or individuals who are outside the law and acting without the knowledge or supervision of the government. By early 1993, there had been no independent judicial investigation into the killing, and three journalists had met simi lar ends.
Throughout Chad, there are voices that the world needs to hear. The stories of egregious human rights abuses being committed by the same government that once proclaimed "never again!" continue to be created and to be told by a people jaded and hardened by the years of violence they have been forced to endure.
The United States government must prove to Deby that it will never again accept the use of violence against civilians in Chad. In the 1980s, when Chad was upheld as a bulwark against Libya, the US government chose to ignore Habrs human rights record and provided the government with military support and training. As a consequence, the US funded and trained Habrs secret police force, widely known to be serious human rights offenders.
The US must rectify its past failure and urge the Chadian government to be accountable for its actions. Deby will have to feel the heat of international pressure before he is compelled to stop perpetuating an entrenched pattern of violence against the Chadian people. The time to do this is now, so that lives that might otherwise be lost can be saved, and so that the present Interim Parliament and High Council of Transition can effectively move toward establishing a representative form of government in Ch ad. The early warning signs are clear; steps must be taken now to prevent the continuation of this internecine strife.