'We have to guarantee them,' says Ahmat Mahamat Hassan
The advent of democracy has brought to light the crucial human rights problem in Chad (as in other African countries), where the fundamental rights and freedoms situation has been worsened by 30 years of internal warfare. Setting the political and economic democratisation process in motion could have heralded rapid improvements on the human rights front. but organisations which deal with such problems say that things are not going well. The Courier met the heads of two of these organisations in N'Djamena, Ahmat Mahama' Hassan and Khadidja Toure, both members of the CST, and leaders of the Human Rights Commission, an organisation set up by the Higher council of Transition (CST, the provisional parliament), and Enoch Djondang who runs the Chad Human Rights League (LTDH), an independent body set up to defend citizens' rights and freedoms.
Ahmat Mahamat Hassan began by explaining what the CST's Human Rights Commission did.
'The CST's Human Rights, Freedom and Communication Commission is made up entirely of MPs, in other words advisers to the Republic, and its job is to monitor and supervise the Government's implementation of resolutions which the Higher Council of Transition adopts in the course of its duty. The Sovereign National Conference (CNS) ruled that the Government should adhere to the various international human rights conventions and treaties and. of course, the national situation has to be considered too, particularly the way the police, the army and the judiciary behave towards individual rights and freedoms. Individual rights are still often violated by the police today and there are plenty of cases of torture in the prisons and other, secret places of detention.'
Mr Hassan told me that human rights associations could report such cases straight to the Commission or by letter to the CST, which then ordered investigations or invited the Government to stop the offending acts.
'We also have to make sure that the State and its police guarantee individual freedom - the freedom to come and go, the free movement of individuals and goods and freedom for foreigners on our soil,' he said.
The Commission's third job was to set up a general system to ensure freedom of the press. Mr Hassan recounted that 'as an MP, I tabled a bill whereby a High Communication Council was set up, for the first time in this country's history, to make sure that the media's freedom of expression is scrupulously respected and journalists have freedom of action.' Democracy meant involving the people in management and decision-making, he said, and this meant giving them objective information.
Freedom of the press - progress and innovation
The HCC was already a great step forward, a major innovation. Chad had never had an independent body of this kind to guarantee the right to information before and tribute should be paid to the fine job which the Chad Journalists Union did at the National Conference, for it was this which made it possible to produce Chad's first communication charter. And to safeguard the independence of the HCC, members were to have the sort of status and rules of procedure which would protect them from political pressure.
But human rights associations in N'Djamena and other sources said that individual rights and freedoms had been flouted
'They may well not be wrong,' Mr Hassan agreed,' because the situation in this country is rather a complex one and, if they are to understand what is going on, people need to realise that we are currently trying to exist as a State with authority of its own. As a State. we are being reborn and the people are concerned with everything which will help make Chad a country under the rule of law There is still violation of human rights and freedoms here in Chad, it is true, and one explanation is that the country has not yet completely emerged from the civil warfare which has caused so many upheavals. But that does not constitute grounds for violating the fundamental rights of the individual, which is why we on the CST and other bodies have to continue putting pressure on the executive and all the other forces, particularly the army and the police, involved in violating the rights of the citizens of Chad.
'It must be an unflagging, united effort. geared more to some targets - the army - than others You must realise that Chad does not yet have a proper, disciplined national army with the military ethic of protecting the country's external borders. What we call the army is currently a series of different armed groups which go in for frequent human rights violations and create a permanent climate of insecurity here, especially in N'Djamena'
There was also the problem of state authority not being respected, with when it comes to shouldering the responsibilities of the state. Yet, in the fight for democracy, women do battle and are tortured and imprisoned in exactly the same way as men. Not only do we work for human rights in general We also work to get democracy to push back the frontiers of the macho approach which currently dominates political life in this country Take but one example. The wise men, as they are called. those men of experience considered to have done the country great service, have never included a wise woman Yet plenty of women have fought and suffered under every dictatorship we have had here in Chad. We, the women of Chad, believe that, in our predominantly Moslem country, it is through democracy and our political action that we shall change the conservative outlook of the men who monopolise the political life of the nation. Since the Sovereign National Conference, women here have begun to realise what they are worth and what they can do in politics and in economic life.'
LTDH President Enoch Djondang
'Our one aim is respect for fundamental rights and democracy' civil disobedience by some clans Not that they put themselves forward as such, but they could do what they liked all over the country. So human rights were violated, and on a grand scale in some places.
However, 'hope and a clear head are what we need in looking for solutions to these problems, because our future here in Chad is at stake. It will take hard work to build a genuinely democratic state where human rights are guaranteed.'
Men and women alike
Khadidja Toure, vice president of the CST Human Rights Commission, said that men were not the only ones to have their individual and fundamental rights undermined, as might have been expected in African society. There was a huge change here too; women were subject to the same political maltreatment as men and that trend, ultimately, could spread, because women were entering the political arena in exactly the same way as men. But she regretted that this was only a semblance of equality. for it was only the difficulties which were shared Equality was never otherwise apparent in the expression of these rights and freedoms in society.
'Here in Chad, as indeed all over Africa, women are second-class citizens
Enoch Djondang is the man behind the Chad Human Rights League, which was set up in January 1991 just after the army, under Colonel Idriss Deby, the present Head of State, took power. Various leading personalities support it. The first thing it had to do, Mr Djondang said. and do quickly, was tackle the human rights and political freedoms issue in Chad, where so much damage had been done under previous rulers, particularly the Hissene Habre regime, without so much as a murmur from public opinion.
'it was very soon clear that the authorities had to toe the line on human rights because of La Baule, but nothing was actually done for the rights and freedoms of the citizens of Chad.' Mr Djondang said, before answering The Courier's questions.
A What sort of human rights violations have you had in Chad?
- In our first year, we noted that the political police were back, with all that entails, rather as it used to be under Hissene Habre. Because of action we took and pressure from public opinion, some types of violation became less frequent and less serious, but not to any great extent currently, the threat to human rights and the main violations can be put down to the staff of what are in fact official institutions and organisations The President of the Republic's bodyguards are the worst offenders. We know that they have committed all sorts of crimes and threatened both individuals and human rights organisations. but the authorities have said they are out of control, so they are never punished. and so they go in for rape and pillage and extortion of every kind, particularly in the eastern and southern parts of the country.
The basic rights of the citizen - freedom of movement, freedom of ex pression and freedom of the press - are shackled too.
On the economic front, the people's rights are undermined on the pretext of keeping law and order and containing the uprising in the south, where whole villages, with their crops and sometimes the people living in them, have been burned to the ground. This was done by armed groups in the name of security and it frightened the villagers in the end. so they stopped farming and fled
• Do the LTDH and the CST Commission work on strategy and problem assessment together?
- The CST has not lived up to expectations, but this has less to do with its lack of determination than with the conditions at the end of the National conference Everyone waved to go one better and now the people on the CST are trapped. It should never have happened. As to any cooperation with the Human Rights Commission, I am sorry to say that that organisation has never sought any contact with the Chad Human Rights League, which is the leading human rights organisation in the country at the present time. Although we are now into an extra year of transition. the Commission still has not made any reports on the subject to the
UN Human Rights Commission, as far as we know. You could say that the Commission is more theoretical than practical in its approach to defending human rights and freedoms. Political parties do not all get the same news coverage or opportunity to express their ideas in the state controlled media, for example, but what does the CST Commission do about it 7 We have no idea.
• How are your relations with people in political circles?
- Difficult On the one hand, those in power and those close to them suspect us of siding with the opposition and, on the other, the opposition wants us to involve ourselves in politics and virtually do its job for it in an attempt to win it favour and confer legitimacy on its action to ease its path to power.
We do not opt for either side. Our defence of human rights here in Chad, and even in Africa, will not stop just because power changes hands. If the Government did what was necessary to protect the rights and freedoms of the people, we of course could do nothing but approve. We should lose all our credibility if we failed to acknowledge that the Government was taking positive steps to advance the causes which we ourselves defend. But the Government is currently taking no such steps In exactly the same way, if the opposition undertook to defend the rights and freedoms of the people of Chad now, while it is not in office, we should of course acknowledge that. Let me add that. if the opposition did its job properly, the country might not be in the bad state it is today. We have no biases. Our only concern is to defend human rights in Chad and the job would be made very much easier if people at the National Conference had agreed to state the problems clearly, as we asked and as we are still asking now.
There are logistical and political problems in the field, but we are trying to avoid any partisan approach across the territory in which we have to work We believe that Chad can become a democratic country which respects the rights and freedoms of every individual. It is high time that it became a normal country - which it has not been for 30 years.
Defending human rights is a question of practical action
• What do you think the international organisations should do?
- Making development aid conditional on democracy and human rights is a good thing Rut we now know that what governments say and what actually happens to the people are a long way apart. Human rights organisations, as pressure groups, should have the support and encouragement of the bodies which want to see human rights respected in the countries they assist. Without firm action upstream to back up the organisations' work downstream in the field. the defence and promotion of fundamental human rights in Africa would not get very far. it is all a question of practical action.
A Are you involved in any regional or continental coordination of your action 7
- Continent-wise, yes We meet in the Inter African Human Rights Union its headquarters are in Ouagadougou - every year to discuss the problems as they arise in the different countries and look at ways of making action more efficient. There is also a central African coordination scheme, based in Zaire South Africa apart, ours is the African region where human rights are under the greatest threat. which is why we call on the international organisations to do something more about it than read government reports
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