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Chad: Little Attention to a Worsening Situation

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Even though the situation in Chad is not an issue of worldwide media coverage, the stalemate in peace negotiations and a certain oversimplification of the conflict in the international community’s response are preoccupying. It is true that Darfur has had a negative impact in the whole region, but this article attempts to understand the situation in Chad not only through Darfur. Firstly, it will argue that the conflict situation is worsening mainly because of its political crisis. Secondly, the internal conflict as well as the crisis in Darfur has given rise to a complex refugee crisis but also to significant internal displacements. Finally, the climate of impunity and insecurity prevailing in the country is making humanitarian relief almost impossible. A subsequent article will analyze the recent deployment of a European military force under United Nations mandate in this complex humanitarian emergency context.

The conflict in Chad is arriving at a turning point, tackling the political crisis at its roots seems necessary in finding a path towards long lasting peace. According to Oxfam, “the end of the rainy season has historically been the time where fighting between rebels and the government starts again in earnest, increasing instability and insecurity.” The renewal of combats is forecasted for October, after the rebels’ failure to walk over the capital of N´Djamena in their February attacks and the elaboration of a “black list” on behalf of the government. Among other things, this list sanctions of death penalty ex-president Hisséne Habré and rebel head leaders. The agreement signed in April 2007 between the government and the political parties seemed to have given way to a possible democratic process. However, it didn´t stop the growing civil war between the President Idriss Déby´s government and the rebel armed groups of the opposition (some leaders being former members of Déby´s government).

The intensification of the tensions started in June 2005 when the actual President, whose political legitimacy is highly controversial, decided to change the constitution allowing him to stand for a third term, not recognised by the opposition. In 2005 and 2006 the two main rebel groups were the United Front for Change (Front Uni pour le Changement, FUC) and the Platform for Change, Unity and Democracy (Socle pour le Changement, l’Unité et la Démocratie, SCUD). In 2006, the FUC attacked the capital and the situation turned out into violent confrontations where hundreds of civilians were killed. The severity of the humanitarian situation started to alarm the international community (analysed in the subsequent article).

The “spill over” of the dramatic conflict in Darfur has turned the heart of Africa into a real time bomb affecting Chad but also the Central African Republic and Cameroun because of a worrying refugee crisis. The support of the Sudanese and Chadian governments to the Chadian and Sudanese´s respective rebels has led both countries into a dangerous proxy conflict. However, a “Darfurization“of Chad, (the “contention that the Darfurian conflict is being “exported” to eastern Chad via janjaweed militia”) , could provoke a misinterpretation of the internal situation, such as a neglect of Chad’s political crisis, and lead to problematic consequences.

The historical internal divisions in this country, where no real feeling of being Chadian exists, since the state and its borders were arbitrary created under the colonial rule, are one of the conflict’s catalysts. With around 200 different ethnic groups living inside the territory but also outside its borders, the inter-communal clashes have been particularly violent between the Dadjo sedentary farmers and the Arab communities mainly living as nomadic hunters, both fighting for the same land. In addition, strong political rivalries combined with weak democratic institutions are other internal characteristics to take into account. Déby´s clientelist practices, with the Zaghawa minority controlling the state´s power in front of the 97% rest of the population, were aggravated by the government party’s own internal rivalries (clashes between the president and the Tom and Timan Redimí brothers for example).

Even with a high state’s income increase due to recently discovered petrol resources, (from 167.65 millions of euros in 2002, to 327.9 millions in 2004)  the Chad still remains at the bottom on the Human Development Index (HDI) list. Chad has had a growth rate five times superior to China´s in the last years but is still the seventh country with less human development according to the United Nations and the fifth most corrupted, according to International Transparency. This could easily make us think that petrol income serves more in fuelling the ongoing conflict than creating stability and economic growth in the country.

The consequences of the long lasting conflict on the humanitarian situation have been dramatic because of the refugee crisis provoked by Darfur but also, and this should not be neglected, because of internal displacements and the climate of insecurity caused by internal actors. According to a report of the UN Security Council (S/2008/444), more than 250,000 Darfurians are living in 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad and some 60,000 CAR refugees are living in Southern Chad. Cameroun has lately also been receiving Chadian refugees. In an attempt to solve this refugee crisis, several international organizations are present on the ground, in order to assist populations in danger. For instance, UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) established its presence in eastern Chad in 2003 as an answer to the overwhelming flow of refugees from neighbouring countries but also the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) fleeing internal conflicts. The European Union’s budget in 2007 through the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) was of 30.5 million euros used in food aid (10 millions), shelter, water/sanitation, emergency non-food items .
The severe climate of impunity occurring in Chad remains one of the most preoccupying issues for the whole humanitarian community. The total ignorance of International Humanitarian Law principles has increased the insecurity in the region and made almost impossible an effective release of humanitarian aid. Attacks on humanitarian workers, refugees and the violation of safe heavens present a daily challenge for those working in the Chad. The assassination of Pascale Marlinge, Director of Save the Children on the 1st of May 2008 came as a strong blow to the humanitarian community worldwide and has led to a diminishment of humanitarian presence in Chad. The situation has worsened since, and on the 10th of May two policemen from Chad’s National Refugee Authority (CNAR) were killed, followed by the departure of Medecins Sans Frontière on the 27th of May.

Sexual violence and recruitment of child soldiers practiced by paramilitary as well as rebel groups are other dramatic consequences of the ongoing conflict. Out of 10 million inhabitants, half are under 15 years old. According to the UN, between 7,000 and 10,000 children are actually serving in Chad with armed groups and in the military. “One of the most dramatic incidents of recruitment occurred in 2006, when Darfurian rebels forcibly recruited 4,700 adults and children from Bredjing and Treguine refugee camps, with apparent Chadian complicity” . In a report on children in the Chadian conflict, the UN Security Council emphasised the ongoing violation of six of the children´s rights: recruitment of children as soldiers; murder and mutilation of children; rape and other sexual violence on children; refusal to authorize humanitarian organization’s access to children; attacks against schools and hospitals; kidnappings.

To conclude, this article has no ambition to propose a solution to the worrying humanitarian crisis in Chad. Nevertheless, it hopes to highlight the extreme emergency of the situation and bring some tools of analysis to fully understand the underlying causes of the conflict. Even though the situation in Darfur has had a significant effect on eastern Chad, the country’s own history and context are worthwhile considering (community clashes, government’s ethnic clientelism, fight for natural resources and warlords). The severity of the humanitarian situation (refugee and IDPs crisis) has been exacerbated by the climate of impunity towards International Humanitarian Law. A humanitarian intervention, which would consider the mentioned, seems highly necessary (see coming article on the intervention).

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