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State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Chad

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 11 March 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Chad, 11 March 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48a7ead1c.html [accessed 1 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The security situation in Chad deteriorated sharply, with continuing attacks by rebel groups in the east against the government of Idriss Déby. According to an IRIN report in December 2007, 90 per cent of the Chadian armed forces were tied up in the fighting in the east of the country. The apparent collapse of a 2006 agreement between a key rebel group, the United Front for Change (FUC) and the government at the end of 2007 placed further pressure on President Déby, who had already resisted a strong attempt to topple his government in April 2006.

A European Union (EU) peacekeeping force which was due to deploy by October 2007, was delayed until 2008, dogged by logistical difficulties. The UN-mandated mission is intended to protect civilians, refugees and aid workers from cross-border attacks, as the effects of Darfur conflict threaten to seriously destabilize Chad. The force will be approximately 3,700 strong – the majority of whom will be French. France, as the former colonial power, already has a strong military presence in Chad, however the UFDD rebel group in the east has already signalled its opposition to the peacekeeping force, claiming that the French are already using their military presence in Chad to support Déby. All the indications are that the EU force will deploy in a worsening security environment and will have a tough task fulfilling its mandate. There are an estimated 400,000 refugees and internally displaced people in the region.

Although the main crisis is presently in the east, Chad's inability to fashion a government inclusive of all sectors of society is a key factor in its instability. The peoples of the mainly Christian south make up approximately 45 per cent of the population but have been excluded from political power for over two decades. Under the former president Hissène Habré, who hailed from the north, an estimated 40,000 people were said to have been killed, many of them southerners (Human Rights Watch, 2005, Chad: The Victims of Hissene Habre Still Awaiting Justice). Habré attempted to wipe out the southern elite, and embarked on a scorched earth rural strategy in a region he viewed as secessionist. In 2006, the African Union mandated Senegal – the country where the ex-president has lived since he was ousted – to try Habré for his alleged crimes, including those relating to torture, murder of political opponents and ethnic cleansing. In 2007, the UN Committee Against Torture criticized the slow progress being made to bring Habré to justice.

The south's sense of grievance has also been intensified by the discovery of oil in the region. There is discontent at extremely high levels of corruption in the Déby regime, and the inequitable distribution of the oil wealth, particularly to the south. In August 2007, Agence-France Presse reported that Ngarlejy Yoronger, the leader of the southern opposition party, the Front des Forces d'Action pour la République (FAR), refused to sign an agreement for improved electoral organization in the run-up to the 2009 election. He denounced the proposals as being worthless while the country was in the grip of a rebellion, and called instead for an inclusive dialogue with all sections of society.

The conflict in the east of the country has several different dimensions, all overlapping. There is an internal dimension, related to the autocratic nature of Déby's regime, as well as personal and sub-tribe rivalries. This has driven members of the president's own family, and his own Zaghawa tribe to take up arms. One of the main rebel groups, the RFC, for example, is led by the president's uncle. Another important factor is ethnic tensions, which spread across borders and run back decades, if not longer. In the simplest terms, the Sudanese government accuses the Chadian authorities of offering support to the Darfur rebels – particularly those from the Zaghawa ethnic group – to fight against Khartoum. Although a minority in Chad (estimated at 1–2 per cent of the population), the Zaghawa form the political elite in the country. By contrast, in Sudan, the Zaghawa are a marginalized group, excluded from political power by the Arab elite concentrated in Khartoum. Chadian Zaghawa have provided vital support, including funds and weaponry, to their Darfur kinsmen, in their struggle against the central government.

On the other side, Déby has accused Khartoum of allowing Chadian rebels to use Darfur as an operational base. In the Chadian context, this fact has special significance – as both Déby and his predecessor Habré launched their successful coups from rear bases in Darfur. There are several rebel groups ranged against Déby. One of the most important has been the FUC – fighters hailing from the Tama ethnic group, which has had a long-standing rivalry with the Zaghawa. This group – led by Mahamet Nour Abdelkarim – almost toppled Déby in 2006. But a Libyan-brokered peace deal saw Nour appointed defence minister, and a promise to integrate FUC into the main armed forces. However, by late 2007, this deal had unravelled, with ex-FUC fighters taking up arms again and Nour seeking refuge in the Libyan embassy in N'jamena. The breakdown in the FUC agreement coincided with the collapse of another Libyan-backed peace initiative between the Chad government and four rebel groups: the UFDD, CNT, RFC and UFDD-Fondamental. This lasted just a month. By late 2007, these groups were reported to have embarked on a fresh offensive against the government, with correspondents reporting the fiercest fighting in the east for months.

The turmoil in the east has also become further complicated by the involvement of the Sudanese government-backed Janjaweed militia. Amnesty International (Sowing the Seeds of Darfur, June 2006) has documented the cross-border attacks from this Arab militia targeting 'African' tribes along the border. The causes of these attacks are partly criminal – theft of cattle and assets, and partly strategic. As Amnesty notes, the militia attacks communities that are left unguarded when the Chadian army is otherwise engaged with the rebels. The goal is to spread mayhem and insecurity, and thereby increase pressure on Déby. However, there are also disturbing racial overtones to the attacks, as it is 'African' tribes that are targeted. Amnesty reports victims being racially abused while being attacked, with comments from Janjaweed attackers such as 'This land is ours' – meaning it belongs to Arabs. The export of the racially motivated warfare, which is a defining feature of the Darfur conflict and which has led to accusations of genocide, is an extremely worrying dimension to the growing disorder and insecurity in the east.

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