1999 Scores

Status: Not Free
Freedom Rating: 5.5
Civil Liberties: 5
Political Rights: 6

Ratings Change

Chad's civil liberties rating changed from 4 to 5 due to an escalation of armed conflict in the north of the country and the government's pressure on those, including the press, suspected of sympathizing with the rebels.


An economically crucial and environmentally sensitive pipeline project was put on hold after two members of the pipeline consortium had second thoughts. Royal/Dutch Shell and Elf Aquitaine said they were reassessing their level of financial involvement, and Exxon is looking for potential new partners. The World Bank has imposed several prerequisites for approving loans requested by Chad and Cameroon for the $3 billion pipeline in an effort to minimize potential environmental and social problems such as those experienced in Nigeria's Niger Delta region. Hundreds of national and international nongovernmental organizations have petitioned the World Bank to put the project on hold for two years, citing the need to inform and educate the local population, minimize threats to the environment, and address human rights issues. These efforts have helped strengthen civil society in the country. Libya has reportedly offered financing for the project if none other is available. The pipeline could bring Chad, one of the world's poorest countries, billions of dollars in new revenues.

Government forces have suffered steady casualties in their struggle with rebels from the Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad (MDJT) in the north, although officials attribute many of the deaths to mining accidents. The government had begun efforts to engage the group in negotiations in mid-year, but talks initially proved unsuccessful. There are indications that the movement has expanded its ethnic base and its numbers, after beginning as mainly a Toubou force. It is headed by former defense minister Youssouf Togoïmi.

President Idriss Déby's continuing reliance on his northern Zaghawa clan as his main power base, despite the formality of multiparty elections, is hindering the country's democratic transition. Lawmakers made a few small steps towards improving the judiciary and transparency in government in June 1999 when legislation was passed to establish a supreme court and an office that audits and oversees government expenditures. France, which remains highly influential in Chad, maintains a 1,000-member garrison in the country and serves as Déby's main political and commercial supporter. Brutality by soldiers and rebels marked insurgencies in the vast countryside, but the large-scale abuses of the past have slightly abated.

Chad has been in a state of almost constant war since achieving its independence from France in 1960. President Déby gained power by overthrowing Hissein Habré in 1990. Turmoil exacerbated by ethnic and religious differences is also fanned by clan rivalries and external interference. The country is divided by Nilotic and Bantu Christian farmers who inhabit the country's south and Arab and Saharan peoples who occupy arid deserts in the north.

Chad was a militarily dominated one-party state until Déby lifted the ban on political parties in 1993. A national conference that included a broad array of civic and political groups then created a transitional parliament, which was controlled by Déby's Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS). Scores of political parties are registered. Chad's army and political life are dominated by members of the small Zaghawa and Bideyat groups from President Déby's northeastern region. This is a source of ongoing resentment among the more than 200 other ethnic groups in the country. The formal exercise of deeply flawed elections and democratic processes has produced some opening of Chadian society, but real power remains with President Déby.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Chad has never experienced a peaceful, fair, and orderly transference of political power, and both presidential and legislative elections have been marred by serious irregularities and indications of outright fraud. President Déby's 1996 victory in Chad's first multiparty election was strongly endorsed by France, despite opposition and independent criticism. It is impossible to ascertain if President Déby's second-round victory with 69 percent of the vote was credible. Déby's most potent challengers were disqualified, opposition activists were intimidated, and the vote count was manipulated. Allegations of fraud also devalued the 1997 legislative elections. The current coalition government is dominated by the MPS with 65 seats, but also includes the Union for Renewal and Democracy, which has 29 of the 125 seats. Intimidation and harassment by the National Security Agency hinder opposition efforts to organize.

In 1999, killings and torture with impunity by Chadian security forces and rebel groups reportedly continued, although they eased slightly. Tens of thousands of Chadians have fled their country to escape the violence. Several of the 20 or more armed factions have reached peace pacts, but many of these agreements have failed. Chad's long and porous borders are virtually unpoliced. Trade in weapons among nomadic Sahelian peoples is rife, and banditry adds to the pervasive insecurity.

The rule of law and the judicial system remain weak, with courts heavily influenced by the executive. Security forces routinely ignore constitutional protections regarding search, seizure, and detention. Overcrowding, disease, and malnutrition make prison conditions life-threatening, and many inmates spend years in prison without charges.

State control of broadcast media allows little exposure for dissenting views. Newspapers critical of the government circulate freely in N'djamena, but have scant impact among the largely rural and illiterate population. The minister of communications threatened to use "all legal measures" possible in August 1999 to punish the newspaper L'Observateur after it published an interview with the MDJT rebel leader Youssouf Togoïmi, but no punitive action was taken.

Despite harassment and occasional physical intimidation, the Chadian Human Rights League, Chad Nonviolence, and several other human rights groups operate openly and publish findings critical of the government. Although religion is a source of division in society, Chad is a secular state and freedom of religion is generally respected. Women's rights are protected neither by traditional law nor the penal code, and few educational opportunities are available. Female genital mutilation is commonplace.

Workers' right to organize and to strike is generally respected, but the formal economy is small. Union membership is low. Most Chadians are subsistence farmers.

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