(Nairobi) – A new amnesty law in Chad will deny the rights of victims to seek justice and reinforces impunity, Human Rights Watch said today. The law, passed by a national transitional council on November 23, 2023, removes the possibility of prosecutions following the violent repression by security forces of demonstrations organized by civil society and the opposition parties.
On October 20, 2022, security forces fired live ammunition at protesters, killed and injured scores, and beat and chased people into their homes. The authorities arrested hundreds of men and boys and took them to Koro Toro, a high security prison 600 kilometers from N’Djamena, the country’s capital. Several detainees died en route, some due to lack of water. At Koro Toro, protesters suffered further abuses, including torture and ill-treatment by other detainees. The detainees were held for months and eventually released or pardoned. Chadian authorities failed to carry out prompt, effective, and independent criminal investigations into the violations.
“This amnesty law was passed to protect people from prosecution, sending a message to Chadians that abusers can get away with murder,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “This process is an affront to basic principles of the rule of law, and was carried out before victims were recognized and abusers were identified.”
Since former President Idriss Déby died in April 2021, the transitional government headed by Déby’s son, Gen. Mahamat Déby, has on several occasions violently suppressed protests demanding civilian democratic rule. The government has particularly targeted opposition parties. The violence on October 20, 2022, was at a level not seen before.
The government claimed that the protesters were insurrectionists and that only 73 people died in the violence. However, the National Human Rights Commission (Commission nationale des droits de l’homme, CNDH), in a February 2023 report, said that 128 people were killed and 518 injured. The Commission found that security forces “systematically violated several fundamental human rights … [using] disproportionated means” to quell the protests. The Commission asked several questions, including why no judicial investigations had been opened into human rights violations, and made recommendations to the transitional military authorities, including to prosecute those responsible for serious abuse.
The Chadian League for Human Rights (Ligue tchadienne des droits de l’Homme, LTDH) issued a report in April that included documentation that 218 people had been killed.
The amnesty law came after a reconciliation agreement – brokered by President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo on October 31 – was signed by the transition government and the opposition leader, Succès Masra, president of the party Les Transformateurs (The Transformers, in English). Under the Kinshasa agreement, Masra returned to Chad on November 3, after a year of forced exile, and the lifting of an arrest warrant issued for him. In the weeks leading up to his return, dozens of Transformateurs members were arrested and held in the National Intelligence Service (Agence nationale de sécurité, ANS) headquarters, then released.
Several victims of the violence of October 20, 2022, expressed serious concerns to Human Rights Watch that the new law will never establish who was responsible for the violence from that day. “The reason for this law is clear,” one victim said. “This is to escape justice and avoid difficult investigations.”
The government has told media that the absence of criminal proceedings does not prevent victims’ families from seeking compensation through civil proceedings, and that the authorities could also put a compensation system in place in the future. In past cases though, the government has not made good on promised compensation.
The government has made no progress to compensate victims of the former president, Hissène Habré – convicted of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture in 2016 – even though the government announced that it had released 10 billion FCFA (USD $16 million) for victims and survivors.
The findings from an investigation into the violence of October 20 by the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), one of eight African Union regional economic communities, have yet to be published.
Attempts at a general reconciliation should include all segments of Chadian society and should not be a means to evade accountability, Human Rights Watch said. Chad’s international partners should advocate for justice for October 20, including for victims of detention at Koro Toro.
“This law contradicts both Chad’s partners’ human rights principles and the government’s own obligations,” Mudge said. “Partners like the United States and France should decide whether they will stand with abusive security forces evading justice or with the Chadian people.”