Freedom in the World
Chad’s 2006 presidential election was marked by rebel attacks on the capital, an opposition boycott, and low voter turnout. Skirmishes between government forces and rebel groups continued throughout the year, and the government declared a state of emergency in November 2006. The World Bank suspended, but later restored, aid during the year after the government abrogated an agreement to set aside oil profits for future generations. Chad broke off relations with Sudan in 2006 over allegations of support for Chadian dissidents, but restored ties in an uneasy truce following an agreement between the two countries to expel rebel groups operating in each other’s territory. Meanwhile, the eastern part of Chad saw increased insecurity as a result of the crisis in Sudan’s Darfur region.
Civil war and rebellions have been commonplace in Chad since independence from France in 1960. In 1989, Idriss Deby, a leading military commander, launched an insurgency from Sudan against Hissene Habre, whose one-party regime had been in power since 1981. Habre’s dictatorship was marked by widespread atrocities against individuals and ethnic groups perceived as threats to the regime. With support from Libya and no opposition from French troops stationed in Chad, Deby overthrew Habre in 1990.
Elections were held in 1996, despite threats posed by ongoing rebel insurgencies. Deby won in the second round, and his Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS) party won 63 of 125 seats in the following year’s legislative elections. International observers noted serious irregularities in both elections.
In 2001, Deby was reelected president with more than 67 percent of the vote. Alleging widespread fraud, the six opposition candidates called for the results to be annulled and were briefly arrested. The government subsequently banned gatherings of more than 20 people, although political protests continued.
The number of parliamentary seats was increased to 155 in 2000, and the ruling MPS won another majority with 110 seats in the 2002 legislative elections. An allied party won 12 seats, with smaller parties and independent candidates taking the remainder. Several opposition parties boycotted the polls.
In 2005, a constitutional amendment eliminating presidential term limits passed in a referendum with approximately 71 percent of the vote. There were reports of widespread irregularities in the voter registration process, and the government muzzled independent media outlets during the campaign period.
The National Assembly voted in 2006 to extend its term in office through 2007, ostensibly because of the high cost of organizing presidential and legislative polls concurrently.
Tensions rose markedly before the May 2006 presidential election and included several assassination attempts against Deby. A number of senior military and political figures defected from Deby’s government to join various dissident groups active in the eastern part of the country, several of whom launched attacks on the capital on the eve of the election. The polls were held as scheduled, despite a boycott by major opposition groups and widespread calls from both domestic groups and members of the international community for the election’s postponement. Deby was declared the winner with more than 60 percent of the vote.
According to UN estimates, Chad is host to a growing refugee population that numbered over 300,000 in December 2006. Sudanese fleeing the Darfur conflict comprise the majority, though rising numbers are Chadians displaced by internal conflict and increased lawlessness in eastern Chad, as well as refugees from the Central African Republic. Chad broke diplomatic relations with Sudan in April 2006 over allegations of increased Sudanese support for Chadian rebel activity, including attacks on the capital. Relations were restored in August 2006 after the signing of an agreement between the two countries to begin expelling rebel groups from their territories. By the end of 2006, however, relations between the two countries had deteriorated amid reports of continuing Sudanese support for Chadian rebels.
With French military support, Chadian military forces launched a renewed assault against rebel forces in September. Heavy fighting between government and rebel forces in November and December led many international humanitarian organizations to withdraw staff from the region. In response to growing insecurity, the government declared a six-month state of emergency in November 2006 for most of the eastern part of the country, as well as the capital, Ndjamena. In December, private newspapers suspended publication and several radio stations altered programming to protest state censorship under the state of emergency.
Despite its mineral wealth, which includes millions of dollars in oil revenues earned since 2004, Chad is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. In return for World Bank financing of loans to cover its stake in the oil industry, Chad promised to spend 80 percent of its oil revenue on development projects, and to set aside 10 percent of revenues for future generations. Since late 2005, however, the government has sought to exert greater control over oil revenues. In January 2006, the World Bank suspended loans to the country following the government’s announcement that it would scrap the 2004 agreement to preserve funds for future generations. Negotiations between the bank and the government led to a new agreement in July 2006, with Chad agreeing to devote 70 percent of its budget to poverty reduction programs.
In response to an international arrest warrant issued in Belgium in 2005 charging Habre with crimes against humanity committed during his 1982–1990 dictatorship, the African Union ruled in 2006 that he could be prosecuted in Senegal, where he lives in exile.
Chad is not an electoral democracy; the country has never experienced a free and fair transfer of power through elections. The electoral commission is dominated by representatives from the government and parties of the ruling coalition. The passage by referendum of a constitutional amendment abolishing term limits for the president further eroded democratic rights in 2005. The country’s main opposition groups boycotted the 2006 presidential election, though international observers, most of whom were invited by the government, declared the election credible. Voter turnout figures were widely disputed and according to some accounts may have been as low as 10 percent.
The 155 members of the unicameral National Assembly are elected for four-year terms, though a majority of members voted in 2006 to extend their current term to 2007. The president is elected for a five-year term.
Approximately 70 political parties exist legally, though a number of these were created by the government to divide the opposition. With the exception of the ruling MPS, their influence is limited. Despite infighting and rivalry among members of Idriss Deby’s northeastern Zaghawa ethnic group, Zaghawa control over Chad’s political and economic levers is a source of ongoing resentment among the more than 200 other ethnic groups in the country.
Corruption is rampant among members of Deby’s inner circle. Weaknesses in revenue management and oversight mechanisms facilitate the diversion of the country’s oil revenues from national development for both personal gain and to fund growing military expenditures. The government’s decision in late 2005 to amend provisions of the oil law in order to assert greater direct control over revenues has increased opportunities for graft. Chad was ranked 156 out of 163 in Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of expression is increasingly limited in Chad, and even independent journalists practice self-censorship. There are a number of private newspapers that circulate in the capital and carry articles critical of the government, but these have limited impact on the overwhelmingly illiterate population. Radio is the principal means of communication, and broadcast media are controlled by the state. The High Council of Communications, Chad’s media regulatory body, exerts control over the content of most radio broadcasts and limits private outlets through high licensing fees. Radio Brakos, a small independent station, has been repeatedly closed by the government. The manager, an Iranian expatriate who has lived in Chad for several decades, was arrested and imprisoned in April 2006 after calling for the postponement of the presidential election, but was released the following month. Journalists attempting to cover events in eastern Chad do so at great personal risk, and several have been abducted by rebel or government forces. There are no restrictions on internet access, though the government reportedly monitors e-mail communications.
Though Chad’s constitution provides for a secular state, religion is a divisive force in society. A disproportionately large number of senior government officials are Muslims, and some policies favor Islam in practice, such as the sponsorship of annual hajj trips to Mecca by members of the government. Islamic congregations are viewed as having preferential status, particularly when requesting official approval to conduct certain activities. The government does not restrict academic freedom.
Despite harassment and occasional physical intimidation, Chadian human rights groups operate openly and publish findings critical of the government. The worsening security situation in Ndjamena and parts of eastern and southern Chad has made it increasingly difficult for members of these groups to travel and carry out many of their activities, however. The right to organize and to strike is generally respected. Striking civil servants were successful in 2006 in their attempts to negotiate a wage increase with the government.
The rule of law and judicial system remain weak, with courts heavily influenced by the executive. Civilian authorities do not maintain effective control of the security forces, which routinely ignore constitutional protections regarding search, seizure, and detention. Human rights groups credibly charge Chadian security forces and rebel groups with killing and torturing with impunity. Overcrowding, disease, and malnutrition make prison conditions life-threatening, and many inmates spend years in prison without being charged.
Interethnic clashes are common between the Nilotic and Bantu Christian farmers, who inhabit the country’s south, and the Arab Saharan peoples who occupy the deserts of northern Chad. Turmoil resulting from ethnic and religious differences is exacerbated by clan rivalries and external interference along the insecure borders. Discrimination against Chadians who are not members of the Zaghawa ethnic group or its allies is common. Tens of thousands of Chadians have fled the country to escape politically inspired violence and general insecurity caused by banditry. Conflict along the border with Sudan, increased efforts by rebel groups to topple Deby’s government, and growing lawlessness in Ndjamena and elsewhere has made life increasingly insecure for a growing segment of Chad’s population.
The government restricts the movement of citizens within the country, a practice that increased in 2006 as a result of conflict and insecurity. There were reports during 2006 of forced military conscription to combat the growing insurgency and conflict with the Sudanese janjaweed along the Darfur border.
Widespread discrimination and violence against women exists. Female genital mutilation is illegal but routinely practiced by a number of ethnic groups. Abortion is prohibited, with exceptions to preserve the physical health of the mother or in case of fetal impairment. Prostitution, also illegal, is a growing problem in the southern oil-producing region.