In a move condemned by Human Rights Watch, Chad has passed a new amnesty law that threatens to deprive victims of their right to seek justice and reinforces a culture of impunity. This controversial law, approved by Chad’s national transitional council on November 23, 2023, eliminates the possibility of prosecutions for the violent repression carried out by security forces during civil society and opposition party protests.
The violent events in question occurred on October 20, 2022, when security forces fired live ammunition at protesters, resulting in numerous casualties and injuries, and pursued individuals into their homes. Subsequently, hundreds of men and boys were arrested and transported to Koro Toro, a high-security prison located 600 kilometers from N’Djamena, the country’s capital. Tragically, several detainees perished during transport, primarily due to a lack of access to water. Once at Koro Toro, protesters endured further abuses, including torture and ill-treatment by other detainees. Many were detained for months before eventual release or pardon. However, Chadian authorities failed to initiate timely, effective, and independent criminal investigations into these grave violations.
Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch, expressed concern, stating, “This amnesty law was passed to protect people from prosecution, sending a message to Chadians that abusers can get away with murder. 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 the passing of former President Idriss Déby in April 2021, the transitional government, led by Déby’s son, Gen. Mahamat Déby, has repeatedly resorted to violent suppression of protests demanding civilian democratic rule. The government has particularly targeted opposition parties, and the violence on October 20, 2022, marked a level of brutality previously unseen.
The government’s claim that the protesters were insurrectionists and that only 73 people died in the violence has been disputed. In a February 2023 report, the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) documented 128 fatalities and 518 injuries, stating that security forces “systematically violated several fundamental human rights … [using] disproportionated means” to quell the protests. The CNDH posed questions regarding the absence of judicial investigations into human rights violations and made recommendations to the transitional military authorities, including prosecuting those responsible for serious abuses. Meanwhile, the Chadian League for Human Rights (LTDH) reported in April that 218 people had been killed.
The passage of the amnesty law followed a reconciliation agreement brokered by President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo on October 31. This agreement was signed by the transitional government and opposition leader Succès Masra, the president of the party Les Transformateurs. Under the Kinshasa agreement, Masra returned to Chad on November 3, ending a year of forced exile, and the arrest warrant against him was lifted. However, in the weeks leading up to his return, dozens of Transformateurs members were arrested and held in the National Intelligence Service (ANS) headquarters before their release.
Many victims of the October 20, 2022 violence are concerned that the new law will never bring those responsible for the violence to justice. One victim expressed their skepticism, saying, “The reason for this law is clear: This is to escape justice and avoid difficult investigations.”
While the government has stated that the absence of criminal proceedings does not preclude victims’ families from seeking compensation through civil proceedings and that a compensation system could be established in the future, past cases have shown that the government has not fulfilled promises of compensation. Notably, the government has made no progress in compensating victims of former President Hissène Habré, who was convicted of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture in 2016, despite announcing the allocation of 10 billion FCFA (USD $16 million) for victims and survivors.
Furthermore, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), one of eight African Union regional economic communities, conducted an investigation into the events of October 20, which is yet to be made public.
Human Rights Watch emphasized that efforts toward reconciliation must include all segments of Chadian society and should not serve as a means to evade accountability. The international partners of Chad, such as the United States and France, are called upon to decide whether they will stand with abusive security forces seeking to evade justice or with the Chadian people who seek accountability for the events of October 20, 2022.