May 28, 2024

Human Rights Watch calls for probe after scores of protesters are shot dead in Chad

A barricade is set on fire during anti- government barricades in N'Djamena, Chad, October 20, 2022. © 2022 AP Photo
A barricade is set on fire during anti- government barricades in N'Djamena, Chad, October 20, 2022. © 2022 AP Photo

Human Rights Watch called for a prompt and impartial investigation on Wednesday after security forces fired on protesters in several cities across Chad, including N’Djamena, the capital, on October 20, 2022, killing at least 50 people and injuring dozens.

In a statement, the rights group said that the security forces – officers from the army, gendarmes, and police – also beat protesters and arrested hundreds of people, many apparently arbitrarily, during and after the protests. The government spokesperson told international media that at least 15 security services personnel were killed.

“Chadian authorities need to immediately ensure that an effective, independent investigation will be conducted to determine if the security services’ use of lethal force was a justified, proportionate response to any alleged violence,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “People should be able to peacefully protest government policy without being shot at or killed.”

Human Rights Watch added that it received accounts from protesters and witnesses that some protesters threw stones, and saw unverified photos that show a handful of protesters with knives, but found no evidence that protesters carried guns. Media reported incidents of looting in some cities amid the chaos that followed the security forces’ response to the protests, including in N’Djamena, where the prime minister’s office was looted.

“Chadian authorities should ensure that all those responsible for the unlawful use of force, in particular security force members implicated in violations of the right to life, are appropriately prosecuted and punished,” Mudge said. “The transitional government should ensure that its security forces refrain from unjustified and disproportionate use of force during demonstrations and respect the fundamental rights to life, bodily integrity, and liberty, as well as those of assembly and peaceful protest.”

The organization wrote: The protests held across the country, which attracted thousands of participants, marked the date the military administration, in power since the death of president Idriss Déby on April 20, 2021, had initially promised to hand over power to a civilian government. The transitional military council – headed by Déby’s son, Mahamat Idriss Déby – took power after Idriss Déby was killed. The council recently pushed back elections to October 2024. The protests occurred in defiance of a government ban, issued on October 19.

Civil society members, political opponents, and witnesses said that security forces fired their weapons indiscriminately into the crowd. A member of The Transformers (Les Transformateurs), the main opposition party, told Human Rights Watch, “We were not armed. We threw stones, yes, but even before stones were thrown, we were fired upon [by security forces].”

Activists, protesters, and media reports said that unidentified men in civilian vehicles shot at protesters. A witness said that people in civilian clothing in a sedan with no plates fired into the crowd, almost hitting him. On October 20, the US State Department issued a statement condemning “the attack that occurred outside the main gate of the US Embassy in which assailants in civilian clothes and private vehicles cleared police checkpoints and killed four individuals.” In 2021, Human Rights Watch documented that unidentified men in civilian vehicles shot at protesters in April and May.

Activists, lawyers, and opposition politicians reported mass arrests during and after the protests. “They are tracking people down and arresting them at night, when the streets are empty because of a curfew,” a lawyer said.

A leader of the Transformers, now hiding in another country, said, “at least 500 members of our party were arrested. That’s just for our party, not the civil society people or human rights activists, so many others have been arrested too. They are going into people’s homes and taking them away. We hear they are being take to Koro Toro [a maximum security prison in the north].”

The government spokesperson denied to international media that those arrested were taken to Koro Toro. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that it had received reports that over 500 people were arrested.

The October 20 bloodshed followed an escalation of violence against protests over the past 18 months. Chad’s security forces increased repression and cracked down on protesters and political opponents in the lead-up to the country’s April 11, 2021 presidential election, using teargas to disperse and injure protesters and human rights activists, and arbitrarily arresting hundreds of opposition party members and supporters and civil society activists, subjecting some to severe beatings and other ill-treatment.

Security forces used excessive force, including indiscriminate live ammunition, to disperse opposition-led demonstrations across the country after the election and Déby’s subsequent death. Several protesters were killed. In September 2022, over 140 members of The Transformers were arbitrarily detained, some for days, then released without charge. Security forces beat four Chadian journalists who were covering the crackdown.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa provide that the state is responsible for security and safety during demonstrations and that organizers of a peaceful demonstration cannot be held responsible for acts committed by third parties during the demonstration.

Senior government and security force officials should ensure that the Chadian military, gendarmes and police are trained in and abide by the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, Human Rights Watch said.

The UN Code of Conduct specifies that “law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty,” that the use of force should be exceptional, and that “the use of firearms is considered an extreme measure.” It also states that “no law enforcement official may inflict, instigate or tolerate any act of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

On October 20, Prime Minister Saleh Kebzabo announced that government would create a “judicial commission” to establish responsibility for the abuses. On October 21, Chadian media reported that Justice Minister Mahamat Ahmad Alhabo had ordered several courts across the country to open “investigations and initiating proceedings against all persons, civilians and soldiers … during the events of October 20.”

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