This posting is part of our Forced Evictions in Africa Series.
Amnesty International researchers just completed a research mission to Chad to investigate the recent mass housing demolitions and forced evictions being conducted by Chadian authorities. Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty Canada, has been documenting the mission:
“We are broken, just like our houses.”
Those heartbreaking words were shared with us by a woman describing the agonizing days that led to the destruction of her home, alongside the homes of hundreds of her neighbors, in one of the many parts of N’Djamena that have been cruelly razed to the ground over the past two months.
We are broken.
And what we heard from her and from so many others did tell anguished stories of broken lives, broken lives that people are now rebuilding with tremendous courage and determination.
We have been to about 15 different sites over the past three days and are getting a sense that this ‘human drama’, as one neighborhood leader termed it, has likely effected more than 50,000 people. They come from so many different backgrounds: impoverished and middle class; opposition supporters and civil servants; men and women; young and old; fearful and outspoken.
That has perhaps been the most difficult aspect to understand in the midst of this tragedy – who has been targeted and why? There seems to be no answer. And the fact that there is no clear answer has, in many respects, compounded the sense of injustice and fearfulness. It has shattered any confidence and trust people had in their government. It has left people feeling that they could be next. And that what comes next could be the loss of their home, or any other arbitrary abuse or act of violence.
As another woman put it to me, “I no longer feel like I’m a Chadian.” I recall hearing very similar words from people throughout eastern Chad in late 2006, who felt utterly and completely abandoned by their government as Janjawid attacks rolled across the border from Darfur.
Two things are clear. The first is that destroying homes has in fact destroyed lives. Not only have people lost their shelter, sometimes it is the home their family has lived in for decades. Beyond shelter, livelihoods have been shattered, as seamstresses, ironworkers, hairdressers, mechanics and so many others have lost their businesses. Beyond shelter and livelihoods, children’s futures are now desperately at risk. Many are now separated from their parents and are no longer able to school.
The second is the timing of this rampage. Close to 2 weeks after rebels came close to capturing N’Djamena, the Chadian government declared a state of emergency here on February 14th, and extended it through to March 15th. And it is precisely during those four weeks that the government launched the evictions and destructions. At a time when rights had been suspended and the rule of law was in disarray. At a time when people felt they had no right to speak out or complain. At a time when people in N’Djamena needed a greater sense of security and protection from their government. That is instead when authorities here chose to increase the fear and instability that continues to haunt this country.
Amidst the broken lives, we have spoken with many determined men and women who are organizing to respond to this injustice. Crisis committees and neighborhood committees have been established. People are working to document the extent of their losses. They have begun to petition government ministers. They are looking to lawyers and human rights groups for assistance.
And they very much hope that the rest of the world will put pressure on the Chadian government to right the terrible wrongs that have happened here. We have assured them we will stand alongside them in that struggle.