From the Field: Child Soldiers in Chad

An Amnesty research team is visiting Chad for the fourth time since 2006. This time the focus of inquiry will be on violence against women, general issues of insecurity, and new work on the recruitment of child soldiers. Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, is reporting.  You can follow his blog here.

Putting an end to the recruitment and use of child soldiers is a pressing human rights concern in so very many parts of the world.  It is certainly an immense problem here on both sides of the border between Chad and Darfur.  The full range of armies, militias and armed opposition groups responsible for years of fighting and human rights violations here are notorious for having thousands of young children in their ranks and regularly sending them out onto the battlefield.

For the past two days we have been interviewing a number of former child soldiers – yesterday in the town of Guereda and surrounding villages; and today at Kounoungou Camp, which is home to about 16,000 refugees from Darfur.  All have been boys.  Some are Chadian; others from Darfur.   Most joined when they were very young, including as young as ten years of age.

All have now demobilized.  With the Chadian boys it happened when the opposition group they were involved with joined forces with the Chadian military and at that point all of the group’s underage fighters were turned over to the UN.  With the Darfuris we have interviewed, they have all made a choice to stop fighting – some because they felt they had family responsibilities, others because they had simply had enough.

What all of them so very much had in common though was a similar story of what propelled them to join the armed groups in the first place: human rights violations.  They talked of poverty; they talked of insecurity; they talked of discrimination; and they talked of a lack of opportunity.  It was all about human rights. 

They tell a crushing story of deprivation and fearfulness that so wrenchingly shows how all human rights are interconnected.  It is a story of human rights abuses that make it impossible for a family to escape poverty so deep that tomorrow’s food is never certain.  Of human rights abuses that unleash violence and insecurity that leaves family members dead, homes destroyed, and precious cattle stolen.  It is about human rights abuses that mean that the ability to go to school and build a future is never more than a dream.  And at the core of it all is the fact that this misfortune and hardship happens to you — and the protection you so very much crave and deserve is never forthcoming – all because of the ethnic group you belong to.

That is the toxic web of human rights violations that can eventually push a 10 year old boy to believe that all that is open to him is to be trained in how to use a Kalashnikov and hope that he’ll be allowed to join the others in the next round of fighting.  To believe that that is how he will be able to escape poverty; protect his family; and build a future.

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Abandoned Again? Chad Forces the UN Out of the Country

I checked my email this morning to find this message from Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty Canada, currently in Abeche, Chad, and wanted to share it with you. It’s a powerful reminder of why we all need to speak up now to ensure peacekeepers aren’t forced out of eastern Chad.

We have begun our work on the ground in eastern Chad and in early days much of our focus is on the impending decision of the UN Security Council about the future of the critical UN mission here. Under pressure from the Chadian government, and with the conspicuous absence of the usual strong influence of Chad’s former colonial power, France, the Security Council is poised to agree to begin a pull out of UN troops from the east of the country, to be completed by mid-October. It could very well prove disastrous for human rights protection, development projects and overall security. And at this point in time it seems near irreversible.

My friend Celine Narmandji, a remarkably tenacious women’s human rights defender who I’ve worked with on missions here in the past, put it very well when we met for lunch right after my arrival in Chad. She said:

We were abandoned before. We’re going to be abandoned again. The good news is that in between, for a short while, the world did care about the situation in eastern Chad.

Right she is, but we need better news than that. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

MINURCAT's Future Still Hangs in the Balance

MINURCAT’s future still hangs in the balance. Yesterday, the UN Security Council unanimously decided to postpone making a decision on whether or not MINURCAT, the UN peacekeeping mission in eastern Chad and northern Central African Republic, should be renewed.

Refugees in Mile refugee camp, eastern Chad. Copyright Amnesty International

Refugees in Mile refugee camp, eastern Chad. Copyright Amnesty International

All 15 members of the UNSC felt they needed more time to think about the recommendations put forward by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, and to determine Chad’s capacity to protect civilians without the help of the peacekeeping mission.

We’ve been pushing for the UN Security Council to continue protecting civilians in the region by renewing MINURCAT’s mandate. At least 10,000 people worldwide have already taken action. There is still time to add your voice take action now and ask Secretary Clinton to support MINURCAT’s renewal.

Check Out Our New Video on Chad

Last week, we told you about the need for UN peacekeepers to stay in eastern Chad to help protect refugees and IDPs. We also sent an open letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about our concerns. Now you can check out our new video that sends a powerful message to Secretary Clinton and all of the US Government that we need greater civilian protection in Chad.

And don’t forget to ask Secretary Clinton to support MINURCAT’s renewal! We need you to take action today to make sure peacekeepers can stay in Chad and the Central Africa Republic. MINURCAT still has a chance.

Civilians Still Need Protection in Eastern Chad

UN peacekeepers that have been crucial in protecting civilians in eastern Chad and northern Central African Republic (CAR) are being asked to leave once the mission’s mandate ends on May 15th. Without these peacekeepers, human rights abuses in the region will almost certainly increase, further endangering the lives of the refugees and internally displaced people living in camps.

Both the conflict in neighboring Darfur, Sudan, and Chad’s own internal conflict have created hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people, many of which now live in refugee camps in the eastern part of Chad, close to the border with Sudan.

Refugees in Mile refugee camp, eastern Chad

Refugees in Mile refugee camp, eastern Chad

Despite recent improvements, security in these camps remains a major issue. Amongst other issues, violence against women and girls is common both within and outside of the camps, and acts of violence are carried with almost complete impunity. And the UN peacekeepers are the only ones who can provide protection for these people.

Chad’s president, Idriss Déby, has asked the UN peacekeeping mission, known by its French acronym MINURCAT, to withdraw from Chad when the mission mandate’s comes to an end on May 15th. But it’s not too late. If the United States can take a leadership at the UN Security Council, MINURCAT has a chance. And so will the people living in eastern Chad.

It’s up to you to take action today to ask the US government to be a leader in ensuring MINURCAT’s renewal.

On Behalf of Women and Girls in Eastern Chad: A Call for Action

Refugees in Mile refugee camp, eastern Chad

Refugees in Mile refugee camp, eastern Chad. (c) Amnesty International

Yesterday, Reuters began reporting that the government of Chad has formally requested that the mandate for the peacekeeping mission in Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR) not be renewed when it comes to an end in March. But the peacekeeping mission, known by its French acronym MINURCAT, provides much needed security for refugees and humanitarian aid workers in eastern Chad and northeastern CAR, regions which suffer from rampant insecurity and violence.

In September 2009, Amnesty International released a report on violence against refugee women in Eastern Chad. The report found that women and girls face high levels of rape and harassment on a daily basis both inside and outside the refugee camps. These findings are similar to those of other organizations, such as Physicians for Human Rights.

I remember one woman asking me if there was anywhere she could go and feel safe. I didn’t know what to answer because I don’t think there is an answer – Aid worker in Eastern Chad, in an interview with Amnesty International

In these camps, the burden of finding food and other necessities for survival falls on the shoulders of women. They must regularly leave the relative security of the camps to fetch water, travel to village markets, tend vegetable plots, and gather wood for the fire and straw for the livestock. Once outside the camps, the risk of rape, sexual assault and harassment becomes even higher. Perpetrators of the violence are rarely brought to justice and Amnesty found that even when those responsible could be identified, Chadian authorities did not follow-up with the cases. Many women who have been raped are shunned or left by their husbands, and young girls who are victims find it difficult to marry.

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Africa's Human Rights Scandal

This posting is part of our Forced Evictions in Africa Series


This is how a man in Chad’s capital N’Djamena described to us the destruction of his home in February 2008:

I bought this place more than 38 years ago. On 29 February, some policemen and the people from the mayor’s office came and covered the walls in paint. They told us that we had six days to leave. When we asked them why, they said we did not have the right to ask questions because it was a state of emergency. We could not get together and talk about it among ourselves, it was forbidden. The residents took their personal belongings and left. Some of them who have money will not have any difficulty in renting another house, those without money will go to their village or to Cameroon.

Together with him, 52 other people who lived in his compound lost their home. In the whole city, tens of thousands have been made homeless by their own government.

Chadian authorities are not alone in this blatant abuse of human rights and international law. Across Africa – in what can only be described as a human rights scandal – hundreds of thousands of people each year are forcibly evicted. In many cases, this means being left homeless, losing one’s possessions without compensation and being denied access to sources of clean water, food, sanitation, livelihood or education.

Today is World Habitat Day, and many organizations like UN Habitat or Habitat for Humanity are raising awareness on issues of adequate housing and shelter. This year, Amnesty International is joining them by launching today its one year campaign to end forced evictions in Africa. We are specifically calling on the governments of Angola, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe to end the practice of forced evictions and to ensure compensation for victims. While I don’t think that hard numbers can capture the amount of human suffering that is created by forced evictions, here is a brief overview of the facts:

  • Angola: More than 10,000 families in Angola’s capital, Luanda, have been made homeless after being forcibly evicted from their homes since July 2001.
  • Chad: During the past two years, tens of thousands in Chad’s capital N’Djamena have been left homeless after being evicted by force and having had their homes demolished by the government.
  • Equatorial Guinea: About 1,000 families have been forcibly evicted from their homes to make room for roads, up-market housing and hotels and shopping centers since 2003.
  • Kenya: More than half of the capital city Nairobi’s population – two million people – live in informal settlements or slums where they have no security of tenure, putting them at risk of eviction and homelessness. 
  • Nigeria: More than two million people have been forcibly evicted from their homes in different parts of Nigeria since 2000.
  • Zimbabwe: From May to July 2005, government security forces launched Operation Murambatsvina (Restore Order), a program of housing and informal business demolition that displaced approximately 700,000 people.

The phenomenon of forced evictions in Africa is a massive scandal that should be stopped immediately. As long as governments can force people from their homes without being held accountable, thousands of people remain at risk of forced evictions and of being stripped of their dignity.

PS: To see shocking satellite images of housing demolitions in Chad and Zimbabwe, check out our new Science for Human Rights website.

Darfur Refugees Raped in Chad Camps

A new Amnesty International report draws a shocking picture of the fate of women and girls who fled the violence in Darfur to neighboring Chad: Instead of finding safety in refugee camps across the border, many become victims of sexual violence. Chadian police, trained and supported by UN forces, do little to protect women from sexual attacks in and outside the camps. In a statement to the Associated Press, a spokesman for the Chadian government denied any responsibility for protecting the refugees: “If there are cases of rape in the camps we cannot prevent them. The government is not responsible for security in the camps.”

The conclusion of the report – titled No place for us here. Violence against refugee women in eastern Chad (pdf) – is devastating and speaks for itself:

Refugee women and girls continue to face the risk of rape and other serious violence in and outside refugee camps in eastern Chad despite the presence of the MINURCAT and the full deployment of the DIS [Detachement Integre de Securite; UN trained Chadian police force] in the 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad.

Outside refugee camps, women and girls face a range of abuses, from harassment and threats of physical attacks to rape and other forms of violence. Within the camps there is little safety from rape and other violence at the hands of other refugees, including members of their own families. In some cases women and girls even face the risk of rape and other violence from staff of humanitarian organizations, whose task is to provide them with assistance and support.

Perpetrators of rape and other forms of violence against refugee women and girls are very rarely brought to justice. This is the case even when survivors report instances of rape and other violence to the local Chadian authorities, the DIS or to refugee camps leaders. There is a deeply entrenched culture of impunity throughout eastern Chad when it comes to rape and other forms of violence against women.

Research mission to Chad uncovers heartbreak from broken homes

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.

>> Read more from the Amnesty International Chad mission blog

Documenting Housing Demolitions for Dummies

This posting is part of our Forced Evictions in Africa Series.

New report documents housing demolitions and forced evictions in N’Djamena, Chad.

New report documents housing demolitions and forced evictions in N’Djamena, Chad. Photo credit goes to Patrick Fort/AFP/Getty Images.

A few days ago we published a new report on housing demolitions and forced evictions in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad. Here is a little background info about how to conduct such a project.

1. Becoming aware of the problem
In my case, that meant reading the news. IRIN published an article this past January, describing the frightening scale of housing demolitions in N’Djamena. A few weeks before, Amnesty International had published a comprehensive report on human rights violations in connection with the attack by armed opposition groups on N’Djamena in February 2008. It included a chapter on housing demolitions and forced evictions. This is the key passage for me in the report:

Official figures from the N’Djaména municipal government state that 1,798 compounds were destroyed in 11 different neighbourhoods. It would appear however that there were evictions beyond those 11 neighborhoods. For example, Amnesty International documented extensive housing destruction in the neighbourhood of Farcha, which does not appear on the list of neighbourhoods provided to Amnesty International delegates by municipal officials. (…) The municipal government’s figures are clearly inadequate. Beyond the incomplete figure of 1,798 compounds destroyed in 11 neighbourhoods, no official figures have been gathered. There are no figures indicating the number of buildings in each compound and no information as to how many people lived in each house and/or compound.

Now compare a Human Rights Watch press release (yes, these are two different documents):

According to documents from the office of the mayor of N’Djamena obtained by Human Rights Watch, municipal authorities destroyed 1,798 homes in 11 neighborhoods in the capital during the 30-day state of emergency that ended on March 15. Human Rights Watch saw hundreds of demolished structures in two neighborhoods in the capital that were not included in the official figures, making it likely that the total number of homes destroyed exceeds 2,000. Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 10,000 people have been left homeless by the mass evictions. Many of those Chadians who fled N’Djamena following the February coup attempt returned to find that their homes had been destroyed.

2. Analyzing satellite images
In order to provide some of the missing information described in the above quoted excerpts, we ordered satellite images from N’Djamena from 3 different points in time: January 2008, November 2008 and January 2009. We compared and analyzed the images and thus clearly documented the shocking pace of housing demolitions: In a 12-month period, the government had demolished 3,700 homes and businesses, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless.

3. Sending in the research troops
While the satellite images could provide us with hard numbers of homes demolished, they could not tell us which demolitions were clearly illegal. Our investigators on the ground gathered additional evidence, took photographs and collected testimonies. For example, they learned that the residents in the neighborhood of Chagoua 2 had lodged a complaint in court, which ruled that planned demolitions should cease, pending a final decision. Despite this order, the mayor of N’Djamena continued to demolish the houses.

Abakar Sakin, who has lost his motorcycle business in N'Djamena. (c) AI

Abakar Sakin, who has lost his motorcycle business in N'Djamena. (c) AI

Another story our researchers collected is about two business owners: Abakar Sakin, a motorcycle mechanic, and Ibrahim Abdulayhe Bulako, an auto mechanic, had operated their businesses in the 6th block in the neighborhood of Farcha for 25 years and 23 years respectively. Abakar Sakin employed four others and Ibrahim Abdulayhe Bulako employed five. They were given less than 48 hours notice before their homes, where they operated their businesses, would be destroyed. They lost everything associated with their trades and have received no compensation.

4. Publishing the Results and Taking Action
The analysis of the satellite images combined with on the ground investigations allowed us to show a very clear – and distressing – picture of the scale of housing demolitions and forced evictions in N’Djamena. Our brief report (pdf) gives a good summary of our findings, and you can also find more information on the Science for Human Rights project’s website. And if you feel as angry as me about this outrageous human rights violation, let the Chadian government know.