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Africa

Amnesty: hundreds of illegal detentions in Chad

Rights group Amnesty International has accused the regime in Chad of killing and illegally detaining its critics and demanded that it stop using "repressive" tactics against opponents.

Christian Mukosa, Mitarbeiter bei Amnesty International im Tschad. Foto: Amnesty International, 24.10.2013, Dakar.

Christian Mukosa is the author of Amnesty's latest report on Chad

DW: What is your assessment of the human rights situation in Chad?

Christian Mukosa: The situation is worrying. In our report we criticize the arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions and restrictions on freedom of expression that occur in Chad. Hundreds of people are arrested at regular intervals – they are arrested illegally – that is the problem! Freedom of expression has been eroded away – only recently there was a wave of arrests in which journalists and members of parliament were detained. These journalists can no longer practice their profession or make use of their right to free speech because they live in fear of being arrested again.

Your report is entitled "In the name of security?" What do you mean by that?

The report is called "In the name of security?" with a question mark attached, because the Chadian authorities often cite security concerns when they arrest someone or curb their right to freedom of expression, as in the case of journalists. Parts of the penal code are used to justify the behavior of the police or the security forces. Should a country be permitted to arbitrarily arrest people, detain them in prison illegally, simply in the name of security? We believe, no, it should not be allowed to do that. Clearly journalists have to abide by the law and every country has the right to arrest criminals. That should, however, occur within the confines of Chadian law, the Chadian constitution and international law.

How does Chad's human rights record under former President Hissene Habre compare to that of the current President Idriss Deby, who toppled Habre? Deby promised to improve human rights and set up a ministry for that purpose.

Unfortunately the situation hasn't improved under Deby, even though he did make promises to that effect when he came to power in 1990. He even set up a commission of inquiry to investigate human rights violations during the Habre regime (1982 – 1990). There is even an African court in Dakar that sits in judgment over human rights violations committed between 1982 and 1990. At Amnesty International we welcome this because it grants the victims access to justice and makes fair compensation payments possible. The independent court must ensure that the alleged culprit receives a fair trial.

Opposition politician Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh has disappeared without trace since his arrest in 2008. The Chadian authorities regard the case as closed. Do you think it has been properly cleared up?

At Amnesty International we consider it most unfortunate that the Chadian authorities have closed this case. After Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh's disappearance in 2008, the Chadian authorities set up a commission of inquiry. The commission recommended an investigation into the background of the case. But unfortunately, more than five years after the disappearance of Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh – who, according to the commission's report, was arrested by the security forces – nothing new has emerged. The Chadian judicial authorities have indeed decided to close the case. We believe the Chadian authorities should urgently reconsider this decision.

How have the Chadian authorities responded to the criticism in your report?

The reaction of the authorities was mixed. Our report was not intended just to criticize but also to make constructive recommendations. It is conceivable that the upper echelons of government authority in a country are not always fully informed about what is happening in their midst. A report like ours can cast a ray of light into the darkness and give the authorities an opportunity to respond. When we were doing our research in Chad, we didn't just speak to journalists, victims, families and lawyers, we also had very detailed conversations with the Chadian authorities. We spoke to those in positions of authority, including the minister of justice and the minister for human rights and communicated our concerns about the arbitrary arrests, the deaths in prison, and the disappearances. This dialogue with the authorities is very important because we want to ensure that they follow up on our recommendations.

How do you think the international community should respond to the repression in Chad, bearing in mind that the country will be a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council from January 2014?

That will help the country to rectify its poor human rights record and to promote human rights. The international community should assist Chad in this regard. It is possible that a number of things happen without the knowledge of the authorities. On the other hand, our report has shown that there are things that do happen with the knowledge of the authorities and they take no counter-measures. When a country becomes a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the first time – and for Chad this is the first time - then it can use it as an opportunity to improve its image. That means ensuring that human rights are respected within its borders, that arbitrary arrests and illegal detentions cease, and that people can express themselves freely and without fear of reprisals. Democracy can only exist if human rights are respected.

Christian Mukosa works for Amnesty International's Africa Program and is the author of the rights group's latest report on Chad.

Interviewer: Dirke Köpp