Evelyne, a student from the Abenan neighborhood of Chad's capital N'jamena, was on her way to the local school on Monday morning. "But when I got there, I saw many soldiers in our school," she told DW. She was still in shock.
"They almost beat me up," she said, explaining that she ran home as quickly as she could. "Apparently, they were guarding arrested demonstrators."
André Djero, a father and local resident, accused the military of human rights crimes. ''In this school there are many of the detained young protesters. Since June 20, the military has been torturing these young people. They cry at night, we hear that - but we can't do anything. Every day, bodies are taken out of this school. It's bad," he told DW.
The situation of human rights in Chad has been rapidly deteriorating since the death of ex-President Idriss Deby two years ago. Deby, who ruled the country for 30 years, was killed during a military operation against rebels. His son, army general Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, took over power in April 2021. He established a military transition that was supposed to last 18 months. The country is saddled with security problems internally and at its borders, significant food shortages and poor governance.
'Serious human rights violations'
An 11-nation summit of Central African countries on Tuesday appointed DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi as intermediary in troubled Chad. Leaders of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) agreed to name Tshisekedi "facilitator in the transition process" - the official term for Chad's planned return to civilian rule.
Human rights lawyer Delphine Djiraibe confirmed what many residents reported over the last few days: "We have received testimonies from people who heard these young people screaming like animals because they were crammed together like animals and tortured to death."
She blamed the government and pointed out that it was impossible to avoid witnesses in this kind of situations. "These are serious human rights violations, crimes against humanity," she told DW.
Many human rights activists are on high alert. Isidore Ngueuleu is the senior human rights advisor for Africa region at the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT). He has gathered reports from the Abena neighborhood. He said that the school had been turned into a prison: "We have testimonies of families from these neighborhoods saying clearly that their children have been arrested in their house and taken to this school."
On Monday, OMCT was alerted to people being killed and children tortured in the school, which was cut off the internet, Ngueuleu told DW.
In the last couple of days, OMCT further documented cases of corpses being hauled out of N'Djamena's Charlie River.
Government denies accusations
Chad's government denies the accusations. Minister of State Jean Bernand Padare reiterated President Mahamat Deby's previous statements that "Chad has become the victim of an attempt to destabilize the institutions of the Republic through an insurgency. What has happened is the sole responsibility of those who attempted this destabilization." He told DW that judicial investigations had been launched and that he trusted the county's institutions.
According to Ngueuleu, in April and May opposition parties, civil society organizations and citizen movements began contesting the take-over of the presidency. They organized peaceful demonstrations that were violently repressed, leaving 18 people dead and several dozens wounded.
"The situation flared up again in early October, when the transitional president announced that he will remain in power for another two years and then run for elections at the end of the current transitional mandate," Ngueuleu explained. "People demonstrated, and on November 20 the protests were prohibited by the government with threats of clamping down on any resistance".
OMCT documented the killing of 80 demonstrators in October. The dead were hit by bullets during demonstrations all around the country and nearby ten urban centers. "The transitional government would like to stay in power even through extensive use of force. This reminds us of the very dark days of dictatorship in Chad," the human rights activist said.
Deportations to desert prison
Eyewitnesses also claimed that civilians were taken to the Koro Toro desert prison in northern Chad. The Chadian Human Rights Convention (CTDDH) spoke of circumstantial evidence that protesters have been deported to Koro Toro. "We have no idea of the exact number, but it could be quite high," CTDDH's Alhasasn Abass told DW.
"Anyone who is somehow undesirable is automatically sent to Koro Toro without a fair trial," said Abass, who called Koro Toro "the most horrible prison in Chad."
"If they throw you in there, only certain death awaits you. And if risk an escape, you will die in the middle of the desert," Abass said.
He also waved away the government's denials: "If, after all, the people are supposedly not there and we're wrong, then let him show them to us."
International calls to investigate human rights abuses
According to OMCT the future looks bleak for many people living in Chad if nothing is done. He expected the African Union to put pressure on the government to stop using excessive violence and lethal weapons against civilians.
Together with its two partners in Chad OMCT submitted a complaint to four special rapporteurs of the United Nations Human Rights Council, said Ngueuleu: "We demand they immediately take over this submission and request detailed explanations from the government to get a clear understanding on what happened."
Blaise Dariustone, Brahima Tounkara, Rémy Mallet and Dirke Köpp contributed to this article.
Edited by Cristina Krippahl