By Adotei Akwei, Africa Advocacy Director, Amnesty International USA
The Trump administration’s decision to ban people from Chad from coming to the United States is a mistake on a number of fronts. One critical misstep is that it misses the mark on the need for the United States and the international community to press the Chadian government for reforms to improve governance and protect human rights by engaging with the government.
The Chadian government is engaged in a campaign of repression against its own citizens. A recent report from Amnesty International documents an alarming campaign by the government aimed at gutting freedom of expression, association and assembly. Protests have spiked in the past two years due to President Idris Déby’s latest revision to Chad’s constitution to allow him to serve a fifth term in office, as well as controversial austerity measures in response to an economic recession.
In response, the government has silenced all forms of dissent and criticism: student protesters, women’s rights groups, and unions are routinely denied permission to protest, the government has blocked access to social media by threatening journalists, and there has been excessive — sometimes lethal — use of force to disperse protests. The Ministry of the Interior has issued 13 decrees banning peaceful protests. In April 2016 youth activists engaged in peaceful protest to mark the 2016 elections where President Déby won a controversial 5th term. In response, two leaders of the protest were tortured by Chad’s brutal National Security Agency as part of the NSA’s “investigations”. Cases like these are unfortunately all too common.
The Amnesty report highlights the cases of 10 human rights defenders persecuted for exercising their rights. Civil society and human rights defenders are critical indicators of the health of open political space and how human rights are respected. History is littered with examples of countries where increasing restrictions on political space preceded a descent into armed conflict. Chad history is itself a sobering reminder: the current president Idris Déby came to power in 1990 in a coup that ousted another military ruler Hissen Hibre, who himself had seized power in 1982.
Congress and the Trump administration must press the government of Chad to improve its respect for and protection of human rights and end its assault on Chadian human rights defenders. This should include publicly reaffirming the legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders in Chad, condemning restrictions of their activities and violations of their rights, visiting human rights defenders in prison, and attending their trials to ensure they are fair. The Trump administration should also engage in the Universal Periodic Review of Chad 2018, hold the government accountable for implementing the recommendations it accepted during its previous review in 2013, and make new recommendations to address key human rights concerns in Chad, including the protection of human rights defenders.
Imposing a travel ban does nothing to help improve human rights and the rule of law and arguably Chad’s long-term stability.
Dr. Sarah Milburn, Professor Kenneth Harrow, Ken Harrow and Alana Smith contributed to this blog.