The Rights to Health, Education and Protest at Risk in Chad

By Sarah S Milburn, AIUSA Country Specialist for Chad

When US citizens defend the rights to basic health care and equal access to education, they have sometimes faced excessive force or restrictions on their legal right to protest, but at least we have laws intended to protect these rights. We have the right to debate how these rights are upheld and publicize injustices in the media. Many Americans also know first-hand the tough choices involved in getting prenatal care, and feeding and educating the children one already has. I was a single mother making similar choicesbutwe were fortunate; my family had health insurance, public schools, and good prenatal care. I can imagine vividly a different scenario where a government restricts these basic services in order to allow the rich, the corrupt, and the powerful to gather their country’s resources into their own pockets. Being poor in a rich country can make those who experience injustice invisible to the powerful, but at least protest here is a legal right. Being poor in a country like Chad renders those living in poverty invisible.

It is critical for the United States and the other allies of Chad call upon President Idriss Déby to uphold and respect the rights of human rights defenders and civil society organizations to operate and ensure that no one in Chad becomes an “invisible”.

Amnesty International’s latest report onChaddocuments what happens when most of the population is forced to pay the price for harsh austerity measures that not only take basic services away from the poor, the hungry, the pregnant, or the student, but also repress, torture, and arrest those who speak up for the powerless.Amnesty’s team spoketo pregnant women forced to delay their pre- and post-natal health visits because they couldn’t afford to pay.

They met studentswhose future hopes were crushed because their scholarships were withdrawn.

An economic crisis is no excuse for undermining human rights, including the rights to health and education. Unfortunately the Chadian government also silences brutally those who oppose the austerity measures or dare to say that the measures are cruel and hurt the most vulnerable.

Austerity measures were implemented in 2015 in Chad in response to an economic crisis andrecommendations by international financial institutions (IFIs). These measures are pushing people into deeper poverty, closing access to vital health care and putting education beyond reach. The health budget has been slashed by over 50% in 4 years. Students must choose between working to survive and going to class. A teacher told AI that his total monthly salary including benefits and bonuses had fallen by 37%.

Chad’s latest economic crisis is linked to a fall in the price of oil, the economy’s only major resource. Oil profits have long been channeled away from public services into the pockets of powerful government figures. The IFIs made their loan assistance contingent on spending cuts which have hurt thousands in one of the most economically disadvantaged countries in the world, affecting none of the powerful leaders who continue to profit from the oil. The US government, which views Chad as one of its strongest allies in the Sahel, is supporting a regime where the wealthy few deny the basic rights of those living in poverty .

AI learned that spending cuts reduced the national emergency healthcare program by 70% in 2017. The team met women who walked up to 15 kilometers to reach a health center and waited until their 5thor 6thmonth for prenatal care. There are shortages of essential drugs and disinfectants in many health facilities.

There has been a serious impact on access to education. The authorities cut spending on education by 21% over 3 years. Scholarships were withdrawn for all students except those in medical and vocational schools, and registration fees for public universities were doubled. Students at state colleges in the US can imagine the effect on their budget if their “in-state” tuition rate suddenly doubled.

There have been dozens of anti-austerity protestsin 2018. All but one were dispersed by security forces who fired tear gas at demonstrators, arrested more than 150 people including students and children, and tortured at least two activists.

Alain Didah Kemba, spokesperson of the youth movement IYINA, was arrested February 19 and taken to police headquarters, allegedly for intending to burn a pile of tires. He was tortured by police officers who beat him on the soles of his feet and joints and forced him to move from one room to another with his legs tied to his hands behind him. Alain is one of many activists and protesters abusedby the Chadian authorities for protesting the austerity measures.

Amnesty International is calling on the Chadian government to take immediate steps to address the severe impact of austerity measures on economic, social and cultural rights, including people’s rights to health and education. We are also calling on the Chadian authorities to end the violations of the right to peaceful assembly and expression.

So, cherish and protect what access to education and health care our citizens still have, defend and use your right to freedom of expression, and remember those in Chad who need your support as they do the same!

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