Chad: UN experts call for stronger support to stop mercenaries, foreign fighters and end humanitarian crisis
|N’DJAMENA, Chad, May 1, 2018-The UN Working Group on mercenaries has called for more financial and other resources to stop armed conflict in Chad and surrounding countries and to put an end to human rights abuses committed by multiple actors, some of whom are foreign fighters and alleged mercenaries.
The abuses identified include killings and torture. More resources will help millions of people in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of the fighting, they said.
In a statement at the end of a nine-day visit to the country the UN experts said the activities of armed groups, including Boko Haram, have provoked a huge humanitarian crisis and it is essential for human rights to be put at the centre of efforts to combat them.
“Boko Haram has destroyed communities that have lived and obtained their livelihoods in the Lake Chad region for many years. They have killed around 30,000 people, caused the internal displacement of around two million others and left around 10 million people in dire need of humanitarian assistance,” said Patricia Arias, a member of the Working Group delegation.
“Scores of human rights abuses including killings, torture and abductions have been inflicted on the local population, including women and children. Women have been subjected to sexual violence and used as suicide bombers,” she said.
“The Lake Chad region, which is now the centre of Boko Haram attacks and violence, is the site of a humanitarian crisis that affects not only Chad but neighbouring Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria. But the entire country is also challenged by a number of armed conflicts in which foreign fighters and mercenaries are engaged,” she added.
The experts said many people were forcibly recruited into Boko Haram, including nationals of the countries bordering Lake Chad. However, they noted that mercenaries from countries outside the region had also joined the group, reportedly to provide training.
The UN experts say understanding the motivations of people joining extremist groups and engaging in mercenary activities is critical. More than half of the population of Chad are under 18 years old, and about 40 percent live in poverty.
“With such a high poverty rate there are serious risks of young people joining groups like Boko Haram and Daesh for financial and material gains, and in the Lake Chad region, where some of the poorest and most marginalised communities are, the risk is even higher,” said Ms Arias.
However, the Working Group made clear that the security threat was not only focused on the Lake Chad region. In the north, the conflict involving Daesh in Libya had heightened concerns particularly after its recent alliance with elements of Boko Haram.
In the east, the conflict in Sudan had resulted in an influx of thousands of refugees into Chad, while to the south violence in the Central African Republic had had the same effect. During our visit we heard Chad described as “an island surrounded by an ocean of wars”, the experts noted.
“Trans-border criminal activities by armed groups are rampant in parts of the country known as ‘no man’s land’, which are vast open areas that provide routes for the trafficking of drugs, weapons and humans.”
As a result of the violence and armed conflicts, Chad is now hosting more than 400,000 refugees and asylum seekers. In addition, around 70,000 Chadian citizens have returned mostly from the Central African Republic and are gathered at sites around the country, including N’Djamena.
“The humanitarian situation coupled with security threats is simply overwhelming,” said Saeed Mokbil, another member of the Working Group. “The 2015 suicide bombings by Boko Haram and incidents of internal armed rebellion in N’Djamena have also highlighted the volatile situation in the country,” he stressed.
“Security measures are therefore imperative, but they must be implemented in line with human rights standards. This includes ensuring people arrested for their alleged connection with armed groups like Boko Haram are not held without due process. The Working Group urges the Government to ensure human rights; including fair trial guarantees for detainees in places like Koro Toro are fully respected.
“Promoting development, alleviating poverty, building peace and social cohesion are important in providing durable solutions for the local population. These all require strong regional and international support. Humanitarian agencies seriously need more resources and funding in order to carry out critical programmes to support affected populations,” said Mr. Mokbil.
The Working Group commended positive initiatives by the Chadian authorities, including the ratification of the OAU Convention on the Elimination of Mercenaries in Africa. A new penal code adopted last year includes a specific provision criminalising mercenarism. But, so far, there have been no prosecutions under it.
The delegation members held meetings in N’Djamena and visited the returnee and refugee site at Gaoui. They met Government representatives, members of the diplomatic corps, civil society organisations and victims of human rights abuses.
The Working Group will present a full report on the findings of its visit to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in September 2018.