Dadji Rahamata Ahmat Mahamat: The courage to demand justice
The last time she saw her father was on 28 May 1987, when "men (allegedly) sent by the Chadian President", Hissène Habré, came to arrest him and her two older brothers, aged 20 and 17 respectively. Rahamata was two years old and this difficult period in her life has made her both a witness to and a victim of human rights violations. It has also made her an activist standing up for justice, a woman committed to defending her own rights and those of others.
Her father, Ahmat Dadji, former CEO of the Chadian Industrial Sugar Company (SONASUT) was the leader of the Hadjeraï*. She has not seen him* since his arrest, following which he was the victim of enforced disappearance. Their house was subsequently seized and all their property looted by the Chadian political police, the Department for Documentation and Security [Direction de la documentation et de la sécurité / DDS] . Far from allowing themselves to be intimidated by the ensuing threats, Rahamata’s family have not stopped since that day their efforts to shed light on the enforced disappearance of her father.
I have been harassed, intimidated and threatened but I will stand firm
Rahamata is driven by this search for justice. She grew up with a desire to see those responsible for her father’s disappearance be brought one day to justice, and she nurtures a dream that such violations will never be repeated against others. This wish has now been partly fulfilled, as she explains below:
"When the Extraordinary African Chambers passed judgement in May 2016 sentencing former President Hissène Habré to life imprisonment, my family and I welcomed this as a deliverance. Justice has been served for this chapter in my life."
Far from being the end of her work as a human rights defender, Rahamata continues saying: "Unfortunately, the human rights situation in my country has not changed much. The same old violations keep being repeated. People continue to be threatened, arbitrarily arrested, and there are further victims of enforced disappearances. Their families are still waiting for justice and for the return of their loved one. My battle continues."
Rahamata has worked for various associations. She joined in 2010 the Collective of Youth Associations and Movements of Chad [Collectif des associations et mouvements de la jeunesse du Tchad / CAMOJET], a youth association working for human rights, in order to promote human rights, report violations and see her dream for Chad come true.
"I have been harassed, intimidated and threatened but I will stand firm."
This choice is not without its consequences. Rahamata is subject to regular pressure from the authorities and from society. The authorities spare no effort in silencing dissident voices, while society views very badly women who publicly engage in protest and denounce human rights violations. Some of Rahamata’s friends keep telling her she should not waste her life and opportunities fighting for human rights, as she is a young person with a great future ahead of her.
On 6 February 2016, during a peaceful demonstration organized by CAMOJET to protest the freeze on civil service recruitment, Rahamata and at least 16 other members were arrested by the judicial police for "breach of the peace and unlawful demonstration". Rahamata was the only woman in the group. She was released later that day "on condition that she did not speak to media".
The difficulties I face every day are also due to the fact that I am a woman. In our society, women are relegated to second place. I want to prove otherwise.
Unable to remain silent given the arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment inflicted on the others arrested at the same time as her, Rahamata approached the national and international media to condemn this ill-treatment, and particularly the detonation of a tear gas grenade in the cell in which the protesters were being held, causing several of them to pass out and at least two of them to be urgently evacuated.
The next day, Rahamata was again arrested without charge by the judicial police. She was released on 8 February after being ordered not to speak to the media unless she wanted to ‘ruin her life’.
Rahamata confides, "the difficulties I face every day are also due to the fact that I am a woman. In our society, women are relegated to second place. I want to prove otherwise. I want to prove we can come first. We can dare and win." She is committed to proving that Chadian women have a role play in the struggle for rights. She has her family’s unfailing support in this.
"My family is my rock in the struggle [to defend human rights]. They encourage me every day without fail."
* The Hadjeraï are an ethnic group in Chad. In 1987, following the creation of an armed opposition movement, MOSANAT, by some Hadjeraï leaders, President Hissène Habré ordered the security forces to crack down on Hadjeraï dignitaries, their families and the whole ethnic group generally. Many Hadjeraï villages were completely destroyed, people arrested, executed or disappeared
*Ahmat Dadji was the CEO of Sonasut in N’Djaména. Prior to this he had been a Chadian Ambassador for 15 years.
* The Department for Documentation and Security (DDS) was a security service reporting directly to the Presidency. The DDS was used as a mechanism of repression to threaten, arrest, torture and execute, among other people, all dissident voices.