Younous Mahadjir: Symbol of resistance in Chad’s trade union struggle

Being a human rights defender is a choice. Younous Mahadjir made that choice a long time ago. His trade union activities date back to 1985 when he became a member of the Trade Union Confederation of Chad. Three years later, the Union of Chadian Trade Unions (UST) was formed, where he now serves as a member of the executive committee. The septuagenarian is a symbol of resistance in the trade union struggle.

For over 30 years, Younous Mahadjir, a medical assistant by profession, has braved multiple pressures linked to his trade unionism in the difficult conditions that exist in Chad. Because of the choices he has made and the positions he has taken, Younous has paid a heavy price, from his salary being suspended, to being arrested and even to serving prison sentences during which he was often tortured.

It has been an honour for me to have been in prison for the rights of workers

Younouss Mahadjir

Younous has been intimidated and received telephone threats several times for simply having raised the demands of Chadian workers. In 1996, while he was working as a medical assistant in N’Djamena, Younous was transferred to the town of Sarh in the south of the country, 560 km away from his place of residence and his loved ones. For him, there was no doubt that this transfer far away from his family was a punishment for his trade union activities.

Having always used peaceful means to fight against injustice, to condemn bad governance and having made the well-being of workers his life’s ultimate goal, the 65-year old father, who is appoaching retirement, is not shaken at all. It is exactly this self-sacrifice that has made him the target of so much persecution both under the regime of Hissène Habré, who continuously fought against him and accused him of seeking to destabilize the government, and that of the current president Idriss Déby Itno.

Throughout his career, Younous has been in and out of prison. He reminds people of that at every possible opportunity. In his own words, ” it has been an honour for me to have been in prison for the rights of workers”. In March 2017, Younous strongly fought for the repeal of the repressive law barring public service workers from going on strike and the decree that provides for cutting the salaries of striking workers. In such difficult conditions, he could have yielded to pressure, to schemes and intimidation by the government aimed at breaking up the trade unions.

Quite often, pressure on human rights defenders does not only come from the authorities, but also from members of their extended families in the village or community members who urge them to back down so as not to antagonize the government in power and compromise development opportunities in their region. However, Younous has always stood firm sometimes putting his life and that of his family in danger. His older son Abdoulaye was arrested and then released in 2016 for taking part in a peaceful protest organized by his father. It is such acts of bravery and sacrifice that have earned him recognition and respect within civil society in Chad.

Convinced of the justness of his struggle to improve living conditions for workers who are trade union members and to ensure their social gains are respected, Younous does not intend to stop the good work even after retirement. He is hoping to pass the baton to the new generation during the next Union of Chadian Trade Unions’ congress due to be held in 2020.