Darfuri refugees exposed to increased attacks if UN withdraws from Chad

Amnesty International on Thursday called on the Chadian government to allow United Nations (UN) peacekeepers to continue protecting 250,000 refugees from Darfur and 170,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in the east of the country.

The government has insisted that the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) must leave Chad when its mandate expires on 15 March 2010, arguing that the force has failed its mandate.

“Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable civilians would be exposed to increased attacks by Chadian armed opposition groups, irregular militias, criminal gangs and members of the Chadian security forces, if MINURCAT were to leave” said Tawanda Hondora, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Africa programme.

MINURCAT has been deployed to eastern Chad since March 2008 to protect and enable humanitarian assistance to hundreds of thousands of refugees and IDPs that have sought shelter in the area.

Deployment has been slow over the past two years but the force is now for the first time deployed at around 70 percent of the level set by the UN Security Council and has received technical support from various countries.

Attacks on humanitarian workers and civilians, which reached alarming levels in the last months of 2009, have begun to decrease as MINURCAT soldiers have been able to carry out patrols in sensitive areas they were previously unable to patrol.

“The Chadian government has the responsibility and duty to protect its own population and other persons living on its territory but for many years it has shown itself incapable and unwilling to do so with respect to Eastern Chad,” said Tawanda Hondora.

Human rights violations including rape and recruitment of child soldiers are carried out with almost total impunity in eastern Chad, by members of Chadian and Sudanese armed opposition groups, bandits and members of the Chadian security forces.

Amnesty International said it also fears that humanitarian agencies that assist refugees, IDPs and the local population in eastern Chad would be forced to close some or all of their programmes if MINURCAT were to pull out as the security vacuum left behind by the UN withdrawal would make it too dangerous for many to operate.

“This would leave hundreds of thousands without essential humanitarian assistance and facing increased security risks due to the absence of an international presence,” said Tawanda Hondora.

“The UN Security Council must not accede to the request of the Chadian authorities until it is clear that the government of Chad is capable and prepared to protect the human rights of people living in eastern Chad.”

In January 2010, the government of Chad sent a note verbale to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) requesting it to not renew the mandate of the United Nations Mission to the Central African Republic and Chad.

Following this request, the UN Secretary-General sent a Technical Assessment Mission to Chad to discuss the issue with Chadian authorities.

Chadian officials who met the UN team are reported to have confirmed the government’s insistence that MINURCAT’s mandate not be renewed when it expires on 15 March 2010.

On 8 February 2010, during a trip to Sudan, Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno reaffirmed that it is his government’s position that MINURCAT must leave Chad at the expiration of its mandate.

The UNSC passed Resolution 1778 (2007) on 25 September 2007 establishing both a military and policing component to MINURCAT. The military force was deployed on 15 March 2008.

For the first year it was under the command of the European Union. Command of the military force was transferred to the UN as of 15 March 2009.

MINURCAT has the mandate, inter alia, to contribute to the protection of refugees, displaced persons and civilians in danger by facilitating the provision of humanitarian assistance in eastern Chad and the north-eastern Central African Republic.