On behalf of the Working Group on mercenaries, my colleague Saeed Mokbil and I would like to thank the Government of Chad for the invitation to conduct this visit. I wish to thank our focal points in the government as well as the staff of UNDP and OHCHR here, who provided the support needed for this visit. We held meetings in N’djamena and were able visit and meet refugees and returnees in Gaoui. The delegation is grateful that it was able to meet with various government authorities including the Minister of Justice and Human Rights, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Defence, Minister of Interior, Minister of Women, Family and National Solidarity and the Minister Secretary-General in charge of reforms. We also met with representatives of the diplomatic corps, members of the United Nations country team, civil society organizations and victims of armed groups.
Concerning the focus of the visit, the Working Group is mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council to study mercenarism, mercenary-related activities and their impact on human rights particularly the right to self-determination. It studies the activities of private military and security companies. It has also devoted a lot of attention to assessing the link between mercenaries and foreign fighters, particularly focusing on motivational factors, recruitment practices and the human rights impact of these actors. Our visit here provided an important opportunity to further assess these issues.
On distinguishing these actors, a mercenary is defined in international law while a foreign fighter is not. The currently accepted term of mercenary is primarily focused on the professional services of persons paid to intervene in an armed conflict in a country other than their own. The use of mercenaries can be linked to other prohibited activities, including terrorism. While mercenaries are motivated principally by money or financial gains, the motivation of foreign fighters vary and can include ideology, religion, and even economic gains.
In its various missions, the Working Group assesses not only mercenaries and foreign fighters that come into the concerned country, but also nationals of those countries who themselves engage in alleged mercenary and foreign fighter activities abroad.
The Working Group notes that Chad has undertaken a number of positive measures including the ratification of the Organization of the African Union (OAU) Convention on the Elimination of Mercenaries in Africa. The new Penal Code of 2017 includes a specific provision criminalising mercenarism, an offence punishable by 10 to 20 years imprisonment As this law was recently adopted, the delegation was informed that no prosecutions have been made in relation to mercenary activities in Chad. Constitutional reforms relating to the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission as an independent body in line with the Paris Principles on national human rights institutions is also being undertaken. Regarding private military and security companies, Chadian law provides a regulatory framework for private security companies only, which does not permit company personnel to carry arms. The delegation was not aware of concerns regarding private military and security companies in the country.
Regarding the threats of mercenarism and foreign fighters, the Working Group underscores the need to maintain and strengthen regional and international partnerships given the trans-border aspect of these phenomena. It notes that Chad has had an active role in this context working with various regional and international organizations to strengthen national and regional security measures. This has been most evident in the fight against Boko Haram. The Working Group notes the important role of the Multinational Joint Task Force headquartered in N’djamena and administered by the African Union. It commends the recruitment of human rights officers to work within the Task Force and to monitor the human rights issues in the Lake Chad region where threats of attacks continue. Additional engagements with States, the United Nations, international organizations, as well as non-governmental organizations, have also contributed to initiatives focused on development and peace building in the country.
The situation affecting Chad concerns multiple actors engaged in armed conflict, some of whom are foreign fighters and others who are reportedly mercenaries. While it did not receive specific data on the numbers of such individuals in Chad or of Chadian origin abroad, the delegation was informed of armed actors scattered around the borders of the country posing serious threats to national stability.
Boko Haram for instance, based in the Lake Chad region in western part of the country, is reportedly composed of Nigerians as well as Cameroonians, Chadians, Nigeriens and Sudanese. The Working Group was also informed of the presence of other foreigners in this group, alleged mercenaries who were training the fighters, from countries outside the Lake Chad region.
Mercenaries are also reportedly fighting in Libya, alongside Daesh and other armed groups. The recent alliance between elements of Boko Haram and Daesh fighters has caused further concerns about security.
The Working Group referred to its past visit to the Central African Republic in which it had received reports of alleged Chadian mercenaries who joined Séléka and committed human rights abuses against the local population. In its discussion with the Chadian authorities, the delegation was informed that the current government prohibits mercenarism and if there were Chadian mercenaries operating abroad, they would be doing so in their own capacity and not as members of the Chadian security forces. Armed groups, which are also based around the border with Sudan to the East, are alleged to include foreign-armed actors. The fragile security situation in Chad, rendered by a history of conflict and instability, has made the country even more vulnerable to the threats of mercenaries and foreign fighters operating in the region. The Working Group stresses that the ongoing presence of these actors, while threatening national stability, can also seriously undermine the right of Chadians to self-determination
Motivation and recruitment
The motivational factors for persons joining foreign-armed groups or mercenary activities vary. However, a common factor that attracts individuals to join armed groups, relates to the situation of poverty in the country. In Chad, poverty and lack of financial means appears to be a significant driving force of young people being vulnerable to groups like Boko Haram or Daesh.
The situation now is even worse for those who are refugees, internally displaced or returnees. Chad is ranked among the three least developed countries in the world (along with neighbouring Central African Republic and Niger), according to the UNDP Human Development Index. It experienced a short period of increased wealth through oil trade, but recently, the dropping price of oil has increased poverty and led to austerity measures affecting the means of local people to survive. The poverty rate is estimated to rise to almost 40% by 2019. Some believe it will be even higher than this. Over half of Chad’s population is under 18 years old and many are unemployed. This has created fertile ground for armed groups to attract many young people with promises of financial gains. Being promised money or the means to have a wedding were also mentioned as common factors. While the majority of people are forcibly recruited by Boko Haram, there are also others who join simply to get material goods like a new radio or a motorbike. For young girls, the majority have been abducted while some joined the group allegedly for financial reasons.
If the poverty issue is not addressed effectively in Chad, it may continue to attract people to mercenarism and groups such as Boko Haram who have been offering many with money and material goods. In the Lake Chad region, where communities were already some of the poorest and marginalised in the country, the risk of joining such groups is higher.
Human rights and security measures
The situation in Chad calls for urgent attention. As a landlocked country, Chad is surrounded by armed conflicts. Securing the territory of Chad is a difficult and daunting task that requires strong and sustained regional and international co-operation and support.
The Lake Chad region which connects Chad to Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon has been the hub of Boko Haram insurgencies. Boko Haram has reportedly killed over 30,000 people and committed hundreds of human rights abuses against the local populations. In this region, around 2 million people have been internally displaced while around 10 million people are in need of dire humanitarian assistance. Some of the most basic fundamental needs are not provided for those who live here. In addition to the recurrence of violence, climate conditions have deteriorated, and famine as well as lack of food supply is common. Health care and education facilities are virtually absent.
To the north of the country, the armed conflict in Libya is also a serious threat, particularly given the presence of Daesh there and its reported alliance with Boko Haram. The border with Sudan in the east, is also threatened by conflict in that country leading to influx of thousands of Sudanese refugees into Chad. To the south, along the border with Central African Republic, many refugees and returnees are living in this area having fled the country to escape the conflict between ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka which continues today. There are also reports of local armed rebellion in Chad against the current government, some of which involve persons from outside the country. The 2015 suicide bombings in N’djamena by Boko Haram, further highlighted the volatile security situation which Chad is facing today.
As a result of these conflicts, Chad today hosts over 400,000 refugees and asylum seekers from neighbouring countries including Central African Republic, Niger, Nigeria and Sudan. Around 70,000 Chadian returnees have also entered the country in search of safe refuge.
Currently, priority has been placed on security policies by the authorities. The Working Group notes that though security measures are important, the inclusion of human rights standards is just as fundamental to ensuring the identified problems in the country are addressed comprehensively and with a view to creating long term and durable solutions for affected people. Humanitarian needs should also be prioritised. Focusing on security measures alone cannot guarantee success in promoting development for the most marginalised in the country. The root causes of armed conflicts in Chad and in the region need to be addressed with human rights strategies that focus on alleviating poverty, peace building and empowering local communities including refugees and returnees to have means to provide for themselves and their families.
Human rights abuses related to mercenaries and foreign armed groups
Scores of human rights abuses have been committed by groups such as Boko Haram particularly in border communities in the Lake Chad region. These include killings, torture, abductions and repeated attacks that have resulted in irreparable damage to these communities. Women and children who were forcibly taken captives had been particularly subjected to sexual and gender based violence. Many have been used as suicide bombers, while others were forced to marry their abductors. The rape, torture, sexual slavery and killing of women have been common in this region.
Though the delegation was told that Chad had closed its borders, trans-border criminal activities including trafficking of drugs, weapons and human beings continue. The vast and distant parts of the country known as “no man’s land”, have provided routes for criminal activities. The magnitude of these activities cannot be measured but they are happening in large scales according to various sources.
The Working Group was informed of the situation of “repentees or surrendees”, those who have returned back to their communities having been associated with Boko Haram. It emphasises the need to vet these individuals to see who can be rehabilitated and reintegrated back into their communities, as many have been forcibly abducted or recruited. It is important to make the necessary assessment and treat some of these individuals as victims, particularly those that have been severely traumatised and need appropriate psychological and medical care.
There are also concerns that many surrendees have been detained without due process or for excessive long periods of preventive detention in prisons such as Koro Toro. Many of these individuals are charged with acts of terrorism, which under the anti-terrorist law of 2015, includes the death penalty. The Working Group is concerned with potential human rights violations in relation to the processing of surrendees and other detainees in Koro Toro and urges the authorities to ensure that guarantees of a fair trial are respected in relation to detainees and prisoners. Due process guarantees must be respected in accordance with international human rights law. Employing human rights measures in the treatment of persons associated with terrorist acts can also minimise the possibility of them being radicalised or drawn back into violent extremism. Those working in the judicial system also require specialised training and equipment to carry out their work effectively.
The Working Group commends the work of the platform of religious leaders who are actively educating the public, particularly young people. Initiatives such as these provide valuable means to prevent violent extremism, radicalization, and the association of young people with armed groups. They also raise awareness about the dangers of violent extremism.
The Working Group had the opportunity to meet with refugees and returnees from the Central African Republic in Gaoui. While it understands the particular challenges Chad faces in addressing poverty and ensuring security for its territory, there is an urgent need for further assistance and funding to implement the necessary programmes to support affected populations. Local Chadian communities also face tremendous challenges in terms of scarce resources which have resulted in tension in some areas, between host communities and those who have come from other countries.
The right to enjoy the most basic fundamental human rights such as the right to work, to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and housing, to safe drinking water and sanitation, and to live a life of dignity have not been possible for thousands of people living in camps all over the country. Those that the Working Group met have escaped inexplicable horrors. They have lost many of their loved ones and have left behind everything in order to find safety in Chad. Many of these people have also suffered atrocities at the hands of mercenaries and armed groups and now find themselves in prolonged situations of poverty and neglect.
The Working Group hopes that with all the complex challenges that exist in Chad, support and assistance for the Chadian people, and for those who have sought refuge in the country from violence and armed conflict can be guaranteed for the long-term. It reiterates that human rights standards and humanitarian needs must be at the core of the initiatives taken by the Chadian authorities to address security challenges to ensure development is both sustainable and directly benefits its people, particularly the most vulnerable and those who are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. This will also ensure that development initiatives are not only focused on the regions where conflicts are common, but also throughout the entire country where many are living in conditions of poverty. It also underscores the critical need to address the root causes of armed conflicts in which mercenaries and armed groups thrive, to better address and stem the activities of these groups. The protection of civilians in the various zones in which these armed actors operate must also be prioritised.
The Working Group thanks the Government again for the opportunity to undertake this visit.___________
1/ Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions of 1949; 1989 Convention on the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries and the OAU Convention on the elimination of mercenaries in Africa.