Civil society organizations pave the road to end capital punishment in Chad
By deciding to end the death penalty for terrorism-related offences in May 2020, Chad has joined some 170 States across the globe that either have abolished the death penalty in law, or do not carry out executions.
At the end of April 2020, the 155 members of the Chadian National Assembly adopted an amendment to law 003/PR/2020, the so-called ‘anti-terrorism’ law, to remove a provision that maintained capital punishment for terrorism-related offences. That revision enabled Chad to fully abolish capital punishment, after the National Assembly had promulgated a penal code in 2017 that abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes.
The start of a challenging but successful endeavour
Abolition was won after a determined and concerted effort, described by Salomon Nodjitoloum from the NGO Action Chrétienne pour l’abolition de la torture (Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture — ACAT), a member of the civil society coalition that fought for the past five years for the ‘anti-terrorism’ law to be amended.
“Since 2016, we had made many efforts on the issue of the death penalty and when it was finally fully abolished, I personally thought it was a good thing,” Salomon said. “The instruments ratified by Chad state that every human being has the inherent right to life and that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”
Chad had observed a moratorium on the death penalty since 2003. In 2014, the Government had announced its intention of abolishing it. However, in June and July 2015, the country’s capital, N’Djamena, was the theatre of several terror attacks and by August, Chad had reinstated the death penalty for acts of terrorism (Law 034/PR/2015).
Nodjitoloum recalled that for abolitionists, the most concerning issue with the ‘anti-terrorism” law was that it provided for the death penalty for anyone who committed an act of terror, financed terrorism, or recruited and/or trained people for their participation in acts of terrorism.
Almost a year after the attacks, during a workshop organized by the International Federation of ACAT to discuss the death penalty with opinion makers, participants had learned of a draft law to abolish capital punishment for ordinary crimes that had been sent by the Government to the National Assembly for adoption.
“The Government found itself in the following situation: abolishing the death penalty for ordinary crimes and examining the question of maintaining the death penalty as punishment for terrorism-related offences,” Nodjitoloum recalled. “The members of the National Assembly chose to abolish the death penalty in the Penal Code in 2017, but they retained the Law 034/PR/2015 dealing with acts of terrorism.”
Civil society at the forefront
It took three months for the perpetrators of the N’Djamena attacks to be sentenced to death and publicly executed in October 2015. The civil society coalition remained nevertheless strong in their determination and continued their advocacy with the Government, explaining that the death penalty does not deter terrorists.
“At the Regional Congress against the death penalty in Abidjan in April 2018, the Chadian Minister of Justice publicly informed us that Chad was hoping to review the ‘anti-terrorism’ law in order to completely abolish the death penalty,” Nodjitoloum said. “We took the Minister’s statement at its word.”
Following several pleas by civil society organizations and other stakeholders, recommendations by human rights treaty bodies such as the Human Rights Committee (2014) and a commitment made by the Government in the context of the Universal Periodic Review, in February 2019, the Ministry of Justice organized a workshop to review the ‘anti-terrorism’ law.
The text that was adopted in April 2020 by the Chadian National Assembly was drafted during that workshop. It was later promulgated by the President, Idriss Déby Itno, on 20 May.
Article 35 of the newly adopted text provides that terrorism suspects, at the time of their arraignment, should be in possession of a medical certificate attesting of their bodily and psychological integrity. With this article, the civil society coalition and the Government aimed to prevent torture and ill-treatment against terrorism suspects.
Nodjitoloum recalled that in April 2020, mere weeks before the new law was adopted, 58 suspected terrorists were arrested and transported from western Chad to the capital where they remained in detention. Forty-four died in unexplained circumstances. These deaths are still being investigated.
“Terrorists can be apprehended in the provinces, hundreds or even thousands of kilometres away, and brought to N’Djamena to be presented to the Prosecutor. Often, these detainees have been tortured upon their arrest or even during their transfer,” Nodjitoloum said.
“So we figured that, in order for the Prosecutor to fully appreciate the issue, we will require that a doctor examine these detainees before they appear in front of the judge,” he added.
A “good decision”
Nodjitoloum heard the news of the abolition when he was contacted for comment by the media.
“I felt a sense of pride for a job well done back then. I acknowledge that Chad has lost many lives due to terrorism; however, I would have liked to see [perpetrators] sentenced and tried, and kept in secure prisons where maybe they would have had time to reflect on and regret their actions,” he said.
“I believe that sometimes, by using the death penalty, we protect the real perpetrators. Because, nothing says that the terrorists who are arrested are the real leaders; and those who finance these acts, those who are behind these young people, are still running,” he added.
For Nodjitoloum, the death penalty does not resolve the issue of terrorism, and abolishing it was a good decision.
UN Human Rights’ country office in Chad also welcomed the promulgation of the new law.
“The abolition of the death penalty for terrorism-related offences is in line with the relevant recommendations that Chad accepted during its Universal Periodic Review in 2019,” said Flaminia Minelli, Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Head of the Country Office in Chad.
“We remain supportive of the Chadian Government’s efforts to promote and protect human rights, and stand ready to continue working with the authorities, including ensuring domestic legislation is in line with applicable international human rights standards,” she added. “We encourage Chad to now ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.’’