We have begun our work on the ground in eastern Chad and in these early days much of our focus is on the impending decision of the United Nations Security Council concerning the future of the critical UN mission here.
Under pressure from the Chadian government, and with the conspicuous absence of the usual strong influence of Chad’s former colonial power, France, the Security Council is poised to agree to begin a pull out of UN troops from the east of the country, to be completed by mid-October.
This decision could very well prove disastrous for human rights protection, development projects and overall security. And at this point in time it seems near irreversible.
My friend Celine Narmandji, a remarkably tenacious women’s human rights defender who I’ve worked with on missions here in the past, put it very well when we met for lunch shortly after my arrival in Chad. She said: “We were abandoned before. We’re going to be abandoned again. The good news is that in between, for a short while, the world did care about the situation in eastern Chad.”
She’s right but we need better news than that.
I been thinking back, repeatedly, to the many women, men and young people I met during my first Amnesty International mission to eastern Chad, in late 2006.
They too talked about abandonment: in the face of a relentless wave of violence, much of it orchestrated from across the border in Darfur, hundreds of villages were razed, thousands of people killed, untold numbers of women and girls raped, and close to 200,000 Chadian chased from their homes.
They felt abandoned by their own government and the rest of the world. And they were – there was no UN mission on the ground at that time. And the Chadian authorities, who have long neglected and played politics with the east of the country, did nothing to prevent or respond to the devastating human rights violations. Abandonment was the right word.
Amnesty International and others worked hard to end that abandonment. Members of the organization – in Canada and worldwide – wrote letters, signed petitions and spoke out.
And in March 2008 a UN mission, complete with military troops, began to fan out across this isolated and troubled region with a strong Security Council mandate to protect civilians.
It was not easy. The UN mission faced numerous challenges and shortcomings – many of which Amnesty International publicized, including after a mission I was part of back to the east last year.
But now, just as the mission has begun to solidify and truly make a difference – the Chadian government has pulled the plug and the Security Council has meekly gone along for the ride.
The mandate of the current mission is set to expire on Wednesday 26 May, just 72 hours from when I’m recording this message.
The writing is on the wall – a draft of the new resolution is circulating widely now, laying out a timetable for the UN’s quick withdrawal and taking away from the reduced numbers of UN troops that will remain for the next several months their mandate to take action to protect civilians. It is expected to be adopted before Wednesday.
Even as the hours draw to a close we must continue to press key governments – particularly France – to step back from the brink and refuse to go ahead with a precipitous UN pull out from a country that is, at best, beginning to enjoy fragile and very tentative improvements in human rights protection and security on the ground.
I hope you will respond to Amnesty International’s email action targeting French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
It does appear that minds are made up.
But we are activists.
We certainly do not believe in abandonment.
And we do not remain silent – whatever the odds.