Chad Opposition Leader Assassinated

Human Rights Watch

The killing of a potential presidential candidate during an assault by Chadian security forces on an opposition party headquarters raises serious concerns about the environment for elections scheduled for May 6, 2024, Human Rights Watch said today.

On February 28, members of the security forces killed Yaya Dillo, the president of the Socialist Party Without Borders (Parti socialiste sans frontières, PSF), during an attack on the party's headquarters in N'Djamena, the country's capital. The state prosecutor, Oumar Mahamat Kedelaye, said at a news conference that Dillo was killed during an exchange of gunfire with security forces.

The headquarters of the Socialist Party Without Borders (Parti socialiste sans frontières) in Klemat , N'Djamena, Chad on the morning of February 29, 2024, after a shootout with security forces the day before. © 2024 Private

"The circumstances of Yaya Dillo's killing are unclear, but his violent death highlights the dangers facing opposition politicians in Chad, particularly as elections approach," said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The prime minister and other key national figures should publicly call for an independent investigation into his death with an eye toward ensuring greater accountability before the election."

Dillo, 49, was considered a leading political opponent of the current transitional president, Gen. Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno. The two men are reported to be cousins from the same Zaghawa ethnic group. While Dillo had not announced his intention to run for president, he was widely reported to be preparing to do so.

Earlier in the week, on February 27 into February 28, a high-ranking PSF member, Ahmed Torabi, was reported by the media to have been arrested for trying to assassinate the president of the supreme court. Some media outlets stated that Torabi had actually been killed by the security forces. The government alleged that PSF members attacked an office of the national security agency, which responded by attacking the party headquarters on February 28. Before he was killed, Dillo told Agence France-Presse that the claimed assassination attempt was staged and that his party members never attacked the security agency.

Human Rights Watch reviewed several photos sent by a reliable source close to Dillo, showing him dead with a single bullet wound to his head.

The day Dillo was killed marked three years since security forces attacked his home, on February 28, 2021, killing his 80-year-old mother and injuring five other family members.

Internet services across N'Djamena were cut following the attack and remained off through February 29, 2024, making communication with the capital very difficult.

The lack of clarity surrounding the attack on the PSF headquarters, the threats previously faced by Dillo, and the general political repression in the country all point to the need for an independent investigation with foreign assistance into the February 28, 2024 events, Human Rights Watch said.

Since President Idriss Déby's death in April 2021, the transitional government headed by Déby's son, Gen. Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, has on several occasions carried out violent crackdowns on opposition-led protests demanding civilian democratic rule and on independent media.

On October 20, 2022, security forces fired live ammunition at protesters during demonstrations organized by civil society groups and opposition parties, killing and injuring scores, and beating and chasing people into their homes. Hundreds of men and boys were arrested, and many were taken to Koro Toro, a high security prison 600 kilometers from N'Djamena. Several detainees died en route, some due to lack of water. At Koro Toro, protesters suffered further abuse, including ill-treatment by other detainees, and some died. The detainees were held for months and eventually released or pardoned. Chadian authorities refused to carry out prompt, effective, and impartial criminal investigations into the violations.

On November 23, 2023, the national transitional council passed an amnesty law that removed the possibility of prosecuting security forces or others responsible for serious violations, including killings against participants in the October 20 demonstrations, enshrining impunity and rewarding the abusers.

Dillo's killing comes a week after the government's removal of the president of the National Human Rights Commission (Commission nationale des droits de l'homme, CNDH), the only government institution willing to publish an accurate accounting of the deadly October 20 crackdown. Succès Masra, the current prime minister and president of Les Transformateurs - the political party whose members made up the bulk of the political detainees and victims after the October 20, 2022 protests - expressed his "total and unconditional support to the Head of State" in a February 28 tweet.

The president of the African Union, in a February 29 statement, expressed his concern over events in Chad, but did not call for an investigation.

"The African Union should take the lead in calling for an independent investigation into Yaya Dillo's death and offer to provide assistance," Mudge said. "A transparent reckoning of the circumstances surrounding Yaya Dillo's death is needed to reassure Chadians of all political persuasions that the transitional government is committed to holding free and fair elections in May."

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