Chad, winner of an abolitionist struggle

26 May 2020

On Tuesday, 28 April, the Chadian National Assembly voted the abolition of the death penalty for terrorism acts, which had previously been authorized. ECPM which has been heavily involved in the field for years, welcomes this development and look back at the different steps taken with determination by this country, despite its unstable geopolitical context.

© Flickr / Marco Verch
© Flickr / Marco Verch

“With this law, Chad has become the 22nd African state to abolish the death penalty for all crimes”
Battu-Henriksson, EU Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, 24 May 2020

“The MP’s voted unanimously to abolish the death penalty for terrorism acts” declared Djimet Arabi, the Minister of the Justice, who initiated the bill.
Adopted by the Council of Ministers on the 19 December 2019, the bill amends Law No. 34, which reintroduced the death penalty for the perpetrators of terrorist acts. This law will be effective as soon as President Idriss Deby Itno has promulgated the new provisions.

The abolition of the death penalty in Chad, a long winding road

In December 2014, a law abolishing the death penalty is adopted for ordinary crimes. The death penalty will be replaced "by life imprisonment defined as a life sentence without the possibility of parole" said Mr Hassan Sylla Bakari, Minister of Communication and government spokesperson at the time.

Following the double suicide attack of 15 June 2015, the Chadian authorities are considerably reinforcing security measures in N'Djamena, the capital. The country is building up a severe legal arsenal, reintroducing the death penalty for persons committing a terrorist act, financing it, or recruiting and/or training people for a terrorist act, regardless of where it is committed. "Great pains, great remedies" said Moussa Kadam, First Vice-President of the National Assembly in 2015.

Terrorism, a common reason for reintroducing the death penalty 

"The growth of terrorism and the cruelty of its actions awakens the death drive in the public," said Robert Badinter. Because of the vagueness of the concept - since the 1960s, the United Nations has developed 19 international legal instruments in the context of the fight against terrorism, none of them providing a definition of terrorism - the fight against terrorism is often used as an excuse to violate international human rights standards, particularly regarding the death penalty.

Several countries, such as Chad and Tunisia, which had imposed a moratorium on the death penalty, had reintroduced it in their fight against terrorism. "We have to watch out for this fragility, because we see that, in the face of terrorism, countries can retreat from one day to the next," warned Maya Sahli Fadel on the occasion of the 7th World Congress against the Death Penalty held in Brussels.

"We have to watch this fragility, because we see that, in the face of terrorism, countries can retreat from one day to the next.”
Maya Sahli Fadel on the occasion of the 7th World Congress against the Death Penalty in Brussels

Chad, a country plagued by terrorism

Since 2014, Chad has been under threat from jihadist groups on its western flank in Lake Province. Terrorist fighters are stepping up deadly attacks against civilians and militaries. A month ago, about 100 Chadian soldiers died in an attack by the Boko Haram group, the worst defeat ever suffered by the Chadian army. In reprisal, 1,000 terrorists and 52 Chadian soldiers were reportedly killed in a massive military offensive launched by the President; 58 alleged members of Boko Haram were taken prisoner for trial. Three days later, 44 were found dead in their cells, following the ingestion of a toxic substance of undetermined origin.

France made an early commitment to provide political and military support to the states around Lake Chad. The cross-border nature of the terrorist threat requires a regional response, which has taken the form of Operation Barkhane. Launched in August 2014, the aim of this operation is to provide logistical and intelligence support to the countries of the Sahel-Saharan strip, grouped within the "G5 Sahel". Chad's abolition of the death penalty aims to "harmonize our anti-terrorism legislation with that of all the G5 Sahel countries which do not provide for the death penalty for terrorist acts" explained Djimet Arabi, Minister of Justice, following the vote on the bill. Only Burkina Faso has repealed the death penalty within the G5 Sahel. The death penalty is still enshrined in the law of other countries, even though it has not been applied for years.


« G5 Sahel »
Created in February 2014, the "G5 Sahel" brings together Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina-Faso, and aims to improve the coordination of countries in development policies and in security and defence activities.

Djimet Arabi, ministre de la justice, Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan, directeur général d'ECPM et le Président Idriss Déby.

From left to right : Djimet Arabi, the Minister of justice, Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan, the general manager of ECPM and the President Idriss Déby.

ECPM, a decisive reinforcement in the evolution of legislation

Since the reintroduction of the death penalty in Chad, ECPM has provided strategic support in the negotiations for the total abolition of the death penalty. The meeting with Chad's Minister of Justice, Ahmat Mahamat Hassan, provided an opportunity to discuss the next steps towards abolition on the sidelines of the 60th Session of the ACHPR (African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights) in Niamey, Niger. These discussions were taken up again at the first African Regional Congress against the death penalty, initiated by ECPM, in Abidjan in April 2018. In the final declaration of the Congress, ECPM called on Chad to repeal the "anti-terrorist" law of July 2015. Djimet Arabi responded favourably, pledging to change the legislation.

From February 4 to February 8, 2019, ECPM, the only non-Chadian guest, participated in a workshop to rewrite Law No. 34 on the Repression of Terrorism, at the initiative of the Moj, for experts, associations, and other key actors in the penal chain. On 6 February 2019, during a meeting, President Deby assured Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan, Director General of ECPM, of his willingness to abolish capital punishment. Thanks to numerous exchanges throughout the writing and voting process, the law abolishing the death penalty for terrorist acts became a reality.

Towards an Abolitionist Africa !

On the African continent, four-fifths of the 55 member states of the African Union no longer practise the death penalty, and in the last ten years only ten countries have carried out executions. Africa is perceived by civil society actors as "the next abolitionist continent". In recent years, there has been a slow process of withdrawal of political laws, at the request of the United Nations, particularly during the Universal Periodic Review of countries.

In too many countries, the death penalty is being used to silence opponents and excite the population. Conversely, the abolition of this inhuman punishment can be a political instrument of reconciliation. Putting an end to the death penalty means contributing to the reconstruction of countries that have been scarred by serious internal conflicts and accompanying their process of national reconciliation by demonstrating a capacity for forgiveness. South Africa, Rwanda and Mozambique, for example, have abolished the death penalty following terrible conflicts on their territories. Where the death penalty is a matter of haste and cowardice, its abolition requires responsibility and political courage.

Excerpt from the Abidjan Acts