26 November 2018
N’Djamena, 26 November 2018 – This autumn, ASF presents a portrait of justice in Chad, through interviews with four people who are active in defending human rights in the country. Guerimbaye Midaye is a lawyer in the bar association of Chad. He has been active for almost 30 years within the Ligue Tchadienne des Droits de l’Homme (LTDH), of which he is now the president. For him, combining his roles as a lawyer and as a human rights defender makes obvious sense. “There is a very strong link between the two.”
How did the LTDH come about?
Midaye: Founded in 1991, shortly after the overthrow of the Hissène Habré regime, the LTDH is the oldest human rights association in Chad. In the first few years, people were confused and thought it was a political organisation. We had to make the authorities and the people understand that defending human rights has nothing to do with seeking power. We can be critical of governance and the management of public affairs, but that doesn’t make us an opposition party.
What does the work of the LTDH entail?
Midaye: We campaign for the implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of conventions that have been ratified by Chad. Our activities include raising people’s awareness, popularising the law, speaking out against violations, and providing legal assistance to people whose rights are being threatened.
Does the issue of customary law have a significant impact on the work of the LTDH?
Midaye: Yes. Under the pretext of tradition, the traditional authorities sometimes take actions that are detrimental to people’s lives or physical integrity. We make them aware of the fact that respect for human integrity is more important than any other consideration, whatever the customs may be. Take, for example, child cowherds: children, sometimes very young children, work as cowherds for cattle farmers in conditions that are often close to slavery. We campaign for their rights to be respected. We also combat the practice of female genital mutilation.
You also provide legal advice…
Midaye: We advise the people who come to see us as best we can, depending on the nature of the cases they bring to us. If necessary, we assist them in asserting their rights in court.
The law states that anyone who is prosecuted in a criminal case must be assisted by a lawyer. In many areas, however, there are no lawyers. To get around this problem, the judge usually designates the role to anyone who can speak French. They may speak French but have no basic knowledge of how to defend people’s rights! In the LTDH, we often take over cases of people who have been in that situation and are facing very heavy sentences. Two years ago, for example, I defended fifty or so people in a trial in Moussoro. We also help people who have been released to return to their families, sometimes on the other side of the country.
According to you, there is a very strong link between the work of lawyers and that of civil society organisations like the LTDH.
Midaye: The thing is, there are very few legal experts within civil society organisations. My training as a lawyer and my knowledge of legal procedures is an important asset when it comes to defending human rights. There is a very strong connection between those two aspects. Being a lawyer enables me to understand the mechanics of the legal system, to be in contact with the different actors within it, and to give good advice to the victims of rights violations. Often, they don’t know who to turn to. I point them in the right direction.
Some people decide to become lawyers in order to get rich. To be a human rights defender, however, you must be prepared to be humble, to serve a cause without expecting remuneration. For me, the greatest reward of all is when someone I have freed from prison says to me, “Thank you very much!” That means more than the money I get for winning a case in court.
How would you describe the way justice operates in Chad?
Midaye: It’s a catastrophe. I don’t say that lightly. The recurring problem of corruption gives people the impression that only those who are rich can win. However, not everyone is rich. There is also the issue of bilingualism. Some major justice actors – including some judges – have no legal expertise, or don’t speak any French, the language in which our laws are written. When I am arguing a case before a judge who doesn’t understand what I am saying, as a lawyer, I feel like a fraud. I feel like I’m cheating the person who paid me to work for them. One solution, of course, would be to integrate Arabic into how justice operates, but the state in Chad is not taking any measures to do so.
What role do you see Avocats Sans Frontières playing in the country?
Midaye: The most important thing is that people take ownership of their rights and know how to assert them and to whom. I hope that ASF will support us in that approach.