Following the battlefield death of President Idriss Déby Itno on 20 April, senior United Nations officials and representatives of regional groups convened in the General Assembly today to pay tribute to the late Chad leader, many describing him as a valiant defender against the extremist violence spreading relentlessly across Africa’s Sahel region.
Speakers also spotlighted late President Déby’s staunch commitment to pluralistic democracy and the principles of Pan-Africanism. Several cited instances in which he did not hesitate to send troops to defend Chad’s neighbours — including through the increasingly robust “Group of Five” (G5) Sahel Joint Force working to combat violent extremism — or to share his country’s limited resources with those in need.
Secretary-General António Guterres, expressing the deepest condolences of the United Nations to the people and Government of Chad, said President Déby transformed his country into an influential Power that played a key role in the region’s affairs. Recalling his own experience as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, he added that the late President opened his country to thousands of people fleeing from other parts of the region, even when Chad’s own resources were scanty. He went on to underline the determination of the United Nations to continue to support the people of Chad in their pursuit of a consensus-based, peaceful political transition.
Volkan Bozkır (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, extended the 193-member organ’s sympathies to the late President’s family as well as to the people and Government of Chad. Recalling that the United Nations has long stood behind and provided support to the country — including through 14 programmes and agencies active there today — he emphasized that, under President Déby’s leadership, Chad remained a reliable partner on such crucial issues as combating violent extremism and organized crime. The country also makes significant contributions in peacekeeping, is a crucial member of the G5 Sahel Joint Force, and chaired the African Union as recently as 2016. Paying tribute to the late President’s critical role in all those initiatives, he asked the Assembly to observe a minute of silence in honour of his memory.
Antonio Rodrigue (Haiti), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), hailed President Déby’s legacy as a great statesman and recognized military leader, whose personal commitment to combating terrorism, violent extremism and organized crime in the Sahel-Sahara region was “enduring and unwavering”. He added: “He was unafraid of the battlefield, unafraid of the front line, and it was there that he paid the ultimate price.” The late President’s commitment to eliminating extremism and promoting stability, particularly in West Africa, coincides with the core values of the United Nations, he said, joining other speakers in extending condolences to the people and Government of Chad as they mourn his loss.
Bolot Kulmatov (Kyrgyzstan), speaking on behalf of the Asia Pacific Group, echoed other expressions of condolence and described the late President Déby as a man who served his country distinctly and passed away in defence of its people. “President Déby was a strong leader, devoted to protecting his nation from insecurity,” he said, adding that the late leader spared no effort in securing regional stability and combating the threats of terrorism and violent extremism.
Anna M. Evstigneeva (Russian Federation), speaking on behalf of the Group of Eastern European States, described President Déby as a prominent African statesman who was highly respected both within his own country and abroad. During his tenure as Head of State, he made a significant contribution to the socioeconomic development of Chad, the maintenance of peace and security on the African continent and to the international fight against terrorism and extremism in the Lake Chad basin and Sahel regions, she noted. Expressing confidence that Chad will successfully charter its course through the current turbulence, she said it will continue its efforts to ensure the peace, stability, well-being and prosperity of its people.
Francisco Duarte Lopes (Portugal), speaking on behalf of the Group of Western European and Other States, said President Déby’s untimely death was a stark reminder of the many challenges facing Chad and the broader Sahel region. “He believed in regional cooperation”, as well as multilateralism, he said, recalling that Chad — faced with many domestic challenges — nevertheless played a crucial and committed role in United Nations peacekeeping. He also joined other speakers calling for a peaceful political transition, including by holding free and fair elections in the near future and returning to constitutional order.
Guillermo Roque Fernandez De Soto Valderrama (Colombia), speaking on behalf of the Group of Latin America and the Caribbean (GRULAC), also conveyed the region’s condolences to the people and Government of Chad. “President Déby will be remembered for his commitment to the political stability of his country and his role in the promotion of peace and security in the Sahel,” he said, spotlighting the late leader’s efforts and leadership in combating terrorism and violent extremism as well as his strong support for the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
Issimail Chanfi (Comoros), speaking on behalf of the African Group, conveyed the continent’s condolences to the people and Government of Chad, urging them to “somehow find the strength to weather this tough ordeal”.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield (United States), delivering remarks on behalf of the Host Country, described the late President Déby as a “military man to his core”. His death is a reminder to the entire world that the dangers facing Chad and the broader Sahel region are real and present, she emphasized. In the current moment of transition, Chad requires an inclusive national dialogue in which all sectors of society have a chance to shape the future of their country, she said.
Ammo Aziza Baroud (Chad), thanking Assembly members for their kind words and condolences, recalled that President Déby lost his life on the battlefield while confronting mercenary fighters. She described his as a committed man, a revolutionary, and — first and foremost — a dedicated son of Chad. Born in 1952 to a family of nomadic pastoralists, the late leader studied in France and rose to head the Chadian Army upon his return to Africa, she said. Following the end of the occupation by Libyan forces, his struggle turned to restoring political pluralism to Chad and ensuring the rights of the people.
“He was the father of Chadian democracy, and […] defended, weapon in hand, his people from the threat of mercenaries,” she continued, adding that he was a dedicated Pan-Africanist who strove to advance sustainable development and held dear the principle of “African solutions to African problems”. Among other qualities, President Déby never hesitated to defend fellow Africans in their time of need, she noted, recalling that in just the last few years, he sent troops to help protect the people of Mali and fight Boko Haram in Niger. “It is up to the Chadian people […] to preserve this legacy so vehemently fought for by President Déby,” she stressed, calling for the support of the United Nations during this crucial time.
The General Assembly will reconvene in plenary at a date and time to be announced.