Background Briefing

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Chad and the Darfur conflict intertwined

Since February 2003, the Sudanese government and its Janjaweed militia forces have carried out a devastating campaign of “ethnic cleansing” and war crimes against civilians sharing the ethnicity of two Darfur rebel movements, the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA/M) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), drawn predominantly from the Zaghawa, Fur, and Masalit ethnic groups.  Some 1,800,000 people have been internally displaced by the campaign and have lost their livelihoods and homes.1   Some 200,000 Sudanese refugees from Darfur are living in camps set up in eastern Chad since late 2003 and another 20,000 Sudanese refugees are settled in communities along the Sudan border.2

Three years after the Darfur conflict began, it now threatens to engulf Chad.  This is a country already wracked repeatedly by its own political and economic crises, and is developmentally one of the world’s most impoverished.3

The Darfur conflict is intertwined with Chadian politics and with the unstable security situation along the 1,360-kilometer Chad-Sudan border. The border is straddled by numerous ethnic groups that are involved in the Darfur conflict either as supporters of one or other of the warring parties, or as their victims.  Successive Chadian governments, including the incumbent Chadian president Idriss Déby, came to power by launching military campaigns from bases in Darfur, with the support or complicity of the Sudanese government.4 The Déby government is now in turn threatened by rebels with bases in Darfur (see below).

The government of Chad has several times during the Darfur conflict accused Sudan of harboring and supporting the Chadian rebels and sponsoring attacks on its territory, but relations were mended. The Sudanese government has responded with denials, and also accused Chad of intrusions into Sudan.5  In the sharpest break so far, Chad declared a “state of belligerence” with Sudan on December 23, 2005, and the two countries began massing troops on the border in late December and early January, seemingly tilting towards open war. Chad publicly opposed the Sudanese government’s campaign for the presidency of the African Union on the basis that Sudan was promoting instability in the region; Sudan lost its bid at the African Union Summit held in Khartoum from January 23-24, 2006.6

High-level talks held in Libya resulted in an announcement of mended relations on February 8, 2006, and a pledge from both governments to end support to the respective opposition groups operating from both countries.7 Such accords have been reached before, however, have not been monitored independently, and have not held.

Chad’s precarious internal political and security situation

Fifteen years after seizing power in a military coup, Déby maintains his grip on power with increasing difficulty. Déby, who is a member of the Bideyat clan of the Zaghawa, appointed trusted members of his Zaghawa tribe to positions in all levels of government, but he infuriated many within his circle by refusing to provide direct support for Sudanese Zaghawa rebels against the government of Sudan in Darfur.  This refusal was one reason for a failed coup attempt (not the first) in May 2004,8 this time by members of Deby’s own clan within the palace and the military. In June 2005 Déby further isolated himself by pushing constitutional changes through the legislature that will allow him to stand in 2006 for a third term in office.

Between October and December 2005, members of the Chadian armed forces (including the presidential guard), and even members of Déby’s own family, left his side to join armed Chadian opposition groups in eastern Chad and Darfur.9  Many observers in Chadian capital N’Djamena believe these defections may have mercenary motives, their aim being to win concessions from Déby in ongoing disputes over the allocation of Chad’s newfound oil wealth.10  While defecting to the rebels might seem a drastic irreversible step, there are examples in Chadian history of military defectors being welcomed back in government once their concerns are addressed.

On December 18, 2005, the Rassemblement pour la Démocratie et la Liberté (Rally for Democracy and Freedom, RDL), a Chadian rebel group based in Darfur, attacked the border town of Adré, Chad.  Adré is the strategic key to Chad’s defense against attacks launched from Sudan (both Déby and Hissèin Habré before him ascended to power in Chad after attacking from Darfur and capturing Adré).  Déby, apparently prompted by the wave of defections from the Chadian army between October and December, had begun reinforcing Adré, as well as Abéché, the capital of Ouaddaï province, even before the December 18, 2005 attack.11

He set about reorganizing his military forces along the border to the south of Adré, starting with the battalion in Modoyna, which was deployed to Adré on October 10, 2005,12 followed by battalions stationed in Koloy and Koumou on December 10, 2005.  As of early February 2006, the Chadian army garrisons in Modoyna, Koumou, Koloy, Adé, Aourado, Borota and Goungour stood empty.13 Withdrawal from these border positions allowed Janjaweed militias to operate unchecked in eastern Chad, with disastrous consequences for civilians. 


On December 28, 2005, the RDL and seven other Chadian anti-government politico-military groups created the Front Unique pour le Changement Démocratique au Tchad (FUC) and united their forces under a single military commander, Mahamat Nour, former head of the RDL.14  In a recent interview, Nour said he would seize power by force of arms unless Déby convened a “national forum” to decide the nation’s future before his presidential term ends in June.15

[1] Approximately 1.8 million internally displaced persons are in Darfur.  See UNHCR 2006 Global Appeal – Darfur, [online] bin/texis/vtx/home/opendoc.pdf?tbl=PUBL&id=4371d17fe&page=home.  Another 220,000 Sudanese refugees are in Chad that includes 200,000 in camps and 20,000 spontaneously settled in communities along the border with Sudan.  See UNHCR 2006 Global Appeal – Chad, [online]

[2] See Human Rights Watch, “Darfur in Flames: Atrocities in Western Sudan,” A Human Rights Watch Report, vol 16, no. 5(A) April 2004, [online]; “Darfur Destroyed: Ethnic Cleansing by Government and Militia Forces in Western Sudan,” A Human Rights Watch Report, vol 16, no. 6 (A), May 2004, [online]; “Darfur Documents Confirm Government Policy of Militia  Support,” A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, July 20, 2004, [online]; “Empty Promises? Continuing Abuses in Darfur, Sudan,” A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, August 11, 2004, [online]; “If We Return We Will Be Killed,” A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, November 15, 2004, [online]; “Targeting the Fur: Mass Killings in Darfur,” A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, January 24, 2005; “Sexual Violence and its Consequences Among Displaced Persons in  Darfur and Chad,” A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, April 12, 2005, [online]; “Entrenching Impunity: Government Responsibility for International Crimes in Darfur,” A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 17, no. 17(A), December 2005, [online]; and “Sudan : Imperatives for Immediate Change,” A Human Rights Watch Report, January 2006, vol.18, no. 1(A), [online]

[3] Power has never changed hands peacefully in Chad, and it was ranked 173 out of 177 countries by the United Nations Human Development Report 2005 (Table 1, p. 222), [online]

[4] Human Rights Watch interviews, North Darfur, July-August 2004.

[5] Opheera McDoom, “Darfur rebels attack Sudan army base,” Reuters, Jan 28, 2006, [online]

[6] Opheera McDoom, “Sudan bid to head AU gathers pace despite critics,” Reuters, January 20, 2006, [online] Opheera McDoom, “U.S. praises AU decision not appoint Sudan as head,” Reuters, January 24, 2006, [online]

[7] “Sudan and Chad agree peace plan,BBC News,February 9, 2006, [online]

[8] Mark Doyle, “Darfur misery has complex roots,” BBC News, September 26, 2005, [online]

[9] “CHAD: With insecurity mounting in the east, are Deby's days numbered?”, U.N. Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), February 10, 2006, [online]  A significant number of ex-Chadian military personnel have also joined Darfurian insurgents the SLA and the JEM. Human Rights Watch interviews, North Darfur, July-August 2004.

[10] Confidential communications to Human Rights Watch, N’Djamena, Chad, February 3-4, 2006.  In December, citing security needs, President Déby rescinded an oil revenue management law designed by the World Bank and nongovernmental organizations to reserve oil income for priority sectors such as health and education.  The World Bank responded by freezing the government of Chad’s access to oil revenue held in a Citibank account in London on January 12, 2006, but it was not able to freeze a U.S. $ 36.2 million future generations fund, also World Bank administered, which Déby’s government has withdrawn in its entirety (this compares with U.S. $46 million in total accruals to Chad’s general budget since oil production began in 2003).  Human Rights Watch interviews, N’djamena, Chad, February 2006. See also “World Bank Suspends Disbursements to Chad,” World Bank press release, Washington, DC, January 6, 2006, [online],,contentMDK:20778928~menuPK:349881~pagePK:141137~piPK:141127~theSitePK:349862,00.html.

[11] Chadian rebels attacked Guereda, 120 kilometers north of Adre, on December 7, 2005, leaving ten dead and five wounded. The attack (attributed to the Platform for Change, Unity and Democracy, SCUD, a group of Chadian military deserters) marked the beginning of a campaign of rebel incursions from Darfur, and prompted the Chadian government to condemn Khartoum for backing the rebels. Human Rights Watch confidential communication, December 12, 2005.

[12] Reportedly, two helicopters landed in Modoyna, offloaded fuel, and gave the battalion commander instructions to gas up his eight vehicles and relocate to Adré, which was done that day.  Human Rights Watch interview, January 29, 2006.

[13] The Chadian military plans to send soldiers back to Adé and Modoyna, and to this end it withdrew 300 troops from N’Djamena and Chad’s northern command in January.  As of this writing, the redeployed soldiers remain stranded in Abéché, the capital of Ouaddaï province, for lack of transport.  Human Rights Watch, confidential communication, January 30, 2006.

[14] The seven other groups are the Socle pour le Changement, unite et la Democratie (Platform for Change, Unity and Democracy, SCUD), Front Nationale pour le Tchad Renovée (National Front for the Renewal of Chad, FNTR), National Council for Recovery (CNR), Force pour le Ratissage, le Regroupement et le Redressement du Tchad (Force for Raking, Regrouping and Rectification of Chad, FRRRT), Grouped u 8 Décembre, CNT and FIDL. Nour, from the Tama tribe, helped overthrow Hissène Habré as president in 1990, but entered armed opposition to Déby’s rule shortly thereafter.  In 2003, with support from the government of Sudan, Nour organized and directed Janjaweed militias in Darfur. Human Rights Watch interviews, Chad, January 2006.

[15] Opheera McDoom, “Chadian rebels threaten fresh assault,” Reuters, February 10, 2006, [online]

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