Background Briefing


In 2006 and early 2007 hundreds of civilians were killed and more than 100,000 Chadians were displaced by militia violence in eastern Chad, where 230,000 Sudanese refugees live in an increasingly precarious security environment.1 Three sometimes-overlapping patterns of violence figure prominently in Chad’s crisis: internal armed conflict between the Chadian government and Chadian armed opposition groups; cross-border militia attacks against civilians; and communal violence.

Attacks against civilians have been concentrated in the Dar Sila department in the southeast of the Chad-Sudan border zone and the Dar Tama department in the northeast. Most of the violent attacks against civilians are taking place in Dar Sila, where Arab militias based in both Chad and Darfur, sometimes working in concert, carry out raids against mostly non-Arab villages, killing, raping and mutilating civilians, burning homes and stealing cattle.

The root causes driving the violence in eastern Chad include the destabilizing impact of the broader political tensions in Chad; the influence of the numerous armed groups in the region, many linked to the Darfur conflict; the manner in which the Chadian government has responded to the insecurity; and, at the community level, conflict over land and natural resources.

The governments of Sudan and Chad are both supporting armed groups in opposition to each other. The Chadian government has committed substantial financial and military resources to quashing Chadian rebel movements, but largely at the expense of protecting civilians in rural areas in the east of the country where militia attacks have become commonplace. The relative absence of Chadian security forces in the border zone has contributed to the escalation of a violent proxy war between Sudan and Chad, with political forces from both countries attacking supposed supporters of their enemies. In addition, the Sudanese government has refused to disarm or to restrain government-backed “Janjaweed” militias in Darfur, some of which have carried out attacks against civilians in eastern Chad, and refuses to consent to the full deployment of a proposed AU-UN hybrid force that could bring stability to the region. Policy decisions made by the governments of both Chad and Sudan are thus reflected in the chronic instability and rampant violence in eastern Chad. 

Communities in eastern Chad have become militarized as arms and ammunition flow into the region, and underlying tensions related to land and natural resources, particularly water, have been exacerbated. The activities of armed groups in the region, many linked to the Darfur conflict, have disrupted communal dynamics, and some of these armed groups have drawn community-based self-defense militias into the dynamics of their struggles. As alliances—and violence—have taken on sectarian aspects, ethnic groups have become polarized at the community level.

Though many of the perpetrators of abuses against civilians are based in Chad, Chad’s judicial apparatus has done little to ensure accountability, as official investigations of violent attacks and prosecutions are rarely undertaken and traditional systems of dispute resolution have been disrupted and rendered ineffective.

The government of Chad is not fulfilling its obligation to provide protection. With communal relations increasingly polarized and most of the actors in eastern Chad, including in some instances the government of Chad, either directly or indirectly contributing to the climate of insecurity, the deployment of an impartial, international force to eastern Chad is needed to effectively protect civilians.

The UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has been asked to consider conducting operations in a peacekeeping environment that is untraditional. However, the security vacuum in eastern Chad and the pressing civilian protection needs demand that the proposed UN mission find ways to deploy nonetheless, with the overriding responsibility of protecting civilians from attack by armed groups of any kind. 

1 See Human Rights Watch, “Darfur Bleeds: Recent Cross-Border Violence in Chad,”  no. 2., February 2006,; Human Rights Watch, “Violence Across Borders: The Human Rights Crisis in Eastern Chad,” no. 4, June 2006,; and  Human Rights Watch “They Came Here to Kill Us: Militia Attacks and Ethnic Targeting Against Civilians in Eastern Chad,” vol. 19, no. 1(a), January 2007,