Background Briefing

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Abuses by Sudanese “Janjaweed” and Chadian militiamen

While there have been many small-scale cross-border attacks by Sudanese Janjaweed militias since 2004, the deterioration in Chad-Sudan relations since late 2005 has had serious implications for Chadian civilians living along and near the border with Darfur.

As noted previously,76 following the RDL attack on Adré on December 18, 2005, the Chadian military redeployed its border garrisons to Adré and Abéché, a strategy that secured the road to N’djamena, but left long stretches of the Chad-Sudan border defenseless, with disastrous results for civilians in the rural southeast.77  The Chadian military has reshuffled units in the east several times since then, deploying soldiers to border garrisons and then withdrawing them, with no noticeable diminution in cross-border attacks.  New commitments to deploy 200 troops from N’djamena to three points along the border had not been met as of this writing.78

Human Rights Watch’s research in eastern Chad in May 2006 revealed an evolution in the pattern of attacks on civilians since January and February 2006 that raises serious concerns about the potential for inter-ethnic or communal violence in eastern Chad.   Whereas earlier Janjaweed attacks involved small armed groups penetrating a few kilometers into Chad and then retreating across the border, generally with the aim of stealing cattle and looting, more recent Janjaweed attacks involved more fighters ranging deeper into Chad, with some returning to Sudan and others reportedly remaining inside Chad for weeks at a time.79 

There is another new element to the attacks: the Sudanese militias have formed alliances with Chadian ethnic groups, and some of the attacks are jointly conducted.  In addition to the motive of looting, some attacks may have political motives linked to domestic Chadian affairs, including attempts by Chadian rebels to oust President Déby.80

Until recently, despite the increasing ethnic polarization of many of their ethnic kin across the border, the incidence of inter-communal violence among Chadians in eastern Chad has been relatively low. Instances of violence between Chadian Arab and Masalit communities were documented around Adré,81 but these were generally linked to individuals who forged cross-border alliances with either the Darfur rebels or the Sudanese Janjaweed militias, and Chadian authorities intervened swiftly to limit their effects.  For the most part, Chadian authorities and tribal leaders of the various ethnic groups in eastern Chad have continued to live in the same villages or vicinity.82 

However, the security vacuum in southeastern Chad appears to be intersecting with increasing ethnic tensions and pressure on rural communities to align with the various armed groups operating in the region—whether for political for economic reasons. Humanitarian aid workers in eastern Chad agree on a figure of 50,000 civilians in the Goz Beida area that have been displaced by attacks on Chadian communities since the beginning of the year.83

Although the details are still poorly understood, preliminary investigation suggests that prior to October 2005, a broad spectrum of tribes in eastern Chad banded together in a self-defense network to resist Janjaweed incursions.84  Since October,85 however, it appears that some Chadian Arab groups became involved in Janjaweed atrocities in Chad.  Testimony from the far east of Dar Sila, from villages such as Mongororo, three kilometers from Sudan, and Daguessa, ten kilometers from Sudan, hint at a reason why these new alliances are emerging.  Village leaders report having been approached by Janjaweed “emissaries” late in 2005 with promises of immunity from attack in return for per capita payments in cash and cattle.  These leaders claim that the “dues” would pay for membership in the wihida Arabia or “Arab Union,” with the condition that members must raid and pillage alongside the Janjaweed.86 

Numerous interviews in eastern Chad have made it apparent that non-Arab tribes including the Ouaddaï,87 Mimi and Tama have formed a kind of alliance, be it formal or informal, with Chadian and Sudanese Arab tribes.  Just as Arabs are effectively immune to Janjaweed attacks, the Mimi, Ouaddaï and Tama, relatively recent arrivals in Dar Sila department,88 are said to be immune from such attacks as well.  Non-Arab tribes such as the Dajo and Masalit, whose cousins have been Janjaweed targets in Sudan, accuse the Mimi, Ouaddaï and Tama of complicity in Janjaweed attacks, charging that they help Janjaweed locate concentrations of cattle belonging to the Dajo and Masalit for rustling. 

The Arab chief of Damri, a farik (village) north of DogDoré, 150 kilometers east of Goz Beida, confirmed that an alliance between Arabs and non-Arab tribes such as the Mimi and the Ouaddaï exists, but he explained that it was motivated by a need for protection against territorial aggression on the part of the majority Dajo and Masalit tribes of the area, which had allied themselves in a bid to push the Arabs, along with recent immigrants such as the Mimi and the Ouaddaï, out of Chad and into Sudan.89  Interviews with Chadian Arab leaders90 revealed widespread concerns that racial enmity would lead to a violent backlash against Arabs in eastern Chad, concerns that appeared to be well founded when three Arab villagers were severely beaten, with one of them hospitalized, following a dispute with Sudanese refugees on the outskirts of Djabel camp on May 16.91

According to a Ouaddaï chief of Hille Adjin, thirty-five kilometers west of the Sudan border, the Darfur crisis has also negatively affected Chadian Arab communities, who are uniformly perceived to be Janjaweed. He told Human Rights Watch:

I’ve lived here for 22 years and I’ve never had a problem with the Sinyar [local African tribe], but now they see that I’m Ouaddaï and now that means that I’m Arab, and then that means that all Arabs are Janjaweed.  We’re people of Islam.  That’s enough.92

The rapid changes that are taking place in terms of ethnic dynamics might account for ever-increasing reports from victims of violence in eastern Chad that their attackers are Chadian, or even persons known as neighbors.  A Dajo man present when Janjaweed attacked his village in April told Human Rights Watch that he knew his attackers:

The people who attacked are our brothers, our neighbors. Our very own friends. They’ve been transformed by the Janjaweed, and now they attack us.93

Chadian government efforts to shore up the border defenses by distributing arms to village self-defense groups may also be responsible for increased tensions among Chadian communities.94 Such distributions are said to have taken place in N’djamena and the eastern town of Guereda before and during the April 13 attacks, when Zaghawa citizens were armed by the government.95 The Chadian military has also reportedly armed and organized volunteers from villages south of Bahr Azoum, near the border with Central African Republic, an area of intensive Janjaweed activity.96 

Violence was so intense in southeastern Chad, near the Central African Republic border, that more than 10,000 people took refuge in Um Dukhun, in West Darfur, between mid-May and mid-June, 2006.  According to the international humanitarian aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the refugees reported that their villages in Chad were attacked, often in broad daylight, their animals were looted, along with food stocks, money and even their clothes. The MSF team in Um Dukhun treated more than 20 people with violence-related injuries, including wounds caused by gunshots, axes, and swords.97

The Djawara Massacre of April 12-13, 2006

A major attack on civilians took place in eastern Chad on April 13, while FUCD rebels were streaming toward N’djamena.  Sudanese Janjaweed militias and local Chadian villagers attacked a cluster of Chadian villages—all inhabited by the Dajo ethnic group—in Dar Sila department.  The violence was concentrated in the village of Djawara, approximately 70 kilometers west of the border with Sudan.  Seventy-five people were reported to have been killed within just a few hours.

Numerous survivors described unarmed villagers being surrounded and gunned down or hacked to death with machetes by militiamen wearing blue or green Sudanese military fatigues and turbans and by Chadian civilians wearing white boubous (traditional garb consisting of a long shirt and pants) and turbans.  At the same time, between April 12 and April 13, Janjaweed militias reportedly killed 43 others in three villages in the Djawara vicinity: Gimeze, Singatao and Korkosanyo.98

A 48-year-old villager from Djawara recalls the scale of the violence:

I ran away but I was caught with others by a group of Janjaweed at 500 meters from the village.  They took off my hijab [leather amulet or talisman filled with Koranic verses].  We were surrounded by Janjaweed, more than fifty I would say, maybe one hundred.  They tried to kill us with machetes and knives.  I was hit on the head.  At some point, the Janjaweed decided to finish us off and asked someone in the group to shoot us.  The guy took his Kalashnikov and shot.  Everybody collapsed.  I felt that I had been shot in the arm, and I fell down.99 

A burial party of local villagers returned to Djawara on April 23, but they came under fire from unknown assailants before they could finish burying the dead.100  When Human Rights Watch researchers visited Djawara village in May, they found more than a dozen dried pools of blood staining the ground in a grove of trees and scrub brush approximately 500 meters west of the village.  The area was littered with bullet casings, rifle magazines, articles of clothing and amulets commonly worn as protection against bullets.  Local villagers showed Human Rights Watch six graves nearby where they said they had buried a total of 25 people.  Another 12 bodies had been dragged into a ditch and partially covered with straw mats, and one decomposing body was found at the foot of a nearby tree.  Another 37 people were reportedly killed elsewhere in the village. 

All of the victims in Djawara were men and arrows found among the bullet casings littering the ground in Djawara suggest that local villagers fought their attackers with basic weapons.  Members of the Djawara village self-defense group confirmed that they fought back when their village was attacked, mostly with bows and arrows and machetes, although a few had automatic weapons.  After a brief skirmish the village defenses collapsed, and the villagers were shot or hacked to death.101

A 29-year-old Dajo man from Djawara who was shot in the foot on April 13 and was recovering at a hospital in Goz Beida said:

The first time they attacked they took all our cattle, the next time they came just to kill us—there were no more cattle left to steal.102

While cattle theft is widely presumed to have been the primary motive for earlier Janjaweed raids into Chad, the Djawara massacre may have been retribution for the actions of the village self-defense group or for earlier events in which Dajo villagers reportedly went across the border to retrieve stolen cattle and killed one Chadian Arab.103

A 60-year-old Dajo man from Gimeze witnessed the attacks on April 12 and 13. He said:

It all began a few days before when a group of Janjaweed came to the vicinity of Djawara and stole eight hundred cows. The villagers chased them and took half of the animals back. Many Janjaweed regrouped and struck back a week later. There is a Janjaweed camp near Singatao, in Djambarial, an Arab village. The Sudanese Janjaweed have a good relationship with the Arabs and can mobilize them easily.104

The attack was not unexpected and may have also been linked to the recent political developments. The Djawara villagers received a warning that the attack was imminent and were able to move their women and children out of the vicinity. One Djawara resident who survived the attack told Human Rights Watch that the warning was given by a young Chadian Arab woman who visited five days prior to the attack and told the villagers, “You belong to Idriss Déby’s party and you’re gonna to see what will happen to you this coming year.”105

Other survivors interviewed also mentioned an alliance between the Sudanese Janjaweed and Chadian villagers and highlighted a political dimension to the attacks. A forty-eight-year-old Dajo man said:

The Sudanese Janjaweed say that they will protect those who will sign an agreement with them….Those who refused to sign are the [SLA] people. Those who signed are the Mahamat Nour people.106

Whatever the motivation, the Djawara attack appears to be the worst single incident documented to date, but may be only the tip of an iceberg. Due to security constraints, Human Rights Watch was unable to fully document other attacks in the Djawara vicinity, much less further south along the border. Between April 8 and April 13, however, attacks were reported on at least twelve other Dajo villages in Dar Sila.

On June 16, MSF reported that more than 10,000 people fled attacks in southeastern Chad in May and entered Darfur. The refugees described widespread beatings and other abuses, including systematic looting, at the hands of unidentified militiamen.107  The fact that these people sought refuge in Darfur, where widespread atrocities have been committed, suggests an acute degree of desperation about the security situation in these areas. 

Escalating tensions? The attack on Koukou-Angarana

Increasing attacks near the refugee camps have also raised concerns that the refugee population could be the next target for militia attacks—or could become more involved in defensive actions.  Recent events in Koukou-Angarana, a town that is adjacent to the Goz Amer refugee camp, have underlined the risk that refugees may become involved in the escalating tensions.

A May 1 attack by 150 Sudanese militiamen on Dalola, a Dajo town 80 kilometers from the Sudan border and just west of Koukou-Angarana, resulted in four dead, six wounded, and 1,000 head of cattle stolen.

Koukou-Angarana itself was attacked on May 16 by a Janjaweed militia.  Two villagers were killed, five wounded and 1-2,000 cows were stolen and subsequently recovered.  One Janjaweed militia man was shot dead and two were reportedly taken prisoner just after the attack.108 Human Rights Watch obtained copies of documents allegedly found on the militiamen which indicate that the they belonged to different Sudanese police or paramilitary forces known to include many Janjaweed militia members, including the Border Intelligence Guards and the police.  The Sultan of Goz Beida affirmed that the Janjaweed had been helped by local Chadians before and during the attack;109 however, Chadian gendarmes strongly denied this assertion.110 

Officials at UNHCR were gravely concerned by the Janjaweed attacks against Koukou-Angarana for fear that the Goz Amer refugee camp could be attacked next.  Refugees in Goz Amer streamed out of the camp on May 16 with bows and arrows and spears to join the battle against the Janjaweed.  While Goz Amer is one of the most ethnically heterogeneous camps in Chad (60% Masalit, 30% Fur, 5% Dajo, 5% others) the available evidence points to commercial motivations behind the recent raids, as opposed to ethnic animus. 

[76] “Darfur Bleeds: Recent Cross-Border Violence in Chad,” A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper.

[77] As of February 2006, Chadian army garrisons in Modoyna, Koumou, Koloy, Adé, Aourado, Borota and Goungour stood empty.  Human Rights Watch, confidential communication. See also “Darfur Bleeds.”

[78] The 200 soldiers were reportedly to be distributed between Goz Beida, Koukou-Angarana and Borota.  Human Rights Watch interview, U.N. official, Chad, May 22, 2006.

[79] Some people claim that Arab militiamen are settling in villages 20 kilometers northeast of DogDore, between Koukou-Angarana and the Sudan border and north of the Central African Republic border, but Human Rights Watch could not verify this claim. Human Rights Watch interviews, Chad, May, 2006.

[80] Human Rights Watch interviews, Goz Amir, Chad, May 11, 2006.

[81] Human Rights Watch interviews, Adré and Farchana, Chad, February 2004.

[82] Human Rights Watch interviews, Chad, January - June, 2006.

[83] Human Rights Watch interviews, Chad, April 28 - 29, 2006.

[84] Human Rights Watch interviews, Chad, April - May, 2006.

[85] A policy of increasing Sudanese government support to Chadian rebel groups in West Darfur appears to date to this period, so the timing of the break-up of the prior inter-Chadian alliance—and the emergence of the new alliance in this period—is unlikely to be a coincidence.

[86] Human Rights Watch interviews, Chad, May 11-13, 2006.

[87] The term Ouaddaïen is used to describe all the people living in the administrative region of Ouaddaï, especially when used in the Western part of Chad. There is however a “specific” Ouaddaï tribe, from Dar Ouaddaï, the land of “genuine” Ouaddaïens, who are the Maba. See Albert Le Rouvreur, “Sahéliens et Sahariens du Tchad,” (1962).

[88] The Mimi and the Ouaddai immigrated to Dar Sila between 1979 and 1985 after a drought in Abéché province. 

[89] Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, May 2006.

[90] Human Rights Watch interviews, Arab tribal leaders, eastern Chad, May 2006.

[91] Human Rights Watch interviews, Chadian traditional leaders, Goz Beida, Chad, May 16, 2006.  The Sultan of Goz Beida called all the chefs de bloc of Djabel camp together on May 16 to warn them that attacks against Chadian civilians—of any ethnicity—would not be tolerated. 

[92] Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, May 2006.

[93] Human Rights Watch Interview, refugee, Goz Beida, Chad, May 6, 2006.

[94] Confidential e-mail communications to Human Rights Watch, May and June 2006.

[95] Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, April 2006.

[96] Human Rights Watch was not able to verify these reports but any ethnically-based arming of civilian populations is of extreme concern.   Human Rights Watch confidential communication, June 14, 2006.

[97] “Over 10,000 people flee violence in Chad,” Médecins Sans Frontières press release, June 16, 2006, [online]

[98] Human Rights Watch was not able to visit these villages at any length due to continuing insecurity in the region; however, reports that Singatao had been partially burned were confirmed, and Singatao, Djawara and Gimeze were observed by Human Rights Watch to have been abandoned. 

[99] Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, May 11, 2006.

[100] Human Rights Watch interview, Djawara, May 8, 2006.

[101] Human Rights Watch interviews, Chad, May 2006.

[102] Human Rights Watch interview, Goz Beida, Chad, May 7, 2006.

[103] Human Rights Watch interviews, Chad, April 2006.

[104] Human Rights Watch interview, Goz Beida, Chad, May 10, 2006

[105] Human Rights Watch interview, Goz Amir, Chad, May 11, 2006.

[106] Human Rights Watch interview, Dogdoré IDP camp, Chad, May 13, 2006.

[107] “Over 10,000 people flee violence in Chad,” Médecins Sans Frontières press release.  Reflecting these concerns, UNHCR reported that it moved nearly 500 Chadian refugees (of Dajo ethnicity) May 11 from unsafe areas along the Chad-Sudan border to a new refugee camp at Um Shalaya, in Sudan's far western region of West Darfur.  “UNHCR opens new camp for Chadian refugees in Darfur,” UNHCR, May 12, 2006, [online]

[108] By the afternoon, when Human Rights Watch arrived in Koukou, gendarmes said that three Janjaweed had been killed; they were able to produce two sets of identity documents but only one dead body, and explained that the Janjaweed took two of their dead with them when they fled. One international aid worker said that he saw a prisoner severely beaten up by gendarmes that morning.  Human Rights Watch interview with aid worker, Goz Amer camp, Chad, May 11, 2006.

[109] Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, May 14, 2006.

[110] Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, May 16, 2006.

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