Human Rights Watch Darfur Drawn: The Conflict in Darfur Through the Eyes of Its Children
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The government of Sudan is responsible for “ethnic cleansing” and crimes against humanity in the context of an internal conflict in Darfur, one of the world’s poorest and most inaccessible regions, on Sudan’s western border with Chad. Since 2003, the Sudanese government and the ethnic “Janjaweed” militias it arms and supports have committed numerous attacks on the civilian populations of the Fur, Masalit, Zaghawa and other ethnic groups perceived to support the rebel insurgency. Government forces oversaw and directly participated in massacres, summary executions of civilians—including women and children—burnings of towns and villages, and the forcible depopulation of wide swathes of land long inhabited by the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa. The Janjaweed militias, Muslim like the groups they attack, have destroyed mosques, killed Muslim religious leaders, and desecrated Qurans belonging to their enemies.

Countless women and girls have been raped. Hundreds of villages have been bombed and burned; water sources and food stocks have been destroyed, property and livestock looted. Mosques, schools and hospitals have been burnt to the ground.

The United Nations estimates that more than 2 million people have been left homeless in the fighting. There are almost a quarter of a million refugees in neighboring Chad, one of the poorest countries in Africa. Abandoned villages have been destroyed. Even when the villages are left intact, many refugees are unwilling to return to Darfur unless their security is protected. “If we return,” one refugee told Human Rights Watch, “we will be killed.”

Estimates of how many people have died as a result of the conflict in Darfur vary widely. It is likely that at least 100,000 people have died from violence, disease and other conditions related to forced displacement and insufficient access to humanitarian assistance. The toll of death and displacement continues to rise. Those left homeless are still at risk: camps are poorly protected, and women and girls are frequently the targets of sexual attacks when they venture from the camp to find firewood and food for their animals.

The Drawings

Human Rights Watch researchers Dr. Annie Sparrow and Olivier Bercault visited Chad in February 2005 to assess the issues of protection and sexual violence in the refugee camps along the Darfur/Chad border. In her work as a pediatrician, Dr. Sparrow habitually asks children to draw while she talks to their parents or guardians. She did the same thing in Darfur. While Bercault and Sparrow spoke with parents, teachers, and camp leaders, the children drew. Without any instruction or guidance, the children drew scenes from their experiences of the war in Darfur: the attacks by the Janjaweed, the bombings by Sudanese government forces, the shootings, the burning of entire villages, and the flight to Chad.

As Sparrow and Bercault visited schools in refugee camps in Chad, many children between the ages of 8 and 17 shared the drawings they had done in their school notebooks, often alongside their lessons in Arabic or math. Schoolchildren from seven refugee camps and the border town of Tine offered Human Rights Watch’s researchers hundreds of drawings in the hope that the rest of the world would see their stories as described in their own unique visual vocabulary of war.