Violent militia attacks in eastern Chad claimed more than 300 lives in late 2006, primarily in the rural southeast, along the Chad-Sudan border. Children were shot and killed, women were raped, and villages were looted and burned, displacing more than 17,000 civilians in November alone. Most attacks were carried out by ethnic militias, and most victims belonged to non-Arab ethnic groups, though there are significant exceptions. Meanwhile, militia groups and Sudanese rebel movements with bases in the area have been responsible for the recruitment and use of child soldiers. These abuses constitute serious violations of international humanitarian law.

Three sometimes overlapping patterns of violence are conspiring to bring eastern Chad to the brink of a human rights and humanitarian disaster: internal armed conflict between the Chadian government and rebel groups; cross-border militia attacks against civilians; and communal violence.

The Chadian government has committed substantial financial and military resources to quashing anti-government insurgent movements, but this has largely come at the expense of protecting civilians, particularly in rural areas in east of the country where militia attacks and communal violence have become commonplace. Chadian security forces have failed to prevent cross-border raids by so-called “Janjaweed” militias from Sudan on villages in eastern Chad, and have been unwilling or unable to check the activities of abusive armed groups inside its borders. There have been no investigations into killings, incidents of rape or other forms of abuse and the perpetrators of serious crimes are enjoying total impunity.

As a consequence of the government’s failure to impose order and accountability, civilians in the volatile border zone have been forced to provide for their own protection by organizing self-defense forces and entering into security alliances with neighboring militias, usually along ethnic lines. In some instances, these community-based militias have been trained, organized and supplied by Sudanese rebel groups that operate in eastern Chad with the support and backing of the Chadian government.

Human Rights Watch received credible reports that in other parts of Chad security officials are exploiting ethnic differences and triggering communal violence in the short-term pursuit of strategic advantage in counterinsurgency efforts, through distributing weapons to the traditional adversaries of some of the ethnic groups that are associated with the Chadian rebel movements. Human Rights Watch is concerned that the Chadian security officials may be using similar tactics in eastern Chad in an attempt to weaken Chadian rebel movements, many of which are confederations of ethnic-based militias.

Ethnic groups in eastern Chad have become polarized by the sectarian nature of the recent violence, wherein militia raids tend to skirt Arab villages, even in hard-hit border areas that are largely abandoned due to insecurity. As arms and ammunition flow into the region and communities become increasingly militarized, eastern Chad stands at the brink of widespread communal violence.

Although the operational environment is clearly difficult, there is an urgent need for an increased international presence in Chad in order to prevent the situation deteriorating even further, with disastrous results not just for civilians in Chad but for those in the wider region, including Darfur and northeastern Central African Republic. The proposed international presence in Chad should include both military personnel and officials from the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights to monitor, investigate, and publicly report on the human rights implications of the twin aspects of the Chadian crisis—internal political strife and the insinuation of the Darfur conflict into community life in eastern Chad.

The United Nations Security Council should authorize an international presence of military personnel and human rights monitors along the Chad/Sudan border to deter further attacks on civilians, to monitor the complex political and social dynamics that contribute to communal violence, to provide essential information on human rights issues that are currently ignored, to support civilian protection efforts, and to inform future UN and international responses to the crisis in eastern Chad. Additionally, an international presence could monitor the Darfur arms embargo and the movement of armed groups in the border zone.

The Security Council should also call on the Sudanese government to cease support of armed groups responsible for abuses against civilians and on the government of Chad to cease support for Darfur rebel factions and armed groups responsible for attacks on civilians, the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and other human rights abuses. The government of Chad must take urgent action to restore law and order, including conducting impartial investigations and taking other actions as needed to bring perpetrators of human rights abuses to justice.