Chad plunged into civil war not long after it had gained independence from France in 1960, and has been intermittently wracked by internal and international conflicts ever since. Armed opposition to Chad’s current leader, President Idriss Déby, increased in intensity in late 2005 when waves of defections from the Chadian national armed forces reinforced several Chadian rebel movements. In 2006, Chadian rebels waged a low-intensity war in eastern Chad, venturing west in April to strike at the capital, N’Djamena, before being repulsed by government security forces. In early December, rebel forces lost a series of decisive battles in northern and eastern Chad and later in the month one of the militarily strongest groups signed a peace agreement with the government. However, other rebel groups remain active and attacks on civilians are continuing, with cross-border militia raids from Sudan and inter-communal violence displacing 20,000 Chadian civilians in late December 2006 and early 2007, bringing the total number of internally displaced Chadians in the border area to more than 100,000.1 Despite the ever increasing need for humanitarian assistance, relief agencies are unable to access many Chadian civilians due to insecurity.

Chad’s latest political crisis is playing itself out in a context of acute regional strife. Insurgent groups are threatening to topple the government of the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad’s neighbor to the south, and the Darfur conflict in Sudan to the east is burning out of control for a fourth year running.

A dangerous cycle of proxy violence has developed, with both the government of Chad and the government of Sudan supporting and arming rebel groups in pursuit of wider political objectives and military goals. The government of Sudan has backed Chadian rebels and militia groups in Darfur and the government of Chad has supported Sudanese rebel groups in eastern Chad, which in turn have supported the creation of self-defense groups at the community level in Chad. Armed groups have proliferated along the Chad-Sudan-CAR border zone, and have committed serious crimes against civilians in Chad that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The volatile Chad-Sudan border zone

Although divided by an international border, eastern Chad and western Sudan are closely linked historically, economically, and socially, with numerous ethnic groups common to both countries. Communities on both sides of the border live in marginal ecologies where seasonal rainfall can be erratic, putting pressure on nomads, agro-pastoralists and agriculturalists, and making access to water, pasture, and land suitable for crops a matter of life or death. Decades of war and drought have provoked cross-border migration in both directions.

The prevailing political dynamics in each region have a dramatic impact on the affairs of both states, particularly Chad. Both Chad’s incumbent president, Idriss Déby, and the president he deposed in 1990, Hissène Habré, came to power by launching military campaigns from bases across the border in Darfur, with the support or complicity of the Sudanese government. Darfur was a base for Chadian dissidents in successive Chadian wars in the 1980s, and after 1986 Sudanese militias sponsored by Libya in its war with Chad were also active in the region.2 Although N’Djamena is situated in the far west of the country, it has been a truism in Chad that power comes from the east.

Chadian Arabs make up 15 to 20 percent of Chad’s population3 and represent a crucial political constituency, particularly in the border zone. As a young army officer in the 1980s, Déby, who is from the Bideyat clan of the Zaghawa, carried out brutal attacks against Chadian Arabs on President Habré’s behalf, prompting a Chadian Arab migration into Darfur. In April 1989, Déby followed the Chadian Arabs into Darfur as an exile in the wake of a failed coup d’état against Habré. While in Darfur, Déby allied himself with Chadian Arab rebel groups, some of which would join the armed effort to topple his regime years later.4 Déby enjoyed some level of support from Chadian Arabs until a Chadian rebel attack against N’Djamena in April 2006 led him to disarm and even arrest some Arab officers of the Chadian National Army (Armeé Nationale de Tchad, ANT).5

Chadian Arabs have played a key role in the Darfur conflict as well, which escalated in early 2003 after rebels from the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA)6 attacked the airport in El Fashir, North Darfur. The government of Sudan reacted by recruiting Sudanese and Chadian Arabs, particularly from nomadic groups and recently arrived landless immigrants, into militia groups that came to be known as the “Janjaweed.” Between 2003 and 2005, government of Sudan-backed Janjaweed militias and Sudanese government forces carried out a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” and crimes against humanity against civilians belonging to the Zaghawa, Masalit and Fur ethnic groups in Sudan, which predominate among the Sudanese rebel groups in Darfur, killing at least 200,000 people and forcibly displacing ten times that number.7 At least 232,000 Sudanese took refuge in eastern Chad.8

Members of the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa ethnic groups form the core of the Sudanese rebel movements, and many Masalit and Zaghawa have ethnic kin across the border in Chad who have offered them support and refuge over the course of the Darfur conflict. Meanwhile, some of the Sudanese Zaghawa who helped Déby seize power in Chad remained in the Chadian military.9 Given that some members of the Janjaweed militia also come from ethnic groups that straddle the border–or were themselves Chadian nationals–it was only a matter of time before the Darfur conflict permeated eastern Chad.

Armed groups, including Sudanese rebels and Janjaweed militia, have operated freely in the Chad-Sudan border zone from the start of the fighting in Darfur. The Chadian and Sudanese national armies have been more circumspect.10 However, Chadian military forces have been observed operating deep within Darfur11 and some units crossed the Chad/Sudan border in hot pursuit of Chadian rebels as recently as December 12, 2006.12 Sudanese government aircraft bombed villages in eastern Chad in October 2006, part of a broader pattern of indiscriminate bombing attacks against civilians in Darfur.13

The deterioration in Chad-Sudan relations

In the early phases of the Darfur conflict, in 2003 and 2004, Déby was allied with Khartoum, which had been instrumental in bringing him to power, to the extent that he resisted pressure from his Chadian Zaghawa kinsmen to support Sudanese Zaghawa rebels fighting in Darfur,14 even as members of his inner circle warned him that Khartoum was supporting Chadian Arab militias with the intent of toppling his regime.15 However, unofficially Chadian Zaghawa in the military, including members of the Presidential Guard, directed covert assistance across the border, straining ties between Chad and Sudan.16

As Chad’s relations with Sudan deteriorated in 2005, President Déby’s autocratic leadership style was costing him support at home, even within his Bideyat Zaghawa clan. Déby was broadly accused of mismanagement and corruption17 as revenue began to flow into the state’s coffers from Chad’s newfound oil wealth.18 At the same time, many within the ruling party believed that misappropriated funds weren’t being spread widely enough.19 Domestic discontent over the predominance of minority Zaghawa in influential positions and the lack of democratic governance surged in June, when Déby amended Chad’s constitution in order to run for a third term in office.20 As a result, influential members of Chadian society came to the conclusion that armed struggle was the only way to gain political power, and, as a perquisite to power, access to oil wealth.21

Starting in early October 2005,22 Chadian Army troops defected with their equipment to Chadian rebel movements in Darfur. Prominent among these rebel groups was the Rassemblement pour la Démocratie et la Liberté (Rally for Democracy and Freedom, RDL), 23 led by Mahamat Nour Abdelkarim,24 a Chadian from the Tama ethnic group. Mahamat Nour is reported to have collaborated with the Sudanese government and Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal in the recruitment of Tama fighters in Darfur.25 The Socle pour le Changement, l'Unité et la Démocratie (Platform for Change, Unity and Democracy, SCUD) brought together high-ranking Zaghawa defectors26 from the armed forces, including members of the presidential guard, and from Déby’s inner circle, including his twin nephews, Tom and Timan Erdimi, and the leader of his Bideyat Zaghawa clan, Yahya Dillo Djerou.27

Sudanese government officials suspicious of Chadian support to the Darfur rebels began to provide material backing to the Chadian rebel movements.28 Both the RDL and the SCUD found homes in Darfur, with training camps established by the Sudanese government in October 2005.29 Material backing from Khartoum included weapons and ammunition observed by international arms monitors being offloaded at Geneina airport in West Darfur, transported to the national security compound in Geneina and then delivered under cover of darkness to Chadian rebel locations.30 In return, Chadian rebels reportedly fought alongside Janjaweed militia in operations against Sudanese rebels in West Darfur.31

On December 7, 2005, SCUD rebels attacked Guereda, 120 kilometers north of Adré, leaving ten dead and five wounded,32 marking the beginning of a campaign of rebel incursions into Chad from Darfur. Mahamat Nour’s RDL faction struck next, on December 18, 2005, with an ambitious raid on the strategic town of Adré in eastern Chad that was repulsed by Chadian security forces fighting alongside Darfur rebels.33 Chadian authorities immediately blamed the aggression on Khartoum.34

With his Zaghawa ethnic group making up only one percent of the Chadian population, President Déby has maintained power since 1990 by creating political alliances. With his support slipping, he found ready confederates among Sudanese rebels who needed to be able to use the Chad-Sudan border as a shield against Sudanese government attacks. By January 2006, Chadian support for Sudanese rebel movements had gone well beyond unofficial ad hoc channels and included vehicles, weapons and munitions.35 In February 2006 Chad and Sudan signed the Tripoli Agreement, vowing to cease support for each other’s respective opposition groups and inviting the African Union to monitor the agreement;36 but behind the scenes both parties continued to maneuver and build alliances.

In April 2006, having brought the RDL together with several smaller Chadian rebel movements under the banner of the Front Uni pour le Changement (United Front for Change, FUC), Mahamat Nour laid siege to N’Djamena. FUC rebels dashed hundreds of kilometers across Chad from bases in Darfur and CAR and fought pitched gun battles with Chadian security forces on the streets of the capital city. With considerable assistance from the French military,37 the takeover attempt was thwarted on April 13, with hundreds killed. The next day, President Déby unilaterally severed relations with Sudan.38 Though the two countries renewed their pledge to expel rebels from their territories in July39 and restored diplomatic relations in August,40 the April attack continued to cast a pall over bilateral relations.

By May 2006, Chadian government backing for Sudanese rebel movements was increasingly overt, as groups including the G-1941 faction of the SLA and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)42 established bases in eastern Chad and canvassed for recruits in UN-managed Sudanese refugee camps, sometimes armed with laissez-passers signed by Chadian government officials.43

Meanwhile, across the border, Sudanese intelligence agents pushed the splintered Chadian opposition movements to unite under a single command.44 Starting in mid-September 2006, Chadian rebel groups engaged Chadian government forces up and down the border, with Mahamat Nour’s FUC now fighting under the umbrella of yet another rebel coalition, the Union des forces pour la Démocratie et le Développement (Union of Forces for Democracy and Development, UFDD).45 The Chadian Zaghawa rebels who had previously fought under the SCUD banner had reconstituted themselves as well, now identifying themselves as the Rassemblement des Forces Démocratiques(Rally of Democratic Forces, RaFD).46

As had been the case in April, French military aircraft are reported to have provided crucial aerial surveillance intelligence to Déby’s military commanders.47 In Chad, Sudanese rebel groups from Darfur played a critical role supporting Chadian government security forces in some of the fighting against the Chadian rebels.48

Following a string of stinging military defeats in northeastern Chad in December, the FUC began negotiating with the Chadian government in mid-December, and on December 24 Mahamat Nour signed an accord with President Déby in Tripoli, Libya. Both sides committed to ending all military activity against each other and to releasing each other’s prisoners. Nour’s fighters were granted amnesty and were promised integration into the national army.49 On December 25 the UFDD coalition, deprived of its most potent military constituent, united with the RaFD rebels and vowed to continue its fight against the Chadian government.50

1 “East Chad violence displaces 20,000 more - UNHCR,” Reuters, January 5, 2007, (accessed January 6, 2006).

2 Alex de Waal “Origins of the Darfur Crisis of 2003-04,” ACAS Bulletin, no. 72, Winter 2005-Spring 2006, (accessed December 26, 2006).

3 Roland Marchal, “Chad/Darfur: How Two Crises Merge,” Review of African Political Economy, vol. 33, no. 109, September 2006, pp. 467-482.

4 This included the Conseil Démocratique Révolutionnaire (Revolutionary Democratic Counsel, CDR), which would eventually became part of the UFDD rebel alliance (see below). M. Brandily, “Le Tchad face nord 1978-1979,” Politique Africaine 16, December 1984, pp. 45-65.

5 Marchal, “Chad/Darfur: How Two Crises Merge.”

6 Originally the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A), the SLA was headed by Abdel Wahid al-Nur, an ethnic Fur, with Mini Minawi, an ethnic Zaghawa, as its secretary general. Following a rift between the two leaders in 2005, they each went on to lead their own SLA factions.

7 See Human Rights Watch, “Darfur in Flames: Atrocities in Western Sudan,” vol 16, no. 5(A), April 2004,; Human Rights Watch, “Darfur Destroyed: Ethnic Cleansing by Government and Militia Forces in Western Sudan,” vol 16, no. 6(A), May 2004,; Human Rights Watch, “Darfur Documents Confirm Government Policy of Militia Support,” July 20, 2004,; Human Rights Watch “Empty Promises? Continuing Abuses in Darfur, Sudan,” August 11, 2004,; Human Rights Watch, “If We Return We Will Be Killed,” November 15, 2004,; Human Rights Watch, “Targeting the Fur: Mass Killings in Darfur,” January 24, 2005; Human Rights Watch, “Sexual Violence and its Consequences Among Displaced Persons in Darfur and Chad,” April 12, 2005,; Human Rights Watch, “Entrenching Impunity: Government Responsibility for International Crimes in Darfur,” vol. 17, no. 17(A), December 2005,; Human Rights Watch,“Sudan: Imperatives for Immediate Change,” vol.18, no. 1(A), January 2006,; Human Rights Watch, “Darfur Bleeds: Recent Cross-Border Violence in Chad,” no. 2., February 2006,; and Human Rights Watch, “Violence Across Borders: The Human Rights Crisis in Eastern Chad,” no. 4, June 2006,

8 “High Commissioner Guterres to visit Chad among growing insecurity,” UNHCR press release, December 19, 2006 (accessed December 26, 2006). 

9 UN Security Council, “Report of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to paragraph 3 of resolution 1591 (2005) concerning the Sudan,” January 30, 2006, N0563274.pdf?OpenElement (accessed December 28, 2006), p. 29.

10 In 2004, Chadian military forces did pursue some groups of Sudanese militia across the border into Darfur with Sudan’s permission, see Human Rights Watch, “Darfur in Flames.” For further information on the proliferation of armed groups along the border in 2004, see Human Rights Watch, “Empty Promises.”

11 UN Security Council, “Report of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to paragraph 3 of resolution 1591 (2005) concerning the Sudan,” p. 30.

12 “Chad pursues rebels across border into Sudan,” Reuters, December 12, 2006, newsdesk/L1233921.htm (accessed December 26, 2006).

13 Human Rights Watch interviews and bomb-site assessments, Hamara and Khelis, Chad, October 2006.

14 Sudanese and Chadian Zaghawa belong to different clans, some of which are unique to Chad or Sudan respectively. For instance, President Déby’s Bideyat clan is not present in Sudan. The Twer Zaghawa live mostly in Sudan and the Kobe Zaghawa live on both sides of the border, though mostly in Sudan; both are represented among the Darfur rebel movements. See, for instance, Marchal, “Chad/Darfur: How two crises merge,” and “The Darfur Conflict: Crimes Against Humanity in Sudan,” Crimes of War Project, April 9, 2004, (accessed December 14, 2006).

15 International Crisis Group, “Sudan: Now or Never in Darfur,” Africa Report, no. 80, May 23, 2004, (accessed December 26, 2006).

16 JEM officials claimed that Mohamed Saleh, JEM’s former third-in-command who broke away to form the Field Revolutionary Command (FRC), a Sudanese rebel group, received six Land Cruiser vehicles, arms and ammunition from Chad in April 2005. See UN Security Council, “Report of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to paragraph 3 of resolution 1591 (2005) concerning the Sudan,” pp. 30-31. See also International Crisis Group, “Darfur Rising: Sudan’s New Crisis,” Africa Report, no. 76, March 25, 2004, (accessed December 26, 2006).

17 Chad ranked 156th out of 163 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index. See “2006 Corruption Perceptions Index,” Transparency International, November 6, 2006, (accessed December 18, 2006). See also Lydia Polgreen and Celia W. Dugger, “Chad’s Oil Riches, Meant for Poor, Are Diverted,” The New York Times, February 18, 2006.

18 See Polgreen and Dugger, “Chad’s Oil Riches, Meant for Poor, Are Diverted”, op. cit.

19 Simon Massey and Roy May, “Dallas to Doba: Oil and Chad, External Controls and Internal Politics,” Journal of Contemporary African Studies, vol. 23, no. 2, May 2005, p. 271.

20 Déby was elected to a third term in elections held in May 2006. “Chad leader’s victory confirmed,” BBC News Online, May 14, 2006, (accessed December 26, 2006). See also International Crisis Group, “Tchad: Vers le retour de la guerre,” Africa Report, no.111, June 2006, (accessed December 26, 2006).

21 It is perhaps not coincidental that one of the foremost Chadian rebel leaders, Tom Erdimi (see below), is the former head of Chad’s oil industry. Direct royalty payments to the government of Chad from oil operations average $25 million per month. Total government revenue since oil came on line in 2003, including a $6-700 million windfall tax payment due in March 2007, will total approximately $1.7 billion in 2007 (assuming production levels and the price of oil remain constant). Confidential communications, Human Rights Watch, December 21, 2006 and January 4, 2007.

22 “Chad: Idriss Deby,” Africa Research Bulletin, vol. 43, issue 5, June 2006.

23 The RDL was composed primarily of Tama, Arabs and Gimr; among the core elements were soldiers that had been fighting beside Khartoum-supported Arab militias in West Darfur, where the Chadian Arab presence is particularly high thanks to a history of displacement from Chad’s civil wars. See “To Save Darfur,” International Crisis Group, Africa Report, no. 105, March 17, 2006, (accessed December 26, 2006). On December 28, 2005 the RDL and seven other Chadian anti-government armed groups created the FUCD under the leadership of Mahamat Nour. In October 2006, the FUCD joined forces with the CDR and the Union of Forces for Progress and Democracy (UFPD); the result was the Union of Forces for Democracy (UFDD). Mahamat Nouri, an ethnic Goran from the Anakaza subclan who defected from Déby’s government in May, was installed as the UFDD’s political figurehead,allegedly by Sudanese military intelligence. Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Tom Erdimi, November 4, 2006. See also “East Chad battle leaves riverbed strewn with bodies,” Reuters, December 12, 2006, (accessed December 26, 2006).

24 Nour 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. See, for instance, Simon Massey and Roy May, “Commentary: The Crisis in Chad,” African Affairs, vol. 105, no. 420, July 2006, pp. 443-49; International Crisis Group, “To Save Darfur,” p. 12.

25 Simon Massey and Roy May, “Commentary: The Crisis in Chad,” African Affairs, Vol. 105, No. 420, July 2006, pp. 443-49.

26 A significant number of ex-Chadian Army soldiers also defected to the SLA and the JEM. See UN Security Council, “Report of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to paragraph 3 of resolution 1591 (2005) concerning the Sudan,” p. 77.

27 Timan Erdimi was the former director of Déby’s cabinet.

28 Massey and May, “Commentary: The Crisis in Chad.”

29 Both Sudan and Chad accuse each other of supporting adversarial rebel groups. President Déby accused the government of Sudan of supporting Chadian rebels in Sudan as early as April 2005. See U.N. Security Council, “Report of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to paragraph 3 of resolution 1591 (2005) concerning the Sudan,” January 30, 2006, p. 77. See also, “Chad: Rebels on the rocky road to N’djamena,” IRINnews, October 26, 2006, (accessed December 14, 2006) and Halime Assadya Ali, “Chad military plane shot down near Sudan,” Associated Press, November 28, 2006, chadian_military_plane/ (accessed December 14, 2006). For Chadian support to Sudan rebels see, for instance, Human Rights Watch, “Violence Beyond Borders.”

30 UN Security Council, “Report of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to resolution 1591 (2005) concerning the Sudan prepared in accordance with paragraph 2 of resolution 1665 (2006),” October 3, 2006, (accessed December 28, 2006), p. 24.

31 UN Security Council, “Report of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to resolution 1591 (2005) concerning the Sudan prepared in accordance with paragraph 2 of resolution 1665 (2006),” p. 15.

32 Human Rights Watch confidential communication, December 12, 2005.

33 Human Rights Watch interviews, Sudanese rebel with SLA-MM, Adré, Chad, May 3, 2006; and senior JEM political leader, N’Djamena, Chad, October 28, 2006.

34 “Chad steps up claims of Sudanese subversion,” Sudan Tribune, December 31, 2005, (accessed December 13, 2006).

35 Human Rights Watch interviews, senior Sudanese rebels and sources within the Chadian military, various locations in Chad, April–May and October–November, 2006. See also Human Rights Watch, “Violence Beyond Borders.”

36 “Sudan, Chad sign peace agreement in Tripoli,” Arabic News, February 9, 2006, (accessed January 6, 2006).

37 This included intelligence obtained from French Mirage plane surveillance flights and warning shots fired from a French jet at a rebel column. At the invitation of the Chadian government, France maintains a military presence in Chad with 1,300 troops. “National Defence,” Embassy of France, last updated August 24, 2006, (accessed December 13, 2006). See also “Les rebelles sont entrés dans la capitale,” Le Nouvel Observateur, April 13, 2006, etranger/20060413.OBS3898.html&host= (accessed December 26, 2006).

38 “Sudan Given Notice of Break in Relations With Chad,” VOA News, April 15, 2006, (accessed December 26, 2006).

39 Chad and Sudan signed an accord in July calling for a joint military commission to monitor the border and forbidding “the presence of rebel elements” in both counties. See Abakar Saleh, “Chad signs peace with neighboring Sudan,” Associated Press, July 26, 2006, (accessed December 14, 2006).

40 “Sudan and Chad to immediately reestablish diplomatic ties: FMs,” Agence France-Presse, August 8, 2006, (accessed December 26, 2006).

41 The G-19 was initially a group of 19 commanders who broke away from the Abdul Wahid faction of the SLA in March 2006, including Masalit commander Khamis Abdallah.

42 Both the JEM and the G-19 had come together, notionally at least, under the umbrella of the National Redemption Front (NRF) in June, 2006 along with the Sudan Federal Democratic Alliance (SFDA) and the SLA/Unity faction, all of which refused to sign the May 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement. Only the government of Sudan and the SLA faction of Mini Minawi signed the accord.

43 On October 27, 2006 Human Rights Watch inspected a copy of one of these documents, signed by Chad’s Minister of Territorial Administration, Ahmat Mahamat Bachir.

44 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Tom Erdimi, November 4, 2006, and interviews with Sudanese rebel leaders, N’Djamena, Chad, October to November, 2006.

45 These include battles fought by Chadian government forces in mid-September against FUC rebels at Aram Kollé and against RAFD rebels at Hadjer Marfaine on the Massif du Maraone, 150 kilometers north of Adré. On October 22 UFDD rebels temporary occupied of Goz Beida, and on October 24 attacked Am Timan, the capital of the Salamat region. On November 25, Abéché, the regional capital and logistical hub of the humanitarian aid operation in eastern Chad, was temporarily occupied. See “Chad: New fronts open in eastern fighting,” IRIN, September 21, 2006, (accessed December 20, 2006); “Chad army, rebels battle over eastern stronghold,” Reuters, September 20, 2006, (accessed December 20, 2006); “Rebel push in east Chad raises fears in the capital,” Associated Press, October 24, 2006, (accessed December 26, 2006).

46 The RaFD is an umbrella group comprised of SCUD, a second group led by former Chadian army commanderSéby Aguid and a third groupunder Ramadane Bokhit. Its fighters are Zaghawa defectors, principallyfrom the Republican Guard.

47 Human Rights Watch interview, foreign diplomatic official, N’Djamena, Chad, October 22, 2006.

48 Human Rights Watch interviews with Sudanese rebel political leaders, N’Djamena, Chad, October to November, 2006.

49 “Chad president and rebel leader sign peace accord,” Reuters, December 24, 2006, (accessed December 28, 2006).

50 “Chadian peace accord dismissed by some rebel factions,” VOA News, December 26, 2006, (accessed December 28, 2006).