Patterns of Violence in Eastern Chad

The root causes driving the crisis in eastern Chad are multiple. They include conflict over land and natural resources, particularly water, in an area of environmental extremes where rain failure can seriously disrupt access to pasture and the success of agriculture. Beyond resource conflict, 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, and the manner in which the Chadian government has responded to the insecurity are all driving conflict. At the community level, dispute resolution mechanisms have broken down.

These frictions are obviously necessary ingredients in an explosive mix, but communal tensions per se are not sufficient to unleash widespread communal violence.51 Rather, the proximate cause of the atrocities that took place in eastern Chad in 2006 can be found in decisions made by the various armed forces and political leaders in the region in response to the increasing attacks from Chadian rebel movements. These include the government of Chad’s decision to withdraw the Armeé Nationale de Tchad (Chadian National Army, ANT) from the area, which produced a sustained security vacuum along the border.

In October 2005, the ANT began to redeploy forces away from border areas in southeastern Chad in order to fortify strategic points further to the north, such as Adré and Abéché, against rebel attack. By early 2006, Chadian army garrisons in Modoyna, Koumou, Koloy, Adé, Aourado, Borota, and Goungour stood empty,52 allowing a variety of armed groups to operate unchecked to the southeast. Subsequent military redeployments to the border region, notably in the towns of Adé and Daguessa, have not been adequate in terms of force strength and geographic reach to have a material impact on militia violence.

The security vacuum that was created by the border redeployments in late 2005 persisted throughout 2006 and into 2007, with disastrous consequences for civilians. The relative absence of security forces in the border zone created the conditions for a violent proxy war to develop, as wider political forces from both Chad and Sudan attacked supposed supporters of their enemies and drew community self-defense militia into the dynamics of their struggles. As alliances—and violence–have taken on sectarian aspects, ethnic groups have become polarized.

Attacks in the southeastern border area typically target non-Arab civilians, and most have been attributed to militia groups referred to locally and in the international news media as the Janjaweed. However, it is increasingly clear that the term Janjaweed is routinely used by victims to describe any armed attacker, and is in fact a misnomer, particularly as used in the Chadian context. Historically, the term Janjaweed referred to criminals, bandits, or outlaws in Darfur. With the advent of the Darfur conflict in 2003, the term took on greater specificity, but remained ambiguous, encompassing at least two distinct types of armed forces: militia groups recruited, trained, armed, and supplied by the government of Sudan and used as proxy forces in the government’s military campaign against Sudanese rebel groups and primarily comprised of Sudanese and Chadian Arabs; and opportunistic armed elements taking advantage of the total collapse of law and order to settle scores, loot villages, and raid cattle and livestock.  

Human Rights Watch has uncovered evidence linking some attacks against civilians in eastern Chad with known Janjaweed militia commanders53 or with Sudanese government paramilitary forces known to include many Janjaweed militia members.54 However, in many other incidents the identity of the perpetrators is unknown or witnesses assert that they are only able to identify their attackers as Arabs. In addition, some armed groups not necessarily directly supported and directed by the Sudanese government appear to be benefiting from the conflict in an opportunistic way by raiding livestock and attacking and looting villages in eastern Chad. Accordingly, Janjaweed is not the ideal term to use to characterize all armed groups responsible for attacks against civilians in this area. In this report the term “Arab militia” is used to characterize armed groups described by victims of violence as Janjaweed.55

Though it has proved to be difficult to determine the extent to which the Sudanese government is culpable for acts of militia violence against civilians in eastern Chad, sources in the Chadian government and military and other armed groups suggest that Chadian government officials may bear a degree of responsibility for these acts that goes beyond a failure to take preventive action to defend its citizens. While Human Rights Watch does not have clear evidence from areas along the Chad/Sudan border where it has recently conducted field research (Dar Tama in the northeast and Dar Sila in the southeast ), testimony from military sources about factional fighting in Faya in northern Chad, and Am Timan in the far southeast raises concern that Chadian security officials may have deliberately provoked inter-ethnic conflict in an attempt to weaken Chadian rebel movements.

In August 2006, Chadian security officials are reported to have exploited historical enmity between the Kamaya Goran and the Anakaza Goran in Faya, in northern Chad, by arming the Kamaya in a bid to destabilize the clan base of UFDD leader Mahamat Nouri, an Anakaza Goran.56 Other military sources and a civilian official57 alleged to Human Rights Watch that in November the government armed both ethnic factions in Am Timan, approximately 180 kilometers southwest of Goz Beida in southern Salamat province, in a dispute between Salamat Arabs and Kibet in which more than 200 people are reported to have been killed.58 According to a high-ranking ANT officer, the Chadian government armed both sides of the ethnic divide in order to provoke violence between two groups it thought had allied themselves with the Chadian rebels.59

The conflict in Chad can be defined as an internal armed conflict, albeit a conflict with international dimensions.60 All parties involved in the conflict in Chad are obliged to respect fundamental principles of international humanitarian law. This demands that all parties to the conflict distinguish at all times between civilians and combatants, and between civilian property and military objectives. Acts or threats of violence intended to spread terror among the civilian population, in particular murder, physical or mental torture, rape, mutilation, pillage, and collective punishment, are prohibited. The destruction of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas for food production, crops, drinking water installations and supplies, is also prohibited.61

Various militia groups including Janjaweed groups based in Darfur and Arab militias based in Chad and Darfur have raped and killed Chadian civilians, have looted and burned Chadian villages and stolen livestock and other property. Community-based Chadian self-defense groups have killed Chadian civilians. Self-defense groups and government of Chad-supported Sudanese rebel movements with bases in Chad have been responsible for the recruitment and use of child soldiers. The government of Chad has failed to take adequate action to protect civilians, has failed to bring perpetrators of human rights abuses to justice, and has allowed a climate of impunity to persist in eastern Chad. The government of Chad bears responsibility for abuses carried out by entities that receive its support or sponsorship, including Sudanese rebel groups and community-based self-defense militias.

51 Violence involving groups that define themselves by differences of religion, ethnicity, language or race.

52 Human Rights Watch, confidential communication, January 30, 2006.

53 Chadian displaced persons in Koloy, Chad, told Human Rights Watch they had seen Janjaweed commander Hamid Dawai directing a militia force in eastern Chad in December 2005. See Human Rights Watch, “Darfur Bleeds.”

54 Human Rights Watch obtained copies of documents allegedly found on militiamen killed and/or captured in a May 16, 2006 attack on Koukou-Angarana in eastern Chad which indicated that they belonged to the Border Intelligence Guard and other forces known to include many Janjaweed members. See Human Rights Watch, “Violence Beyond Borders.”

55 Like Janjaweed, this term too is imperfect, as it implies an ethnic homogeneity that may not correspond to actual makeup of these militias, since members of non-Arab ethnic groups appear to be included in their ranks (see discussion below).

56 Human Rights Watch interviews, senior ANT official and ANT soldier who claimed to have firsthand knowledge of this armament exercise, N’Djamena, Chad, November 25-29, 2006.

57 Human Rights Watch interviews, N’Djamena, Chad, November 29, 2006. An ANT officer told Human Rights Watch, “Déby sent soldiers and a government minister to Salamat, they told the Salamat Arabs, “‘This land is yours. The Kibet are immigrants.’” They gave arms to the Salamat. Next Déby sent a delegation to the Kibet. They said, “‘The Salamat, they are with the rebels. They will do you wrong. You need to defend yourselves.’” They gave the Kibet arms. Two days later, the Kibet attacked a Salamat village and killed four. The Arabs got together and attacked the Kibet.” A senior member of the Déby administration told a similar story of provocation of ethnic conflict in Salamat: “Déby called the white leaders [meaning Arab] in Salamat and said ‘The blacks take your land. They work against the herders.’ He armed the white Arabs. Then he went to the black leaders [meaning non-Arab]. He said, ‘The whites trample your land.’ He gave them guns as well. Two weeks later, the violence began, involving many dead.’”

58 UNHCR, “Sudan/Chad Situation Update 67,” December 3, 2006, (accessed December 26, 2006).

59 Human Rights Watch interview N’Djamena, Chad, November 29, 2006.

60 Under international humanitarian law, an internal conflict is defined as a conflict that takes place between the national armed forces and “dissident armed forces or other organized armed groups which, under responsible command, exercise such control over a part of its territory as to enable them to carry out sustained and concerted military operations and to implement this Protocol.” Article 1.1, Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), 8 June 1977.

61 Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 (Geneva Conventions). Chad has ratified the Geneva Conventions; the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977; and Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), 8 June 1977. Chad ratified the Additional Protocols of 1977 on January 17, 1997.