Attacks on Civilians in Dar Tama

Dar Tama is one of three administrative departments in Wadi Fira, a region in northeastern Chad with its capital at Guéréda, 165 kilometers northeast of Abéché. Dar Tama is home to an ethnic Tama majority and significant Arab and Zaghawa minorities. The Tama and the Zaghawa are non-Arab ethnic groups that can be found on both sides of the Chad-Sudan border. Prominent among the Zaghawa of Dar Tama are two subclans: the Bideyat, to which President Déby belongs, and the Burogat, closely related to the Goran ethnic group. Historically, relations between the Tama and the Zaghawa have been strained, though the two groups coexisted peacefully enough to permit intermarriage until underlying tensions exploded in the second half of 2006, when dozens of civilians were killed and thousands displaced in communal violence informed and inflamed by the political dynamics of armed rebellion in Chad.

Exact figures on fatalities are difficult to obtain,62 but Tama authorities from one of the 14 cantons in the department compiled a list of 44 Tama men they said had been killed since September 16, 2006. 63  A traditional leader from the canton in question claimed that all of the dead had been killed by Zaghawa gunmen, and that Tama men were specifically targeted because they were suspected of being Chadian rebels or rebel sympathizers.64

“Things started to get especially bad in September 2006, when the [Chadian] rebels went to Aram Kollé,” he said, referring to the mountainous area near the Sudan border where Chadian rebels fought with ANT forces in mid-September. “Now [the Zaghawa] try to kill us when they can. ‘You are rebels,’ they say. They want to kill us all.”65  

The increasing violence in Dar Tama is reflected by an increase in the numbers of displaced persons in the area. In August 2006, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) received reports of attacks against Tama civilians by the Zaghawa in the Guéréda area, with 1,200 Tama fleeing to Goundo, a village 30 kilometers north of Adré.66 On October 24, approximately 3,300 Tama and Mararit67 civilians crossed into Sudan from Dar Tama, after Zaghawa sought retribution for the killing of a Zaghawa woman by a Tama man.68 Displaced civilians also began to congregate in Guéréda, the nearby town of Kounoungo and two UN-managed refugee camps in the area, Mille and Kounoungo, where the number of Tama displaced persons jumped from 49 on October 30 to 1,861 on November 22, 2006.69 According to a Sudanese refugee leader in Kounoungo camp, Zaghawa attacks against Tama civilians have emptied out villages in a 10-kilometer band north of the camp.

“If you go to these villages you will not find any man during the day, only women and children,” he said. “Even now, during the harvest, you will find no men in the fields, just women working. The men are hiding. They are afraid that they will be killed.”70

Recent politics appear to be the key to the violent degradation of Tama-Zaghawa relations, particularly since the rise of two Chadian insurgent groups led by Tama individuals. Mahamat Nour, who founded the RDL (which was later incorporated into the UFDD) in October 2005, was born in Kounoungo, outside of Guéréda. Mahamat Garfa, who founded the Alliance Nationale de la Résistance (National Resistance Alliance, ANR) in 1994, was born in Faréh canton, south of Guéréda.71 Perceptions of Guéréda as a bastion of rebel subversion appear to be contributing to the tensions. On the other hand, the fact that many of the local civil administrators and police officials are Bideyat Zaghawa has led to a perception among the Tama population that local officials are on the side of the Déby administration, which they perceive as sectarian.

Despite fears on the part of government officials of Chadian rebel infiltration into Dar Tama, rebel activity in the area has been relatively infrequent, though aggressive. On January 20, 2006, more than 100 RDL rebels in 20 pickup trucks stormed Guéréda from bases in Darfur and kidnapped five people, including the prefet (provincial administrator); they shot and wounded five others72and reportedly released prisoners from the local prison.73 In early February 2006, gunmen presumed to be Chadian rebels abducted two UNHCR staffers from their compound in Guéréda and began driving them toward Sudan, but were forced to abandon the effort when their vehicle blew a tire.74 On December 1, 2006, RaFD rebels temporarily seized Guéréda as part of a widening Chadian rebel offensive against government forces.75

According to a 50-year-old Tama farmer in a village east of Guéréda, being Tama can be dangerous, especially since Chadian rebels stepped up operations against the Chadian state.

“Even just to go to the next village, we have to hide in the trees and look out for the men on horses,” he said. “Since Ramadan [September 25 to October 23] they want to eliminate our ethnic group, because of the Tama rebellion. If they leave us alone, they think we will all join the rebels, so now they want us dead.”76

If the Zaghawa attacks against the Tama are in fact part of a counter-insurgency strategy, either formally on the part of the government of Chad or under its agents, or informally as a spontaneous civilian response to the rebellion, the strategy appears to have backfired: instead of deterring support, the violence appears to be spurring some Tama civilians to join the rebels.

“All the men are dead or have gone to join the [Chadian] rebels,” said a Tama community leader in Guéréda. “If they stay here they are dead, so it’s safer for them to be with the rebels.”77

During its research mission, Human Rights Watch received reports of Tama attacks against Zaghawa civilians, but was unable to corroborate the allegations.78

Killing of civilians

Tama individuals in villages around Guéréda describe widespread violent attacks by Zaghawa gunmen, from both the Burogat and the Bideyat subclans. According to eyewitnesses, the attackers are sometimes in uniform, sometimes in civilian clothes or partial military uniforms, and usually travel by horseback in small groups of two to five. Zaghawa gunmen have killed Tama civilians in the course of livestock raiding and other acts of theft, and sometimes engaged in gun battles with village-based Tama self-defense forces,79 accounting for an unknown number of the casualties in the region. Women tended not to be killed, which Tama leaders said was due to the fact that Zaghawa attackers aimed to deprive the Chadian rebel movements of able-bodied fighting-age recruits. Though Tama from Dar Tama have been recruited into the Chadian rebel movements, Human Rights Watch did not find Chadian rebel groups to be active on the community level in the region—while many Tama openly sympathized with the insurgency, they also wondered why the Tama rebels had failed to come to their defense in the face of widespread killings.80

Both Tama and Zaghawa interview subjects put forth a number of explanations for the sudden increase in communal violence in Dar Tama, but the most commonly cited involves an incident that took place in late June in Obé village, located 12 kilometers southeast of Guéréda in Faréh canton. According to a 52-year-old Tama man from Obé, the violence began after two Zaghawa men robbed a Tama man who had just returned from the market.

“The people in Obé were chasing the Zaghawa to get the stolen things, and then the Zaghawa turned around and shot at the Tama,” the man said. “One of the Tama was shot in the leg. He fell down and acted like he was dead. But he had a gun. The Zaghawa came to take his gun, but he was still alive and he killed them both.”81

Tama eyewitnesses of the Obé attack reported that a large force of Zaghawa armed with automatic weapons encircled Obé village on July 4; some of the Zaghawa were said to be wearing civilian clothing, others wearing military uniforms or parts of uniforms.82 One 40-year-old Tama eyewitness described a scene of indiscriminate violence:

“I was eating breakfast and someone came to me and said, ‘The Zaghawa have circled the village,’” he said. “If you could run, you ran. The Zaghawa started shooting into the houses. They shot at the people who were running away. They said that we were all [Chadian] rebels.”83

A medical team from the International Medical Corps (IMC), an international non-governmental organization, treated the wounded from Obé and reported that twenty people had been killed and nine seriously injured. According to the IMC, ethnic Gorans84 armed with machine guns and rocket launchers surrounded Obé and opened fire indiscriminately.85 Some eyewitness testimony suggests that the Tama of Obé fought back against their attackers, perhaps even with automatic weapons, but in any event the village defenders were quickly overwhelmed. Human Rights Watch received no reports of Zaghawa casualties from the violence in Obé. The incident prompted an exodus of 300 Tama families across the border into Sudan.86 Many others took refuge in the Guéréda area.87

One of hundreds of Tama displaced persons living on the outskirts of Guéréda recalled that previous problems between Tama and Zaghawa in Obé usually concerned stolen cattle, but that the Zaghawa men who attacked Obé in July were not thieves.

“They shot at the people running away; they followed us as we ran to kill us,” he said. “They only came to kill, not to steal. Before they always stole, but that day was just for killing.”88

Tama interviewed in and around the town of Guéréda report an increase in the Zaghawa theft of Tama cattle since the Obé attack, and also note a higher rate of accompanying violence.89 A 45-year-old Tama woman from a village in Faréh canton who was taking refuge at Kounoungo camp said her sister was killed by Zaghawa gunmen while resisting a robbery.

“I was sleeping, then when the sun came up I woke up to prepare tea,” she said. “Then I heard shots. I went into the garden and saw the men. When my husband heard the shots he immediately fled, but I couldn’t leave the children so I stayed. The men entered the house; they did me no harm but they took everything we had. In the same compound, my sister was murdered. A man attacked my sister to take her things. She said no. He killed her.”90

Some Tama villagers have armed themselves to fight against their attackers. A 35-year-old Tama man in a Tama village in Faréh canton said his brother was killed after he pursued a small band of Zaghawa gunmen who had stolen his animals.

“His name was Abdullah Adam,” the man said. “They were stealing his flock of goats. He had gathered them together and they stole them. He followed them with bow and arrow and they shot him.”91

In many instances, victims of violence offered no resistance. A seven-year-old Tama boy interviewed in Guéréda hospital said he was minding a flock of goats on November 5 in Mine Herat, a village outside Guéréda, when he was shot in the penis by a gunman, who also shot and killed his 25-year-old cousin.

“There were two of them,” the boy said. “They took everything. They shot my cousin too.”92

Rape and other forms of sexual violence

Women and men alike are reluctant to discuss rape and other forms of sexual violence, rarely volunteering information about rapes and often euphemizing, allowing, for example, that a woman had had her “clothing torn” when in fact she had been raped. Despite this, Human Rights Watch received reports of rape in Dar Tama. Given the social stigma attached to rape in Chadian society, the incidence of rape is likely to have been higher than what was reported.

The incidents of rape and sexual violence reported to Human Rights Watch appeared to be both opportunistic, with attackers attacking women when they are in the fields, and also to have occurred in the context of broader armed attacks. In one Tama community outside of Guéréda93, village elders reported that a young girl was raped in an attack by Zaghawa, who claimed they were looking for Chadian rebels.

“They came to the village and said that we are all rebels, but it’s not true. They see the men and they say, ‘you are rebels,’” he said. “The women go to fields and harvest, they go to the market, they fetch water; if the men go, they will be killed. So the women go, but they are raped. One girl is pregnant. When the baby is born, we will accept it. We have no choice but to accept: the baby is innocent.”94

According to a 52-year-old farmer from Obé who has taken refuge in the wadi (seasonally dry riverbed) outside of Guéréda with his flock of goats and about 100 other displaced people since early October, harvesting crops can be dangerous for Tama women.

“It was a good crop this year but we couldn’t harvest because [it was] too dangerous,” he said. “So we took our animals and left the crop in the field. The women can go and harvest but not the men, because the men will be killed. But the women are raped. Even now, they beat the women and rape them.”95

Looting of livestock and private property

Armed groups active in Dar Tama have systematically looted villages of civilian property, with the primary target in most cases being livestock. Tama witnesses allege that in 2006 cattle theft by Zaghawa in Dar Tama became increasingly frequent, brazen, and accompanied by violence. According to a chef de village (village chief) in a village of 148 huts betweenMille and Kounoungo camps, robbery has become an everyday occurrence.

“All of our animals have been stolen by the Zaghawa; all we have left are the donkeys… and the dogs,” he said. “There are some cattle in the wadi outside the village; the boys must sleep there to watch them. If [the Zaghawa] can see it, they will take it. And they kill. We are living in fear. When I go to sleep at night I close my eyes tight.”96

According to this village leader, the first time the Zaghawa attacked his village during broad daylight was 10 days before Ramadan (September 14), when they took ten head of cattle. Since that time his village was attacked four more times, with a total of 101 head of cattle stolen.

“There was always a problem with the Zaghawa, but before, they came and they stole from us but they hid, they were ashamed, they did it the way a thief would do it, at night,’” he said. “Now they don’t act like what they are doing is wrong. They come during the day and they steal.”

The scale of the livestock looting had become so great that by September, many Tama from villages in the vicinity of Kounoungo camp, a UN-supervised refugee camp, brought their animals into the camp at night to protect them from theft.97 According to a refugee camp leader, the Tama take refuge in the camp because they are afraid that if they stay in their villages they will be attacked.

“They bring the harvest into the camp so that it will be safe, and they bring their sheep and even some cows, the only cows that are left to them after all the looting, into the camp,” he said. “Much of what they have has already been taken. Now they are selling their animals in the camp for a cheap price because they just want to get rid of their animals. They know they will be targeted for their cattle so they want to at least get some money for them.”98

The wave of livestock thefts that has swept over Dar Tama is not restricted to Tama villages; Arabs (who are also heavily represented among the Chadian rebels) say they too have been victimized.

“It’s been happening in our villages every day, or every week,” said an Arab woman from Gurjuareh, north of Kounoungo camp. “They don’t kill, only steal. They are from the Chadian army—Zaghawa military men. They wear uniforms, come on horses, sometimes three of them, sometimes seven or eight. They take the cows, the bulls, the goats. There has been much trouble this year, but the last three months the trouble got much worse.”99

The Chadian government’s response to the violence

Many persons in Dar Tama report that Chadian government and police officials have done little to stop the violence against civilians, and that investigations and prosecutions of attacks are rarely undertaken. The failure of Chadian government officials to condemn the increasing violence in the Guéréda area, let alone investigate and bring to justice alleged perpetrators, amounts to official tolerance, and encourages further abusive behavior.

Above and beyond indifference and inaction, however, local people also allege that the Chadian authorities are complicit with the Zaghawa perpetrators of attacks. Several Tama eyewitnesses to communal attacks allege that Zaghawa officials had distributed arms and/or ammunition to Zaghawa civilians.100 A chef de village near Kounoungo camp reported.

“The government helps them,” he said. “They don’t steal, but they defend the other Zaghawa who steal. If the bandits run out of bullets, the military will give them more.”101

Local people also suspect that the government is involved in the rash of thefts that plague the area. Humanitarian vehicles stolen in Guéréda have been found in the possession of Chadian government officials in eastern Chad.102 Other stolen humanitarian vehicles have been reported to be in the possession of Sudanese rebels with known connections to the Chadian government, such as the G-19 faction loyal to Khamis Abdullah, which has been active in the border area south of Adré and in West Darfur.103

Many Tama live in fear of local government and military officials, and several Tama community leaders only agreed to be interviewed under cover of darkness, with strict guarantees about confidentiality. Others refused to speak at all, fearful of violent reprisals by Chadian security forces.104

“We are afraid of the government, the police, the gendarmes. They all know what is happening, but they do nothing,” said a Tama chef de canton105 from a village outside Guéréda. “They protect their brothers.”106

62 Records maintained at Guéréda hospital reflect a dramatic degradation of the security situation in the Guéréda area in the second half of 2006. Though the hospital records may not be complete and do not track admissions by ethnicity, they do reflect an unmistakable and dramatic increase in armed violence from the first six months of 2006, when 17 people were admitted to the hospital with gunshot wounds, to the second half of the year, when 71 people were admitted with gunshot wounds. These figures are even more dramatic considering that were inspected on November 10, and thus do not include figures for December and most of November. All seven of those admitted in the first ten days of November were suffering from gunshot wounds.

63 List on file with Human Rights Watch, New York.  

64 Human Rights Watch interview, Guéréda, Chad, November 10, 2006.

65 Human Rights Watch interview, Guéréda, Chad, November 9, 2006.

66 Human Rights Watch interview, UNHCR protection officer, Abéché, Chad, October 27, 2006.

67 Non-Arab ethnic group originating in Darfur but with some populations settled in Dar Tama. Linguistically related to the Mimi (see below).

68 UNHCR, “Sudan/Chad Situation Update 66,” November 5, 2006, db900SID/EVOD-6VCJDJ?OpenDocument (accessed December 26, 2006).

69 Figures provided by UNHCR, Chad.

70 Human Rights Watch interview, Kounoungo camp, Chad, November 7, 2006.

71 Garfa’s movement built on Tama resentment against the Chadian government, which extended impunity to Zaghawa carrying out attacks against Tama in North Darfur. The ANR signed a peace accord with the Chadian government in January 2003, though factions of the ANR loyal to Garfa’s deputy, Abdoulaye Saroua, refused to join this agreement. In October 2005, many former ANR militants joined Nour’s RDL. See “Sudan: Chadian opposition leader in incommunicado detention,” Amnesty International press release, AFR 54/015/2006, April 27, 2006, (accessed December 13, 2006). For further information, see also Economist Intelligence Unit, “Country Profile Chad 2003.”

72 “CHAD: UN scales back in east after local officals kidnapped,” IRIN, (accessed December 17, 2006).

73 World Food Programme, “WFP Emergency Report,” Report no. 4/2006, January 27, 2006, (accessed December 17, 2006).

74 “Chad: With insecurity mounting in the east, are Deby’s days numbered?” IRIN, February 10, 2006.

75 “Chad: ICRC information bulletin No. 01/2006—Latest report on ICRC operations in the field,” ICRC press release, December 15, 2006, (accessed December 21, 2006).

76 Human Rights Watch interview, Tama village east of Guéréda, Chad, November 7, 2006.

77 Human Rights Watch interview, Guéréda, Chad, November 7, 2006.

78 A report received from a Zaghawa man who was shot in the back in the Guéréda area, apparently as a result of reprisals against the Zaghawa by the Tama, could not be confirmed.

79 The distinction of civilian from combatant is a fundamental principle of international humanitarian law in all armed conflicts, but this distinction is complicated by the development of community-based self-defense forces. In case of doubt whether a person is a civilian, that person is considered a civilian. See International Committee of the Red Cross, Customary International Humanitarian Law, Rules 1 and 7, citing Protocol I, articles 48, 51(2), 52(2); Protocol II, article 13(2).

80 Human Rights Watch interviews, Dar Tama, Chad, November 8-10, 2006.

81 The two Zaghawa men who were killed that day are said to have been Bideyat Zaghawa related to President Déby, though this is unconfirmed. Human Rights Watch interview, Tama displaced person, Kounoungo refugee camp, Chad, November 9, 2006 and Sudanese Zaghawa affiliated with the SLA, N’Djamena, Chad, November 25, 2006.

82 Human Rights Watch interviews, Guéréda and Kounoungo refugee camp, Chad, November 8-10.

83 Human Rights Watch interview, Tama displaced person, environs of Guéréda, Chad, November 9, 2006.

84 Though the IMC identified the attackers as Goran, it is more likely that they were Burogat Zaghawa, a Zaghawa subclan that resulted from intermarriage between the Goran and the Zaghawa. In Human Rights Watch interviews conducted in Dar Tama with Tama victims of violence, many assigned responsibility to the Burogat, but none mentioned the Goran. Human Rights Watch interviews, Dar Tama, Chad, November 8-10, 2006.

85 “Heavy fighting leaves many dead and wounded in Chad; International Medical Corps providing emergency care,” International Medical Corps press release, July 6, 2006, (accessed December 21, 2006).

86 UNHCR, “Sudan/Chad Operations Update 62,” UNHCR, September 10, 2006 (accessed December 21, 2006.

87 Human Rights Watch interviews, Guéréda, Chad, November 8-10, 2006.

88 Human Rights Watch interview, environs of Guéréda, Chad, November 9, 2006.

89 Human Rights Watch interviews, Dar Tama, Chad, November 8-10, 2006.

90 Human Rights Watch interview, Kounoungo camp, Chad, November 7, 2006.

91 Human Rights Watch interview, Guéréda, Chad, November 9, 2006.

92 Human Rights Watch interview, Guéréda, November 10, 2006.

93 A Tama man from the same village was subsequently killed by two Zagahawa gunmen attempting to steal his horse. Village elders asked that Human Rights Watch not identify the name of the village for fear of reprisals by Zaghawa militants. During the course of a visit, Human Rights Watch observed two armed men on horseback immediately outside the village; both were dressed in civilian clothing, with military-style magazine pouches strapped across their chests. The two were identified as Zaghawa who had stolen cattle in the past; people in the village surmised that they had returned with robbery in mind but turned away either because they heard or saw a vehicle approaching (that of Human Rights Watch) or because there were too many people in the village because of the funeral, and the gunmen were afraid of provoking an angry mob. Human Rights Watch interview, Tama village, east of Guéréda, Chad, November 9, 2006.

94 Human Rights Watch interview, Tama village, east of Guéréda, Chad, November 9, 2006.

95 Human Rights Watch interview, Guéréda, Chad, November 9, 2006.

96 Human Rights Watch interview, Kounoungo, Chad, November 9, 2006.

97 Human Rights Watch interviews, refugee leaders and Tama displaced persons, Kounoungo camp, Chad, September 8-9, 2006.

98 Human Rights Watch interview, Kounoungo camp, Chad, November 9, 2006.

99 Human Rights Watch interview, Barari, Chad, November 9, 2006. While Human Rights Watch did not collect any evidence to suggest that the looting of Arab villages in Dar Tama was politically motivated, it is perhaps worth noting that the Tama-led Chadian rebel insurgency counts many Arabs in its ranks.

100 An action that is apparently not without precedent: Zaghawa sources in N’djamena report that Chadian government officials distributed arms to Zaghawa citizens in Guéréda before and during the April 13 attacks. Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, April 2006. Human Rights Watch was unable to verify these allegations.

101 Human Rights Watch interview, Tama village east, of Kounoungo camp, Chad, November 9, 2006.

102 Human Rights Watch interviews with international humanitarian aid workers, eastern Chad, October to November 2006.

103 Human Rights Watch interviews with international humanitarian aid workers and Sudanese rebel representatives, Chad, October to November 2006.

104 A Human Rights Watch researcher was informed that the research into Zaghawa-Tama violence could put him and his interview subjects in danger. The Zaghawa secretary general of Guéréda was identified as a threat. “He is a very dangerous man,” a Tama village leader told Human Rights Watch. “If he knows you are investigating this (violence) he will kill you, and say that it was the rebels who did it.”

105 A chef de canton is a senior member of the traditional leadership structure that predates the civil administration but continues to the present day. Under the French colonial administration, the chef de canton was the lowest rung of the colonial administration, collecting taxes, calling up recruits, and arresting wrong-doers. See Martin Klein, “Review: Traditional Political Institutions and Colonial Domination,” African Historical Studies, vol. 4, no. 3, 1971, p. 660.

106 Human Rights Watch interview, Guéréda, Chad, November 10, 2006.