The Chad conflict

Chad has never seen a peaceful transfer of power, and nearly 50 years after gaining independence from France,coup d’etat remains the primary means of changing governments in the country. Anti-government armed opposition in its current iteration was catalyzed by a June 2005 act of parliament that allowed Chadian president Idriss Déby Itno, an unpopular autocrat, to stand for a third consecutive term in office2 despite repeated promises to step down.3 

Since he seized power in a 1989 coup, President Déby has maintained a measure of control over Chad’s volatile political environment in part by appointing members of his Zaghawa ethnic group4 to key positions in government and the armed forces. However, Déby’s handling of the state apparatus, in particular his jealous control of Chad’s newfound oil wealth,5 increasingly alienated him from his Zaghawa support base, to say nothing of the wider public. In May 2004 an attempted palace coup was engineered by members of Déby’s Bideyat Zaghawa subclan, and beginning in October 2005 previously loyal members of the president’s inner circle defected en masseto armed opposition movements based in Darfur, Sudan.

In late 2005 and early 2006, Chadian rebel groups gathered strength in Darfur, where they enjoyed the sponsorship of the Sudanese government, which has a history of backing Chadian insurgent groups at levels that fluctuate over time and according to strategic exigencies.6 The Chadian rebellion coalesced around powerful clan leaders, often along ethnic lines, and rebel groups variously entered into and broke a series of military alliances that resulted in a dizzying succession of groupings (and acronyms). At the outset of the rebellion the two strongest rebel groups were the Front Uni pour le Changement (United Front for Change, FUC), made up primarily of ethnic Tama7 fighters, and the Socle pour le Changement, l’Unité et la Démocratie(Platform for Change, Unity and Democracy, SCUD) and its offshoot the Rassemblement des Forces Démocratiques(Rally of Democratic Forces, RaFD), both made up of mostly Zaghawa deserters from the Chadian government and armed forces, including Bideyat Zaghawa subclan leaders and members of Déby’s immediate family.8

Beginning in December 2005, FUC leader Mahamat Nour Abdelkarim9 propelled his forces into a series of daring but unsuccessful raids against Chadian government positions, culminating in a disastrous attempt to seize N’Djamena, the capital, in April 2006. In November Khartoum withdrew its support for the FUC in favor of the Union des Forces pour la Démocratie et le Développement(Union of Forces for Democracy and Development, UFDD), a rebel faction under the leadership of Mahamat Nouri (no relation to Mahamat Nour).10 While Nouri’s UFDD was laying siege to strategic towns in eastern Chad in late 2006,11 the FUC’s Nour was suing for peace at talks in Libya.12 

By January 2006 the Sudanese government’s support of the Chadian rebels, and the Chadian government’s reciprocal sponsorship of Sudanese rebels, had tilted the two countries into a dangerous proxy conflict. Despite subsequent gestures toward detente, Chad and Sudan continue to back proxy forces at this writing.13 The government of Chad has been attending peace talks brokered by Libya in a bid to end the insurgency, but on July 2, 2007, Chadian rebels threatened to return to all-out hostilities due to a lack of progress.14

The December 24, 2006 Peace Agreement

On December 24, 2006, the FUC and the Chadian government signed a peace accord, which extended general amnesty to all FUC soldiers and called for the “creation of the conditions” for the integration of FUC soldiers into the Chadian National Army (Armée Nationale Tchadienne, ANT) within three months of the effective date of the agreement. The accord also ensured the participation of FUC officials in the management of the business of the Chadian state.15 On March 4, 2007, FUC leader Mahamat Nour Abdelkarim was named Chad’s minister of defense16 and on March 29, 2007, Gen. Abdullah Gok, a FUC field commander who had served alongside Mahamat Nour in Sudanese-government sponsored counterinsurgency operations in Darfur, 17 was named deputy general secretary of the Gendarmerie Nationale.18Other FUC officials to take positions in the Chadian government include Ismael Idriss and Longa Gong Raoul, secretary of state for foreign relations and secretary general in charge of the Executive National Assembly, respectively.19 While Mahamat Nour has taken up residence in a villa in N’Djamena, along with a substantial security detail, Abdullah Gok remains in Guéréda, the FUC’s stronghold in northeastern Chad. Both Nour and Gok maintain command of FUC units, in spite of their status as Chadian government officials. 

The ongoing use and recruitment of child soldiers in the FUC falls under state responsibility as of March 4, 2007, when the first FUC officials accepted positions in the Chadian government. At the same time, the extent to which FUC soldiers are currently being integrated into the ANT as foreseen by the December 2006 peace accord remains difficult to assess. While a group of FUC soldiers reported to the Chadian government’s ANT training center at Mongo in February, the FUC maintains a substantial military presence in Guéréda. Of the FUC units in Guéréda, some have conducted joint operations with ANT units, while others have not. Based on Human Rights Watch’s observations in the field, both the former and the latter groups have remained under FUC command and control, well outside of traditional ANT channels.

Shortly after the December 2006 peace accord was signed, FUC units were deployed to the Chad-Sudan border to meet the threat posed by Chadian rebels with the SCUD and the RaFD.20 President Déby’s divide-and-rule strategy, perfected over the course of 18 years of factionalist rule, was in evidence as his former adversaries squared off against one another.

Insecurity in Dar Tama

Dar Tama is one of three administrative departments in Wadi Fira, a region in northeastern Chad. The department capital is Guéréda, 165 kilometers northeast of Abéché. The traditional homeland of the Tama people, Dar Tama is home to a significant minority of ethnic Zaghawa who arrived in the region during the Sahelian drought of the 1980s. The Tama and the Zaghawa are both Muslim, non-Arab ethnic groups that can be found on both sides of the Chad-Sudan border.

Livestock raids by small bands of Zaghawa gunmen mounted on horses or camels led to communal tensions with the Tama, which worsened considerably after Idriss Déby came to power in 1989. Déby installed Zaghawa officials in ranks of local government and police in Dar Tama, and these officials did little to protect Tama civilians or to pursue prosecutions for Zaghawa raids against Tama villages. The climate of impunity helped inspire majority-Tama rebel movements such as the Alliance Nationale de la Résistance (National Resistance Alliance, ANR) in 199421 and the FUC, which emerged from an ANR splinter group in 2005.

Inter-ethnic tensions between the Tama and the Zaghawa exploded in the second half of 2006, when dozens of Tama civilians were killed and thousands displaced in attacks by Zaghawa militias against Tama villages.22

On December 13, 2006, almost two weeks before the FUC agreed to peace terms with the Chadian government, FUC units abandoned their hideouts in West Darfur and eastern Chad and took control of the streets of Guéréda.23 After nearly 20 years of Zaghawa control over Dar Tama, the power dynamic in the region was suddenly inverted. Almost immediately, civilians in Guéréda were being stopped by FUC rebels and asked to reveal their ethnic identity; Zaghawa civilians accused of anti-Tama sentiment were subject to arrest; and local authorities received death threats.24 

By January 2007, between 1,200 and 1,500 FUC rebels had taken up position in and around Guéréda, and FUC vehicles mounted with heavy weapons and overflowing with rebel combatants ruled the roads. At the same time, Zaghawa militias continued to raid Tama villages in the eastern reaches of Dar Tama. On January 28, seven Tama civilians were killed and 200 homes were burned when Zaghawa militias attacked a cluster of predominantly Tama villages between Am Zoer and Biltine. The next day a FUC convoy was ambushed by Zaghawa militias southeast of Guéréda, resulting in more than 30 FUC soldiers killed and 41 wounded, along with at least 20 civilians,25 part of a pattern of operations by SCUD rebels that inflicted appalling casualties on ANT and FUC forces.

The FUC’s decision to establish a military camp 5 kilometers south of Kounoungo camp, a United Nations (UN)-supervised refugee camp that is home to 13,315 Sudanese refugees, worsened ethnic tensions inside of Kounoungo. About 50 percent of the refugees at Kounoungo are Zaghawa, and nearly 25 percent are Tama. Approximately 100 Chadian Tama families registered as refugees when the camp was originally incorporated, and many have family ties with locally recruited FUC soldiers. One result is that FUC soldiers frequent the camp to visit relatives, often bearing arms and in uniform.26 Zaghawa refugees at Kounoungo camp complained to Human Rights Watch of intimidation and harassment at the hands of the FUC throughout the first three months of 2007, including attempted rapes.27 Zaghawa refugees began to leave Kounoungo camp for UN-supervised camps in the Guéréda area such as Mile and others in the wider region such as Touloum and Irdimi.28 On March 25, 2007, shortly after President Déby visited the camp with promises of increased security, FUC militants attacked Zaghawa refugees in the camp, beating five so badly that they had to be evacuated to Guéréda hospital.29

“It’s dangerous for us here,” said a Zaghawa refugee at Kounoungo camp. “Every market day [FUC soldiers] arrive here in uniform, with their guns.”30

Many of the abuses against Zaghawa civilians in Dar Tama have been attributed to dissident factions of the FUC that are not responsive to the command and control of the FUC’s senior leadership, to say nothing of the ANT and the civilian leadership in N’Djamena. Zaghawa community leaders in Dar Tama told Human Rights Watch that militant factions of the FUC have been responsible for the deaths of 15 Zaghawa civilians (none of them inside refugee camps) between December 2006 and February 2007, including one woman.31 General Gok controls a powerful dissident FUC faction in the Guéréda area. Gok, who has a reputation for volatility even among his fellow FUC soldiers, has been accused of summarily executing three FUC rebels on March 6, 2007, for refusing his orders to disarm.32

Many Tama in Guéréda sympathize with dissident factions of the FUC, and their agenda of avenging previous abuses against the Tama by Zaghawa militias.33 Ethnic animus among the Zaghawa appears to be elevated as well. A Zaghawa resident of Kounoungo camp told Human Rights Watch that Zaghawa rebels from both Chad and Sudan had visited the camp since December, prepared to take up arms against the Tama in defense of their ethnic kin. “They are saying, ‘We must kill the Tama,’” he said. “It’s coming time of ethnic war—groups of Zaghawa and Goran34 against the Tama. There is no safety in Dar Tama.”35

Broader recruitment and use of child soldiers

The FUC is not the only Chadian government-allied paramilitary group that is known to Human Rights Watch to have recruited and used child soldiers. Human Rights Watch has observed the use of child soldiers in village-level self-defense forces and Sudanese rebel groups, both of which have received Chadian government support.

In the fall of 2006, the government of Chad incorporated village-level self-defense militias into the ANT in areas where the ANT presence was particularly weak, such as the volatile Dar Sila department of southeastern Chad.36 Since January 2006 Human Rights Watch researchers have observed the use of apparently underage soldiers in self-defense forces in Goungour, Borota, and Koloy, and we have documented the use of child soldiers in self-defense forces in Modoyna, Tiero, and Dogdoré, all in Dar Sila. The use of children is widespread among paramilitary groups, which make up a growing percentage of Chadian government forces, according to official figures.37 

Sudanese rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement and the G-19 faction of the Sudanese Liberation Army are also backed by the Chadian government and are also known to incorporate children into their ranks. In March 2006, a Human Rights Watch research mission revealed that Sudanese rebels from the G-19, working in cooperation with Chadian government officials, forcibly recruited 4,700 refugees, including hundreds of children, from the UN-supervised refugee camps 50 kilometers west of Adré in eastern Chad.38

2 On June 6, 2005, voters approved changes to Article 61 of the 1996 Constitution, which held that “the president of the republic is elected for a mandate of five years by direct universal suffrage. He is only re-eligible once” [translated from French]. Constitution de la République de Tchad 1996, (accessed June 22, 2007). See also, “Tchad: adoption de la réforme de la constitution,” Xinhua, June 22, 2005, (accessed June 22, 2007). Déby won presidential elections in 1996 and 2001.

3 In a June 4, 2001 interview with Le Monde Online, President Déby said, “I will not be a candidate at the 2006 presidential election. I will not change the Constitution even if I were to have a 100% majority” [translated from French]. “Idriss Déby, président de la République du Tchad – ‘Il me reste à préparer le Tchad à l'alternance,’” Le Monde, June 5, 2001. 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).

4 Nomadic and semi-nomadic non-Arab ethnic group from Dar Zaghawa, which spans eastern Chad and North Darfur. Although a minority in Chad (Zaghawa constitute only 1 percent of the country’s population) and in Darfur, Zaghawa are prominent in the Darfur rebel movements and in the Chadian government and armed forces. Approximately 100,000 Sudanese Zaghawa live in Sudanese refugee camps in eastern Chad. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “Ethnicity of Sudanese refugees – Eastern Chad,” January 2006; UNHCR, “Registered Refugee Camps Populations: Eastern Chad,” May 31, 2007,$File/unhcr_IDP_tcd070616c.pdf?OpenElement (accessed July 11, 2007).

5 Chad’s oil exports generated US$1.7 billion in total revenue between 2003 and the first quarter of 2007—a heady period for the price of oil that was reflected in Chad’s GDP growth, from $1.4 billion in 2000 to $5.5 billion in 2005. World Bank, “Chad Data Profile,” (accessed June 29, 2007); World Bank, “Chad Oil Revenues and Allocations,” May 1, 2007,
0,,contentMDK:21350674~pagePK:64168445~piPK:64168309~theSitePK:843238,00.html (accessed June 29, 2007).

6 Chadian rebels backed by Khartoum seized power in Chad in 1982, bringing Hissène Habré to power, and again in 1989, when Habré was deposed by Idriss Déby. Human Rights Watch, They Came Here to Kill Us, pp. 13, 15.

7 Non-Arab tribe in Dar Tama in northeastern Chad and in West Darfur. Chadian Tama have historical ties with Chad’s Arab tribes. They are sedentary farmers who cultivate millet, beans, cucumbers, gumbo, and sesame. Some Tama raise livestock.

8 The RaFD is an influential Zaghawa splinter group led by two of President Déby’s Bideyat Zaghawa nephews, Tom Erdimi (formerly Déby’s head of cabinet and coordinator of Chad’s oil development), and his brother Timan Erdimi (former director of Cotontchad, Chad’s cotton parastatal).

9 Nour helped bring Idriss Déby to power in a 1989 coup but entered armed opposition to Déby’s rule shortly thereafter.

10 Mahamat Nouri, an ethnic Goran from the Anakaza subclan, formerly served as Chad’s minister of defense and then ambassador in Saudi Arabia until defecting following the May 2006 elections. Roy May and Simon Massey, “Chad: Politics and Security,” Writenet Independent, May 2007, (accessed June 29, 2007), p. 10.

11 The UFDD attacked and temporarily held Goz Beida on October 23, Am Timan on October 24, Abéché on November 25, and Biltine on December 8.

12 Libyan president Mu`ammar al-Qadhafi  offered  $5.5 million in cash as incentive for Nour to reach an accommodation. Human Rights Watch interviews with FUC officers and western intelligence officials, January and March 2007. Qadhafi’s son and heir apparent, Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, is said to maintain close ties with the Sultan of Dar Tama, who is a member of the Oroguk subclan of the Tama, as is FUC leader Mahamat Nour. Human Rights Watch interviews with Tama traditional leaders, February to June, 2007.

13 Khartoum was actively recruiting Chadian opposition figures into insurgent groups as of June 2007. Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with Chadian rebels in Paris, France, June 19, 2007. Chad has deepened its ties with JEM, which recruits aggressively in majority-Zaghawa refugee camps in eastern Chad, such as Am Nabak and Oure Cassoni. Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with Sudanese rebel in N’Djamena, Chad, June 12 and 27, 2007.

14 “Chad rebels warn of return to war if Libya talks fail,” Reuters, July 2, 2007, (accessed July 8, 2007).

15 See Annex I.

16 “Chad ex-rebel leader gets top job,” BBC News Online, March 5, 2007, (accessed May 8, 2007).

17 Human Rights Watch interview, ANR leader, Paris, France, April 3, 2007.

18 Human Rights Watch interviews with Tama community leaders, Guéréda, Chad, March 2007.

19 “Chad ex-rebel leader gets top job,” BBC News Online.

20 The SCUD operates in Koulbous, Bali, and Djimeza al-Hamra. Though severely compromised as a military force following military defeats in late 2006, the SCUD’s mostly Bideyat Zaghawa makeup makes it a serious political threat to Déby. The RaFD, based outside of Geneina in West Darfur, seized Guéréda on December 1, 2006.

21 The ANR was founded by Mahamat Garfa, an ethnic Tama who signed a January 2003 ceasefire and now serves as Chad’s minister of mines. The ANR continued to exist under the ANR’s former spokesperson, Mahamat Abbo Sileck. In October 2005 the ANR’s military commander, Mahamat Nour Abdelkarim, formed the RDL, taking with him many former ANR combatants. See Human Rights Watch, They Came Here to Kill Us.  On December 28, 2005, the RDL and seven other Chadian anti-government armed groups created the FUC. “Chad: Rebels on Outskirts of Chadian Capital, President Claims Everything ‘Under Control,’” Global Insight, (accessed June 21, 2007).

22 See Human Rights Watch, They Came Here to Kill Us, pp. 25-35.

23 The first FUC units arrived in Guéréda on the afternoon of December 13, 2006. Human Rights Watch interview with Tama man, Guéréda, Chad, March 21, 2007.

24 Human Rights Watch interview with confidential informant, Chad.

25 Confidential communication on file with Human Rights Watch.

26 Human Rights Watch interview with confidential informant, Chad, March 2007. Although exact figures are not available, a significant number of Tama from local communities have taken refuge at Kounoungo camp in the past year. Human Rights Watch interviews with Zaghawa camp residents, March 2007.

27 Confidential communication on file with Human Rights Watch.

28 Confidential communication on file with Human Rights Watch.

29 Human Rights Watch interviews, Chad, March 25-27, 2007.

30 Human Rights Watch interview, Kounoungo camp, Chad, March 18, 2007.

31 The Zaghawa leaders provided Human Rights Watch with a list of 51 names of Zaghawa people who had been killed by the FUC since December. Upon further questioning by Human Rights Watch, it was revealed that all but 15 of the dead on the list were killed while taking part in attacks against FUC forces. One of the Zaghawa leaders, who described himself as a “Zaghawa Janjaweed,” told Human Rights Watch that Zaghawa militias had received weapons from SCUD leader Isaakha Diar. Human Rights Watch interviews, Mudré, Chad, March 2007. Two other Zaghawa sources with knowledge of the disposition of SCUD forces said that the SCUD possesses sizable stockpiles of weapons but lacks men.  Human Rights Watch interviews, Abéché, Chad, March 23, 2007

32 The same source reported that the next day Gok was wounded and a man standing next to him was killed by a family member of one of the deceased. Human Rights Watch interview with Tama community leader, Dar Tama, Chad, March to April 2007.

33 Human Rights Watch interview with Tama community leaders, various locations, Chad and France, March to April 2007.

34 Non-Arab ethnic group mainly from northern Chad, but also Sudan, Libya, and Niger. Most are nomadic herders; others are semi-nomadic.

35 Human Rights Watch interview, Kounoungo camp, March 18, 2007.

36 According to Public Security Minister Gen. Routovans Yoma Golom, the ANT has incorporated self-defense militias from Dar Sila into the ANT, including 200 from Koukoun-Angarana, 700 from Koloy and 200 from Kerfi, all in southeastern Dar Sila department. Golom said the recruits were issued uniforms and weapons, trained in Goz Beida and transferred to Mongo. Audio recording by Sonia Rolley, Radio France Internationale, January 7, 2007.

37ANT forces numbered 17,000-20,000 by the end of 2006, down from 25,000 for the period 2001-2005, though the ranks of paramilitaries increased from 4,500 to 9,000 over the same period. International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2007, January 31, 2007, (accessed June 30, 2007). The actual number of men serving in the Chadian Army is thought to be significantly higher, upwards of 40,000. Human Rights Watch interview, French military sources, Chad, March to April, 2007.

38 Human Rights Watch, Violence Beyond Borders, p. 15.