Theater of Cruelty

Chad asks for grace

Sudan's government-backed Janjaweed militia has exported its death raid from Darfur to neighboring Chad.


[djawara] On horseback and camels, dressed in Sudanese military uniforms and turbans, the government-backed Janjaweed militia burst through several villages east of Chad on April 12 and 13. At least 118 people were killed in the raids. Survivors tell how the militiamen surrounded the villagers and shot or chopped them to death with machetes. In recent months, more and more witnesses have reported similar raids in the border areas against Sudan.

The massacre was discovered on May 8 when local villagers brought two investigators from the US human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) and British photojournalist Tim Hetherington to the hardest hit village, Djawara.

They found shallow mass graves, rotten corpses, pools of blood, cartridges and rifle magazines scattered over an area 500 meters from the village – where the men were gathered for prayer when the attacks took place.

"It stank of death," says photographer Tim Hetherington, who took the first photo evidence of Darfur-like death fields in Chad.

Janjaweeds brand

The survivors of Djawara have no doubt, this was the work of the Janjaweed militia. The Arabic name of the militia can be translated with "devils on horseback". Just before the massacre, "Janjaweed envoys" had warned the village of an impending attack. Many women and children had therefore already fled to a nearby village.

- I ran my way, but was caught by Janjaweed together with ten villagers. They tried to kill us with machetes and knives. I was injured in the head. Then one of them took a Kalashnikov and fired. All collapsed. I was shot in the arm and fell over. After the shooting, Janjaweed checked to see if we were dead. I lay still, pretending to be dead. After a few minutes, they left the place, 45-year-old "Ibrahim" told the HRW team.

Ibrahim is a pseudonym. The man's real identity is protected by the organization.

For the investigators from HRW, the discoveries of the deaths in Chad were a déjà vu.

The horror scene that took place in Djawara in April is a blueprint of what haunted Darfur in Sudan over the past three years. Similar scenes have also taken place in several other places in Chad in recent months.

In Darfur, at least 200.000 people have been killed and over two million have been run away. Around 200.000 people have fled across the Chad border. Rape, looting and murder by Janjaweed and Sudanese-backed rebels in Chad are now also sending more and more Chadians into flight.

The rebel group Janjaweed is behind the most serious assaults in Darfur. Since 2003, the two African rebel groups SLA and JEM have fought against the Sudanese government and Arab Janjaweed in Darfur. SLA and JEM believe the Khartoum government oppresses black Africans in favor of Arab-led Sudanese. The cost of the conflict has been paid by the civilian population, in what the UN Secretary-General recently characterized as an "unspeakable tragedy". So it happens again. In Chad, as in Darfur, the ethnic dimension is clear: Arab villages are spared. Only Africans are attacked.


A riotous peace agreement was signed between some of the parties to the Darfur conflict in the Nigerian capital Abuja on May 5 this year. The new evidence of the Janjaweed raids in Chad is bad news for those who want peace.

Anthropologist Gunnar M. Sørbø at the Christian Michelsen Institute in Bergen believes the Janjaweed raids in Chad represent an escalation of the conflict in the region. They are indicative of Darfur becoming an international conflict, he says.

- The raids make it clearly more difficult to implement the peace agreement that is on the table in Khartoum, says Sørbø, who is not surprised by the development. The ethnic tensions in Darfur are reflected in Chad.

- The Janjaweed raids complicate an already entangled conflict. The situation is just as threatening for the stability in Chad as for the peace attempts in Darfur, Sørbø continues.

The president of Chad, Idriss Déby, came to power with the help of the regime in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, but later changed sides. He belongs to one of the ethnic groups (zaghawa) located in both countries, which has led the uprising against the Sudanese authorities. According to reports, the regime in Sudan now supports several rebel groups in Chad. They are also accused of having a hand in the game in the last coup attempt against Déby on 13 April. The raids in Djawara and neighboring villages are said to have taken place when the rebels were on their way to the capital N'Djamena to try to overthrow Déby.

Sudan and Chad have been supporting various rebel groups for years, fighting in many ways a shadow war in the border areas through their "extended arms". According to HRW, up to several rebel groups from both Chad and Sudan operate in the unstable border area.

- There is not enough international focus on what is happening in Chad, Sørbø believes.

He does not think full war will break out between the two countries.

- But if the shadow war is allowed to continue, it is not impossible that we can get into a chaotic state. It can threaten state formations in both Sudan and Chad by regions breaking out and seeking their independence, says Sørbø.

The message from HRW to the outside world is unequivocal. The world community must wake up:

- Sudanese militiamen are moving further and further into Chad, where they are looting and killing civilians. There is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the attacks, but the conclusion is clear: Civilians in Chad are in urgent need of protection, says Peter Takirambudde, head of the Africa section of HRW.

By Marianne Alfsen, Felix Features and Tim Hetherington / Panos Pictures / Felix Features (photo)

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