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Darfur and Chad: International action needed to protect civilians from cross-border attacks

As the African Union heads of state gather in Banjul, Gambia, and the UN Security Council discusses the deployment of UN peacekeepers in Darfur, Amnesty International today published a new report on the deteriorating human rights crisis in eastern Chad. The organisation called for urgent action to be taken by the international community to protect civilians in eastern Chad from cross-border attacks originating in Sudan.

Amnesty International Secretary-General Irene Khan said:

"What is occurring now in eastern Chad is reminiscent of what happened in the early days of the conflict in Darfur – we see the same pattern of abuses carried out by the same perpetrators.

"The seeds of Darfur are being sown in eastern Chad and the international community will reap a bloody harvest if it does not act urgently and consistently on both sides of the border.

"This is a key opportunity for both the African Union and the United Nations to deliver a co-ordinated and effective response to the long standing human rights crisis in Darfur – a crisis which is now spilling across the border into Chad, and could destabilise the region.

"The Chadian government must step up to its responsibility to ensure the protection of its civilians and seek the assistance of an international force if necessary.”

Amnesty International's call came as it released video footage graphically revealing the murder and destruction taking place alongside Chad's border with Sudan, together with the report analysing the abuses and highlighting the failure of both governments to live up to their responsibilities.

Since September 2005 Janjawid attacks into eastern Chad have displaced between 50,000 and 75,000 people, who have moved further inland. Some 15,000 of them, cut off from any other escape route, have moved to Darfur. The displaced persons have little or no access to humanitarian assistance, and desperate to find some protection, are becoming a potential pool for recruitment by Darfuri armed groups based in eastern Chad.

The report also highlights an emerging pattern of coordination between the Janjawid and Chadian armed groups based in Darfur. As the latter mount attacks on the Chadian army along one part of the border, the Janjawid move in against the civilian population in another part, targeting specific tribes not allied to the Chadian rebels.

The Janjawid attacks have been deliberately divisive, targeting the largest and wealthiest groups, while some smaller tribes have allied themselves to the Janjawid.

Many local leaders told the Amnesty International researchers in eastern Chad in June 2006 that they were desperate to acquire arms to defend themselves against attacks. If they become armed, there is a risk that the violence will escalate as communities increasingly turn against each other.

Irene Khan continued:

"The Chadian government has virtually abdicated responsibility for protecting its own citizens along the border with Sudan, leaving them vulnerable to attacks by the Janjawid militia and exploitation from the Sudanese armed groups present in eastern Chad.

"The Sudanese government is allowing Janjawid militia to attack Chadian civilians across its border with impunity – killing, looting and de-populating land along the border.

"The Janjawid are targeting virtually defenceless communities – unhindered by the governments of either Sudan or Chad. Effective action must be taken now by the international community – before the situation deteriorates even further.

"The AU Summit meeting this week needs to send a clear signal to Sudan that it cannot continue to block the deployment of a UN peacekeeping operation without consequences. The AU should establish a clear programme of action to pressure the Sudanese government, which could include sanctions as well as suspending the decision to allow Sudan to take the AU Chairmanship in 2007.”

The UN Security Council will consider this week the results of the UN assessment mission on the deployment of a peace-keeping mission to Darfur.

Irene Khan said:

"The unfolding crisis in eastern Chad indicates that time is running out, and it is imperative that Council members show greater resolve to pressure the Sudanese government to accept a peacekeeping operation in Darfur with a protection mandate and the ability to prevent the cross-border incursions.

"The human rights tragedy unfolding in eastern Chad is a direct product of the conflict in Darfur, and that makes it incumbent on the international community to address the human rights and humanitarian crisis on both sides of the border.

"Not only must the UN Security Council show a greater readiness to address the protection vacuum in eastern Chad – it must do so urgently and not wait for the Sudanese government to move on Darfur. The civilians in eastern Chad are in desperate need of protection and should not be held hostage to the pace of negotiations with Khartoum.

"As a political and protection vacuum develops in eastern Chad, there is a real risk that the situation could worsen.”

Amnesty International's recommendations include the following:

  • the Chadian government must protect civilians in the affected areas and seek the assistance of an international force, if necessary, to strengthen security in areas where refugees, displaced persons and other civilians are threatened with attacks
  • pressure must be put on the Sudanese government by the UN and the African Union to accept a UN peacekeeping operation and take measures to prevent cross-border attacks by the Janjawid
  • the UN must deploy a peacekeeping operation in Darfur with a robust protection mandate and must consider effective means of ensuring security for civilians on the Chadian side of the border, in cooperation with the Chadian authorities;
  • the international community should provide the necessary political, financial and logistical support to the AU mission in Darfur to strengthen its capacity to protect civilians
  • the UN should establish a commission of inquiry into the attacks against civilians in eastern Chad and make its findings and recommendations public
  • the governments of Sudan and Chad must cooperate fully with the ICC to ensure that those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur and Chad are brought to justice and that victims receive reparation.
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