|On Feb. 27, 2003, bandits mounted on horses stormed into the town of Tawilla
in Sudan's north Darfur region and executed a "well-organized attack"
on its residents. The antagonists killed at least 67 people, abducted 16 schoolgirls
and raped 93 others, six in front of their families. According to accounts, including
those reported by the United Nations, the attackers branded the hands of those
they raped to remind them of the incident and ostracize them from society.|
United Nations blames this attack -- and numerous others like it -- on the Janjaweed:
a violent militia with reported ties to the Sudanese government in the capital
The assault is but one example of the conflict that has raged
since 2003 between the Arab-Islamic government and rebel groups fighting for independence
-- a conflict that has killed roughly 180,000 people, although some analysts estimate
the death toll to be more than 300,000.
Former U.S. Secretary of State
Colin Powell and the U.S. Congress have called the crisis genocide.
Janjaweed have primarily targeted the Fur, Tunjur, Masalit and
Zaghawa ethnic groups, presumed to be sympathetic to rebels opposing
the government. The attacks against the non-Arab Muslims by the
Janjaweed have been "grossly disproportionate to the military
threat of the rebellion," wrote Alex de Waal in a 2004 essay
that appeared in the London Review of Books.
De Waal, program director
at the nonprofit Social Science Research Council, called the attacks "the
deliberate destruction of a community."
The name Janjaweed is a combination
of Arabic words meaning outlaws, gun and horse -- appropriate associations, as
observers often tell stories of Janjaweed militiamen riding horses and brandishing
heavy weaponry like AK-47s and G-3 rifles.
Experts say the Janjaweed originated
from a Chadian warlord militia sponsored by Libya that retreated into Darfur after
the Chadians defeated Muammar Gaddafi in 1987, de Waal said.
teamed up with nomadic, camel-herding Darfurian Arab tribes, impoverished by drought
through the early 1980s and in need of land on which to settle. These loose roving
bands of armed fighters worked as a "freelance tribal militia" for 10
years before assuming the role of counterinsurgent "used by the government
of Sudan" to combat rebels, said de Waal.
A religious agenda does
not impel the Janjaweed, de Waal said. Its motivation is land, but blatant racism
and a political ideology known as "Arab supremacism" also fuel the Janjaweed's
The Janjaweed are both "cleaning" the land of non-Arabs
and viciously combating the rebellion while receiving impunity from the government
in Khartoum, de Waal said.
The Janjaweed has been a key force in the government's
campaign in Darfur "that has resulted in the murder, rape and forced displacement
of thousands of civilians," said Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit organization
particularly concerned about Darfur.
The Sudanese government denies any
relationship with the Janjaweed and says that it is seeking to disarm both the
Janjaweed and the Darfur rebels.
"The government armed the people
who volunteered to fight against the rebels, the armed groups. And, these people
were not Janjaweed," Sudanese Ambassador to the United States Khidir Haroun
Ahmed told the Online NewsHour in September 2005. "[T]he government has no
hesitation at all in disarming the Janjaweed. The problem is the other nomad tribes.
These people and the lack of law enforcement in the region, they will not disarm
themselves unless you disarm the rebels groups."
international observers dispute the government assertions. Groups
like Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group -- another
nonprofit focused on Darfur -- accuse the Janjaweed militias of
carrying out most of the atrocities in Darfur. Armed with anecdotal
reports from eye witnesses, they have charged the Sudanese government
with financing and arming the militia. ICG went as far to say
that Khartoum has established "divisions" within the
militia: the Strike Force, Border Guard and Hamina (traditional
2004, Musa Hilal -- widely regarded as the leader of Janjaweed and placed on the
U.S. State Department's list of suspected genocidal criminals -- told HRW that
the Sudanese military commands the Janjaweed.
"All of the people in
the field [the Janjaweed] are led by top army commanders," said Hilal. "The
highest rank is major, and officers, and some sergeants, and some captains, and
so on. These people get their orders from the western command center, and from
A February 2004 Sudanese government memo obtained by HRW
appears to back up Hilal's relationship with the government.
sent from local authorities in North Darfur, urges security units in the area
to "allow the activities of the mujahedeen [a paramilitary unit organized
by the government] and the volunteers under command of the Musa Hilal to proceed
in the areas of [north Darfur] and to secure their vital needs." The directive
then asks that volunteers "overlook minor offenses by the mujahedeen against
civilians who are suspected members of the rebellion."
denies any links between it and the Janjaweed -- and has said it is working to
simultaneously disarm everyone, including the Janjaweed and the rebels, in the
"There are crimes committed by the Janjaweed definitely, no
doubt about that. Maybe other nomad militias also subscribe to some kind of havoc
in the region, no doubt about that. But, there is a great deal of violations committed
by these two rebels group. But because they got sympathy here, because many people
also politicize the situation for different reasons, because many people are looking
for regime change in Khartoum using this Darfur issue, you don't hear much about
that," Ambassador Ahmed said.
The president of Sudan, Omar Hassan al-Bashir,
has called for increasing the police force in an effort to end the violence, but
HRW has said that as early as 2004 Janjaweed members are being "absorbed"
into the police forces in Darfur.