Janjaweed, also spelled “Janjawid” or “Jingaweit” in some publications, is the name of a paramilitary organization operating in Sudan. Janjaweed forces have ostensibly been fighting rebel groups in western Sudan’s Darfur region since mid-2003. However, Janjaweed attacks on civilians, mostly “black” Africans of the Fur and Masalit tribes, have been resulted in widespread death and destruction, as well as the displacement of over one million refugees, as of mid-2004.
Though rebel groups, The Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), signed peace protocols with the Islamic Sudanese government in late May 2004 to end their 21-year long civil war, these accords only dealt with the north-south conflict, and did nothing to end the fighting in Darfur. The government of Sudan has set up a tenuous ceasefire with SLM/A and JEM, but Janjaweed militiamen continue to carry out attacks.
Accounts of Sudanese witnesses and victims describe Janjaweed fighters as having Sudanese military weapons, vehicles and equipment, and occasionally as wearing Sudanese military uniforms. The Sudanese government denies all connection to the militia, but victims allege that Janjaweed attacks are often accompanied by aerial support and bombing from Antonov and MiG jets, as well as helicopters. It is highly unlikely that the Janjaweed would be able to muster such air support without the backing of the Sudanese government. Victims also often claim that Janjaweed and Sudanese soldiers are seen fighting side by side, though how such reports can be verified is unclear.
On the ground, the stories are all the same. Janjaweed come into villages at dawn, steal the livestock, food and money, shoot the men of fighting age, destroy the buildings, and abduct women and children who haven’t fled. Male children are either killed or kidnapped, and possibly conscripted. Women and girls are raped. Janjaweed allegedly dump corpses into the village wells to make the water undrinkable. This scorched earth technique is especially devastating in the harsh desert climate of western Sudan. The homelessness and starvation facing those who survive Janjaweed raids have lead some call the attacks ethnic cleansing or genocide. While the Janjaweed are usually described as Islamist or Arabic and the Darfurians usally described as black, it is important to note that the Fur and Masalit generally practice Islam, unlike the southern Sudanese, who are generally Christian or animist.
Janjaweed forces have also engaged in cross-border raids against civilians who have fled to neighboring Chad, killing Chadian civilians and military personnel in the process. Their relentlessness and utter brutality have contributed to a humanitarian crisis on par with Rwanda, where as many as 1 million could die as a direct result of their tactics.
The Sudanese government is either implicit or complicit in the Janjaweed’s activities. Even if the allegations of military support are false, the government of Sudan still refuses to prosecute, or even reign in, the Janjaweed. This is particularly damning in light of the fact that, while it has denied the charges that genocide is being perpetrated against its citizens, the Sudanese government has acknowledged Janjaweed’s illegal practices and human rights abuses.
Darfur Destoyed: Ethnic Cleansing by Government and Militia Forces in Western Sudan, Human Rights Watch, May, 2, 2004 http://hrw.org/reports/2004/sudan0504/sudan0504simple.pdf
“UN and US warn that huge toll in Darfur crisis is now inevitable”, Yahoo! News , Yahoo!, June 3, 2004, http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=1514&u=/afp/20040603/wl_mideast_afp/un_sudan_darfur_meeting&printer=1
“Sudan: Death and devastation continue in Darfur”, Library: Sudan, Amnesty International, June 3, 2004, http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAFR540602004?open&of=ENG-SDN