"Schoolchildren from seven refugee camps and the border town of Tine, Chad, offered Human Rights Watch's researchers hundreds of drawings in the hope that the rest of the world would see their stories as described in their own unique visual vocabulary of war.
Magda [name changed for protection], age 9, describes her drawing, "We were running from the burning houses. Janjaweed and soldiers with guns and planes and bombs came, all together, quickly. They were shooting. My uncle was shot. I saw them taking women and girls away."
It is estimated that at least 100,000 people have been killed in the Darfur genocide (some sources estimate 400,000 people), and another 2 million people are now refugees. Refugee camps in neighbouring Chad are not entirely safe and are sometimes targeted by militia.
The Sudanese government has denied complicity in the genocide and mass exile of it's own people - but as the childrens drawings show, and as many adult witnesses have already stated, they have worked with the Janjaweed militia in a program of ethnic cleansing. As the Sudan Tribune notes:
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
Babes and Arms: The Children of Darfur
Photo from Human Rights Watch
It's a common practice - giving children paper and crayons to keep themselves occupied for a while. Human Rights Watch workers did just that when visiting a refugee camp in Chad while they interviewed adult survivors of the Sudan genocide. The unexpected results were reported on television last night by BBC World, and are described here in the The Scotsman:
" Dr Annie Sparrow and Olivier Bercault wanted to concentrate on the adults in the group, so they provided the children with crayons and paper to keep themselves amused.
When the researchers had finished their interviews, they looked at what the children had drawn. Unbidden, they had drawn what was uppermost in their minds: scenes of unmitigated horror.
There in the notebooks were pictures of the Janjaweed, the Khartoum-backed Arab militia which has terrorised the western province of Darfur, and the Sudanese government helicopters and bombers. There, too, were the burning villages, the escape to Chad and worse: the rapes, the gunshots to the genitals used by the militia to emasculate their victims and the bodies of the dead."
The child's drawing at the top of this post is of Sudanese government helicopters bombing a village. It was drawn by Taha, Age 13 or 14, who describes her picture:
"In the afternoon we returned from school and saw the planes. We were all looking, not imagining about bombing. Then they began the bombing. The first bomb [landed] in our garden, then four bombs at once in the garden. The bombs killed six people, including a young boy, a boy carried by his mother, and a girl. In another place in the garden a women was carrying her baby son, she was killed, not him. Now my nights are hard because I feel frightened. We became homeless. I cannot forget the bad images of the burning houses and fleeing at night because our village was burned..."
The child's drawing below, also from Human Rights Watch, is of women being taken from their village at gunpoint by the Janjaweed militia:
The drawing, by Doa', Age 11 or 12, is described: Janjaweed descend on a village on horses and camels, a woman flings her arms in the air as she is targeted for sexual violence or execution. A soldier takes a woman to be raped. She has a cell phone next to her head: "She wants to call the agencies for help."
As the Human Rights Watch workers continued their tour of the refugee camps in Chad, they gave crayons and paper to more children. The Sudan Tribune reports:
"Human Rights Watch said that the government of Sudan is responsible for "ethnic cleansing" and crimes against humanity in Darfur, one of the world's poorest and most inaccessible regions. Government forces oversaw and directly participated in massacres, summary executions of civilians-including women and children-burnings of towns and villages, and the forcible depopulation of wide swathes of land long inhabited by the Fur, Masalit, Zaghawa, and other ethnic groups."
Currently, about 2 million people live in refugee camps in Chad, one of the world's poorest countries, with no hope of returning to their native homeland. International intervention in response to their plight has been minimal, and the mainstream media have barely reported what is in fact the worst humanitarian crisis currently taking place in the world.
Several of the refugee children's drawings are available online here at Human Rights Watch.