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The Sudanese government in Khartoum fights a proxy war with the people of Darfur through the Arab Janjawid. The government's success in exploiting the racial tensions between Arabs and blacks is shockingly evident in the role that Arab women play in the use of rape as a weapon of war.

The conflict in Darfur has caused countless personal, family and community tragedies. A 2004 Amnesty International report, Rape as a weapon of war, tells of the particular trauma to women and children in Darfur.

Even though the conflict is between the Sudanese central government in Khartoum and armed opposition in Darfur, the Amnesty International report focuses largely on the role of the Arab nomads from the northern area of Darfur in the atrocities. What was a political conflict has been turned into a racial conflict between Arabs and black Africans. Even Arab women participate in the atrocities.

Government Uses Arab Militias in a Proxy War with Insurgents

Darfur has been in political and social turmoil for well over 20 years. There is no simple explanation for the the conflict in Darfur. Many factors contributed to the conflict, including: increasing desertification in the north, disastrous policies by the central government (especially the government's callous non-response to the famine in Darfur in the early 1980s) and general regional instability.

Two opposition groups took up arms in 2003 against the central government. These two groups were the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). At the time, the central government in Khartoum was in the process of working through peace negotiations with the main armed political group in the south (the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army [SPLM/A]), with whom it had been in conflict for over 20 years. However, groups from other parts of Darfur were angry at being left out of the power- and wealth-sharing agreements. So, in 2003 resentment turned to armed opposition.

Race and Ethnicity Are Tools in the Conflict

A major instrument of the central government in it's fight against the opposition in Darfur has been an Arab militia known as the “Janjawid” (meaning “armed men on horses”).

Even though the conflict in Darfur is sometimes characterized as a racial conflict—between “Arab” and “black”—that is over simplified. However, it is a simplification that Khartoum is happy to manipulate to its advantage. By fueling the conflict between “black” and “Arab,” the central government is able to use the Arab militias to do the work of suppressing the black opposition.

Nomads, Farmers and Military Enemies

The tensions between the opposition and the Janjawid go back further than the current conflict. During the 1980s, as the northern area of Darfur became increasingly dry, the Arab nomads living in the north were forced south. The more agrarian people of central Darfur were already feeling the pressure of an influx of people, having to expand their use of arable land. These pressures put the two groups in conflict even before the 2003 uprising.

Rather than rely only on the military in its response to the uprising (though the central government's military forces have been actively involved in the conflict) Khartoum effectively gave the Janjawid full impunity in their conflict with the people of Darfur.

The Hakama

The extent to which Khartoum has been able to manipulate racial tensions to its own ends is, perhaps, most shockingly illustrated in the role of the Hakama in the conflict.

The Hakama are female traditional singers. The role of these Arab women is to praise the male fighters through singing and ululating. The Amnesty International report describes these Arab women following the Janjawid, encouraging them and singing their praises as they carry out murder and sexual assault.

One eye witness gives account of a song sung by the Hakama.

The blood of the Blacks runs like water, we take their goods and we chase them from our area and our cattle will be in their land. The power of al-Bashir belongs to the Arabs and we will kill you until the end, you Blacks, we have killed your God.

The role of Arab women in the sexual torture of the women of Darfur is shocking. How could one woman watch, much less celebrate, the sexual assault of another woman and her children? But it is, perhaps, the role of the Hakama in the sexual violence rampant in Darfur that gives evidence of the depth to which Khartoum has been able to manipulate racial tensions to its own ends.

Bottom Line

The Sudanese government in Khartoum has manipulated the racial tensions between the Arabs and blacks in Darfur to its own ends. In effect, Khartoum fights a proxy war with the people of Darfur through the Arab Janjawid. The government's success in exploiting these racial tensions is shockingly evident in the role that Arab women play in the use of rape as a weapon of war against the women and children of Darfur.

Data and Methods:


Amnesty International delegates visited Chad in November 2003 in order to interview Sundanese refugees from Darfur. They obtained over 100 testimonies from refugees in three locations along the eastern Chadian border. Amnesty International also obtained the names of more than 1,000 people killed in Darfur and the names of more than 250 women and girls raped in Darfur.

For safety reasons, the real names of all interviewees were changed for the report.

Funding Sources:

Direct funding sources are not provided.

Full Text Availability:
Full text of this report is available at

Amnesty International. 2004. Sudan, Darfur: Rape as a Weapon of War: Sexual Violence and Its Consequences. London: AFR 54/076/04.

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