The Scorched Earth of Darfur


7th April 2006.


The product of a year and a half's meticulous research, The Scorched Earth of Darfur presents the result of an intensive compilation of witness testimony data on attacks on villages in Darfur, Sudan.

The main findings of the report are reproduced here:

download report | download annexes


I. Executive Summary

Witness testimonies and reports of attacks on villages in Darfur, Sudan, were gathered from a variety of media, human rights and United Nations sources. The search produced a sample of 178 detailed accounts covering attacks on 372 villages during the period January 2001 to September 2005. An analysis of these demonstrated that:

The majority (69%) of attacks took place in the period from beginning April 2003 to late March 2004.

Just 3% of the attacks were committed by rebel forces (SLA & JEM); less than half of these attacks mention civilian victims.

All remaining attacks (97%) were conducted by Janjaweed militia groups, Sudanese government ground forces and/or aircraft, or a combination of the above.

The majority of all reported attacks (58%) were conducted by the Janjaweed and the Sudanese army in cooperation, either as air strikes followed by Janjaweed attacks on the ground, or a combined attack by the Sudanese army soldiers together with the Janjaweed. Government of Sudan forces were responsible for a further 5% of attacks, while the Janjaweed militia were responsible for a further 34% of the attacks.

Grid reference coordinates were found for 105 of the villages. A plot of these demonstrates that this sub-sample, comprising some 3% of all villages in Darfur, is evenly distributed over the central and western part of Darfur, and can therefore be deemed to be fairly representative of all attacks.

Specific death tolls were reported for 101 villages, giving an average of 43 – 57 people killed per village during the attacks by the Janjaweed and government forces, depending on the method of calculation. Killings are mentioned in at least 76% of the villages attacked throughout the period.

A wide estimate of 57,000 – 128,000 people, with a mean of 87,200, were killed during attacks on villages throughout Darfur by Janjaweed and government forces from April 2003 to September 2005. This figure excludes those who died after the attacks from other non-natural causes such as hunger, disease or subsequent violence resulting from the conflict.

The above results were considered against an analysis of media and UN news service coverage of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, which demonstrated that:

The sudden drop in attacks/killings in September 2003 coincided with a peace agreement between the rebels and the government. It also coincided with an uptake in coverage of the situation in Darfur by the UN IRIN news service. Attacks and killings increased again in October 2003.

Another sudden drop in the killings at the end of March 2004 coincided with the public comparison by a senior UN official between Darfur and the genocide in Rwanda ten years earlier, which sparked a major uptake in media interest in the conflict. The number of attacks and killings fell dramatically thereafter.

II. Comment

The results of this study point to the following conclusions:

The highly disproportionate balance between reported attacks on villages by rebel forces (3%) compared to reported attacks on villages by government and Janjaweed forces (97%) demonstrates that the latter employed an overwhelming use of force that was disproportional to the military necessity to win the conflict. Some of the killings caused during these attacks should therefore be regarded as war crimes.

The high proportion of attacks on villages by government and Janjaweed forces which recorded casualties (76% of all attacks), together with the high number of casualties per village (average of 43 -57), demonstrates that these attacks aimed to do more than just drive the populations out of their villages. The deliberate killing of civilians appears to have been part of the attack strategy. These killings could therefore be regarded as crimes against humanity.

The broad and even geographical distribution of the attacks covering an area of about 185,000 km2 suggests a systematic campaign rather than localised outbreaks of violence.

The coincidence between the two sudden drops in killings/attacks with the an uptake in UN news service coverage of the crisis in September 2003, as well as with an uptake in international media coverage end March/April 2004 suggests that there is a strong central control over Government soldiers and Janjaweed militia groups.

The large number of direct casualties (57,000 – 128,000 deliberate killings plus subsequent deaths caused as a result of the attacks), together with indications that the attacks were systematic, that there were racial and ethnic motivation behind the attacks, and that there is a central command over the attacks, could together qualify the killings as genocide (1).


Note 1 above. The intent and act of killing an ethnic/racial/religious group in whole or in part is included within the definition of genocide, according to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Although there is no indication of the intent to kill all the people of Darfur, there does seem to be an intent to kill a portion, or part, of these people.

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