Terms You Should Know About Darfur

Aerial view of African Village

Carpet bombing

This phrase refers to the tactical bombing that the Janjaweed and Sudanese government forces use. It involves the bombing of a strategic area usually by the use of large numbers of unguided gravity bombs. The goal is complete destruction of a target region. The word “carpet” is meant to portray the idea of bombs completely covering an area in the same way that a carpet covers a floor.


Refers to the forced migration or movement of people away from their homes or home region.

Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa tribes

Several African ethnic groups that have been specifically targeted by repeated joint government-militia attacks in Darfur. Many of the abuses against these groups amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes, as the attacks are deliberately and systematically directed against civilians on account of their ethnicity.


Gender-selective mass killing. The Janjaweed usually take the strong men of the tribe and murder them and drive the women and children into the desert. This is an age old tactic. They also demoralize the tribes by systematically raping the women.


According to the United Nations, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, such as:

  • Killing members of the group en masse.
  • Causing major physical or psychological harm to members of the group
  • Deliberately subjecting a group to conditions intended to bring about the group's destruction
  • Imposing measures that restrict or prevent births within the group
  • Forcibly moving children of the group to another group

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

IDPs are people who flee persecution by going to another part of the same country, like the Darfuris who relocated to other parts of Sudan hoping to avoid further attacks by the Janjaweed. Unlike refugees, because IDPs have not crossed an international border, they are not protected under international refugee law. Their predicament may, in some circumstances be worse than that of the refugees because many IDPs are persecuted by their own government, subject to abuse, discrimination and neglect in their own countries.

Janjaweed militia

The word, an Arabic colloquialism, means "a man with a gun on a horse." Janjaweed militiamen are primarily members of nomadic "Arab" tribes who've long been at odds with Darfur's settled "African" farmers, who are darker-skinned. Until 2003, the conflicts were mostly over Darfur's scarce water and land resources—desertification has been a serious problem, so grazing areas and wells are at a premium. In fact, the term "Janjaweed" has for years been synonymous with bandit, as these horse- or camel-borne fighters were known to swoop in on non-Arab farms to steal cattle.

The Janjaweed started to become much more aggressive in 2003, after two non-Arab groups, the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, took up arms against the Sudanese government, alleging mistreatment by the Arab regime in Khartoum. In response to the uprising, the Janjaweed militias began pillaging towns and villages inhabited by members of the African tribes from which the rebel armies draw their strength—the Zaghawa, Masalit, and Fur tribes.


The term is commonly used today to refer to a military force composed of ordinary citizens to provide defense, emergency law enforcement, or paramilitary service, in times of emergency without being paid a regular salary or committed to a fixed term of service. The Janjaweed is an example of a militia in the Darfur conflict because even though the government disassociates from them, it is clear they are in charge of them, though not through regular military means.

Sudanese Liberation Army and the Justice Equality Movement (SLA and JEM)

These are terms you may see used to describe the non-Arab rebels in Darfur that rebelled against the Sudanese government in 2003. There are a lot of different factions of rebel groups.

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