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|“||The Sudanese government has unleashed African Arabs, called the Janjaweed, to wipe out tribal blacks. The name 'Sudan' ironically, is Arabic, meaning 'land of the blacks.' But the Janjaweed is rewriting that history in blood. Janjaweed, by the way, has a translation, too. It means 'evil on horseback.'||„|
|~ 60 Minutes, "Witnessing Genocide in Sudan"|
In English, the Janjaweed's name means Devils on Horseback. It can also be interpreted as Evil on Horseback.
In Darfur, a western province of Sudan, Muammar Gaddafi supported the creation of the Arab Gathering (Tajammu al-Arabi), which according to Gérard Prunier was "a militantly racist and pan-Arabist organization which stressed the 'Arab' character of the province." The two organizations shared members and a source of support, and the distinction between the two is often ambiguous.
The nearly continuous cross-border raids that resulted greatly contributed to a separate ethnic conflict within Darfur that killed about 9,000 people between 1985 and 1988. The Janjaweed leadership has some background in Gaddafi's mercenaries.
The Janjaweed first appeared in 1988 after Chadian President Hissène Habré, backed by France and the United States, defeated the Libyan army, thereby ending Gaddafi’s territorial designs on Chad. Gaddafi’s Chadian protégé, Acheickh Ibn Omer Saeed, retreated with his partisan forces to Darfur, where they were hosted by Sheikh Musa Hilal, the newly elevated chief of the Rizeigat Arab tribes of north Darfur.
Hilal’s tribesmen had earlier smuggled Libyan weapons to Ibn Omer’s forces. A French-Chadian incursion destroyed Ibn Omer’s camp, but his weapons remained with his Mahamid hosts.
Throughout the 1990s, the Janjaweed were Arab partisans, tolerated by the Sudan Government, who pursued local agendas of controlling land. The majority of Darfur’s Arabs, the Baggara confederation, began their presence in the war over grazing territory, and remain involved. In 1999-2000, faced with threats of insurgencies in Western and Northern Darfur, Khartoum’s security armed the Janjaweed forces.
When the insurgency escalated in February 2003, spearheaded by the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army, and the Justice and Equality Movement, the Sudanese Government responded by using the Janjaweed as its main counter-insurgency force. Protracting the forces to attack and recover the rebel held areas of Darfur, the Janjaweed conducted a campaign targeting rebels in the region of Darfur.
The U.S. State Department and others in 2004 named leading Janjaweed commanders, including Musa Hilal as suspected genocide criminals. By early 2006, many Janjaweed had been absorbed into the Sudan Armed Forces including the Popular Defense Forces and Border Guards. Meanwhile, the Janjaweed expanded to include some Arab tribes in eastern Darfur, not historically associated with the original Janjaweed. Chadian Arabs were also increasingly active in seeking to reestablish a political base in Chad, as part of the Unified Forces for a Democratic Change (FUC) coalition.
By October 2007, only the United States' government had declared the Janjaweed killings in Darfur to be genocide, since they had killed an estimated 200,000-400,000 civilians over the previous three years.
The UN Security Council called for the Janjaweed to be disarmed. On July 14, 2008, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court filed genocide charges against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, accusing him of masterminding attempts to wipe out African tribes in Darfur with a campaign of murder, rape and deportation using the Janjaweed tribes.
In 2013, a majority of the Janjaweed were formally brought under control of the Sudanese Armed Forces and reorganized into the Rapid Support Forces, under command of Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. Though the Janjaweed proper continues to exist, their activities have greatly decreased, especially after the arrest and incarceration of their leader Musa Hilal in 2017.
Alongside the RSF, the Janjaweed were major perpetrators of the Khartoum Massacre in 2019.