In February 2005, Human Rights Watch sent
researchers Dr. Annie Sparrow and Olivier Bercault to Chad to talk with refugees who'd fled from the bombings and Janjawid militia attacks in Darfur. A pediatrician, Dr. Sparrow usually gives crayons and paper to children to entertain them while she interviews their parents. When she gave crayons to children who've fled Darfur, the results
were harrowing and powerful.
Without prompting, the children drew scenes of horse-mounted
militiamen riding into villages, large airplanes dropping bombs, and
gun-wielding men raping women. The children's drawings are a visual
record of the atrocities committed in Darfur that aren't available
through any other medium. Human rights workers have received extensive
testimony about bombing of villages and rape as a weapon, but these
drawings provide visual evidence that international media
organizations have not been able to provide, as they've been blocked
by the Sudanese government from travelling in Darfur.
Realizing the importance of these drawings, Sparrow and Bercault
started collecting school notebooks from children in refugee camps.
They found in many of them that class notes suddenly gave way to
sketches of battlefield scenes, burning huts and the destruction of
villages. The two began interviewing children about their drawings:
Leila, Age 9
Human Rights Watch: What is going on here?
Leila: My hut burning after being hit by a bomb.
Human Rights Watch: And here? [Pointing to the drawing of what looks
like an upside-down woman]
Leila: It's a woman. She is dead.
Human Rights Watch: Why is her face colored in red?
Leila: Oh, because she has been shot in the face.
Human Rights Watch: What is this vehicle? Who is this in green?
Leila: That is a tank. The man in green is a soldier.
The researchers brought hundreds of drawings back to their offices.
When I was at Human Rights Watch a week ago, there was a pile of these
sketches on a conference room table, along side a pile of photographs
from Janjawid militamen. What amazed me was how details in the
children's drawings echoed details from the photos – the stocks of the
automatic rifles, the round shape of the houses, the posture of two
gunmen riding on horseback. It was immediately clear to me that these
drawings weren't of weapons imagined by children, but eye witness
The New York Times will be running some of these pictures in their
Sunday magazine, and German television will be featuring the images on
a broadcast this weekend. Perhaps these images will help the world pay
attention to the ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity taking
place in Darfur and the refugee camps in Chad.