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Children’s Drawings from Darfur

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 accounts.

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.

For more information:
HRW’s gallery of Darfur drawings
Articles from Human Rights Watch on Darfur
Passion of the Present – Online activists working to bring attention to the crisis in Darfur

29 thoughts on “Children’s Drawings from Darfur”

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  4. I’ve always been fascinated by what children choose to draw and how they draw it. These images are disturbing but fascinating, and I hope they can help draw attention to the situation and catalyze responses.

    Thanks for posting them.

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  6. What children draw (or even say) are straight from the heart – uncorrupted and undiluted by external influences or even anxiety about what others might think or say… and these pictures show to what xtent such incidents have affected their minds – to have stayed on so powerfully – and it is disturbing to think of what images – and in turn, attitudes / beliefs such children will grow up with…

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  8. Humberto Franco

    Wow! these children’s images of war are beyond my comprehension. their careful recollection is vividly displayed in their drawings. Amazing Just Amazing!

    Mine eyes are open….and hope that the rest of the world starts looking in.

    It is very sad and tragic to see people of a nation self-destroy…..SHAME SHAME SHAME !

    Humberto Franco
    Los Angeles, California

  9. Thanks, Ingrid – wouldn’t have found that link without you. Very glad that the Guardian is calling attention to these images as well.

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  12. Greatings..
    I salute your efforts….count me as one of your team in degrading the horrific effects of the genocide in our land…i’m doing my bits,but i’m part of every body that minimises the suffereings of human biengs..

  13. I am making a multimedia document to raise awareness about the Plight of street children in my native Democratic Replublic of Congo.
    Wher could I get some pictures of the Kinshasa street children, videos or drawings for that purpose?
    I appreciate your help with this.

    Raleigh, NC

  14. “The United States Senate and House of Representatives are calling for Americans to unite in prayer and reflection on the weekend of July 15th, 16th and 17th.

    During the National Weekend of Prayer and Reflection, religious congregations across America will offer prayers for the people of Darfur. Reflect with others across the country on the plight of Darfur’s children and their families, and respond as your faith and religious traditions call you.

    For more information on the crisis in Darfur and the National Weekend of Prayer and Reflection, please see http://www.SaveDarfur.org/faith”

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  18. You know I heard a little boy who now lives in Chad after having to flee from his home in Darfu say, “I do not get mad – when someone do bad things to me – I forgive them.” This touched me so much and this little boy taught me so much about life just by his quote. God says to forgive and love when someone does us harm.
    My goodness how great is this little boys faith in God and in himself.
    I saw him on Datline Wednesday night (May 23, 2007). I would except it as an honor to be able to meet and speak with this child and others like him. I also noticed that people in countries which are under seize…are deeply happy and content about who they are and who runs life itself… I need this.

  19. As part of the Am I Not Human? campaign, the 27th of each month will be dedicated to providing the necessary tools in an effort to bring to the forefront the atrocities that continue to occur at the hands of the Chinese government in Darfur and Tibet.

    I invite you to read my May, 2008 Am I Not Human post entitled “am i not human? wanted ahmad haran & ali kushayb for crimes against humanity”



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