The proposal to the UN Security Council (UNSC) to downsize the joint UN/AU Peacekeeping Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is an open invitation to accelerate violence against civilians in Darfur. Based on a flawed diagnosis of the current challenge in Darfur by the African Union (AU) and United Nations (UN), downsizing will leave civilians in Darfur “more vulnerable to abuses of all kinds by the Sudanese army, paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and other militias operating in the region”.
The UNSC cannot abandon the people of Darfur based on a flawed assessment, Darfur-fatigue and pressure from a government eager to capitalize militarily on withdrawal. Adoption of this proposal would make the international community complicit in projecting an image of peace and stability in Darfur at the expense of the lives and safety of the people. Rather than withdrawal and reduction, UNAMID needs renewed political support from the UNSC and enhanced capacity to fulfill its current critical mandate.
On 23 May 2017, Sudan’s Foreign Ministry announced that the UNAMID tripartite mechanism—comprising the government of the Sudan, the African Union and the United Nations—had reached an agreement on gradual withdrawal of the mission from Darfur. In June, the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) renewed the mandate of UNAMID for 12 months but ordered a significant reduction in the size of the mission, including trimming half of its troops. On 27 June, the UN Security Council (UNSC) is expected to adopt a resolution endorsing the AU approach. The official UN proposal recommends: a reduction of military strength by 44% and of the police component by 30%; the closure of 11 team sites (Abou Shouk, Zamzam, Al Malihah, Um Kaddadah, Tine, and Nellie in North Darfur, Habila and Foro Burunga in West Darfur, Edd al Fursan and Tulus in South Darfur and Muhajiriyah in East Darfur;) and the withdrawal of the military component from another 7 team sites (Kalma, Saraf Omra, Korma, Umm Barru, Sereif, Masteri, Sheria).
A false premise
The UN and AU proposal is based on a flawed analysis of the current security and political situation in Darfur. The UN/AU joint review roots its recommendations for reduction and reconfiguration of UNAMID in findings related to the “improvement of the security situation, the political developments in the context of the national dialogue and the positive regional environment.” These findings are simply not borne out by the situation on the ground—or indeed reflected in other UN assessments.
Despite the reduction in clashes between the conflict parties, civilians continue to be subject to ongoing violence, primarily by entities directly or indirectly associated with the Government. The latest UN Secretary General report to the UNSC, for example, documents 249 attacks by governmental forces (border guards and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) on internally displaced persons (IDPs) alone between 15 December 2016 and 15 March 2017. A 10-month military campaign launched in Jebel Mara in December 2015 – in which the Government of Sudan allegedly used chemical weapons against civilians—also had a large civilian toll and led to the displacement of almost 100,000 new IDPs.
One of the findings of the AU/UN review is that there had been no new displacement of civilians in 2017. One day after its publication however, the Sudanese army and the RSF launched attacks on the Sudan Liberation Movement-Minni Minnawi (SLM-MM) and the SLM- Transitional Council (SLM-TC) in East and North Darfur (19 to 22 of May). This led to a new wave of civilian displacement. Around the same time the UN reported 4000 newly displaced persons in Um Dukhun locality in central Darfur in April/May, in addition to 7,700 new IDPs from East Darfur earlier in 2017.
In terms of political developments, peace talks under the mediation of the African Union High Implementation Panel (AUHIP) have ceased since August 2016. Attempts to revive the talks between the Government of Sudan and SLM-MM and Justice and Equity Movement (JEM) were made in 18 – 19 of May in Germany but failed: this was immediately followed by the army and RSF attacks on SLM-MM and SLM-TC noted above.
The wrong remedy for the wrong malady
UNAMID has many problems but too many troops is not among them. Since its establishment, UNAMID’s efforts to effectively protect civilians have been constantly undermined by hostile behavior and lack of cooperation from the Sudanese government. Instead of yielding to government demands that UNAMID exit Darfur, the UNSC should insist that the mission be permitted to perform its protection, and other core, functions. Sufficient force enablers also need to be provided, such as aircraft, in order that the mission have the capacity to monitor and protect over the vast area of Darfur.
The proposed new UNAMID mandate recommends a greater engagement by the mission in inter-communal conflict mitigation. These are a symptom of the political and security strategy of the government, a direct result of the proliferation of the pro-government militias beyond the control of the state, facilitated by the grant of impunity, particularly as embodied in the evolution of the Janjaweed/Rapid Support Force militias. The recent legalization and re-structuring of the RSF as well as the associated spread of weapons and arms have exacerbated the situation. Without challenging the role of the state apparatus in these conflicts, addressing inter-communal conflicts will be nothing but lip service. The Government of Sudan does not have the law enforcement capacity or the political will to participate in the mitigation of such conflicts, which serve its grand purpose to divide, and role in Darfur. UNAMID needs to address the situation in Darfur holistically and to address the roots of conflict if it is serious about implementing such mandate.
The decision to downsize UNAMID is shortsighted capitulation to political pressure from the Government of Sudan and reflects a fatigue on the part of the international community.
The primary rationale offered for the new mandate in the AU/UN review is that “the armed conflict that gave rise to the deployment of UNAMID has altered in the light of the military successes of the Government of the Sudan against the rebel movements”. Downsizing the mission on this basis, however, will embolden the government of Sudan to benefit from, and preference, settling the conflict in Darfur through use of militarily means—and encourage it to continue to pay only lip service to political settlement efforts. Added to this, and against the background of instability in Libya, the creation of an international vacuum in Darfur will enable radical groups that are supported by government of Sudan to further complicate the conflict in the region and endanger international and regional stability. Darfur’s instability has already been leveraged to fuel the rise of the radical Central African Republic group SELEKA which drew upon members of the Sudanese army and mercenaries from Sudanese government-backed Darfur militia.
For the Sudanese citizens of Darfur, the main contribution of UNAMID has been its physical presence, which has provided a measure of protection, even without the direct engagement of its troops. The proposal to close 11 of UNAMID’s 37 bases and to withdraw military presence from another 7 will leave many of Darfur’s over 2.7 million IDPs susceptible to unmonitored attacks by government forces and militias. The latest wave of attacks on civilians by the Army and the RSF took place between after the publication of the review on 28 May – 6 June 2017 in Ain Siro locality, North Darfur, and from 14 – 15 June in Tor and Nertiti, Jebel Marra. These attacks led to new displacement of at least 35,000 civilians.
The current political and military leadership of the Government of Sudan is accused of genocide and war crimes against the people of Darfur for which there has been no accountability or remedy: forces under such command cannot be expected to credibly fill the gaps created by UNAMID’s re-positioning. As noted by the former Sudanese Minister of Interior Ismat Abdelrahman, Darfur lacks legitimate and functioning law enforcement bodies. General Abdlerahman had to resign and flee the country after clashes with RSF leader Himiti and Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal over his efforts to exercise oversight over paramilitaries.