Darfur lawyer, displaced decry South African exit from Unamid
Lawyer and human rights expert, Saleh Mahmoud, considers the decision by South Africa to withdraw its troops from Unamid as “an individual decision, in the context of the special relationship with the Sudanese government, which means it is based on a decision issued by the state of South Africa rather than by the African Union or the United Nations.
Saleh Mahmoud has called for support for Unamid and a review of its performance so as to enable it to protect civilians after the renewal of its mandate for a new year.
He denies that the step is a victory for the South African Unamid exit strategy advocated by the Sudanese government, but has not ruled out that the reduction in the number of troops was because of the high cost of up to billions of dollars.
Speaking to Radio Dabanga, Mahmoud called on the UN Security Council and the African Peace and Security Council “to shoulder their moral responsibility towards the civilians in Darfur in the light of the deteriorating humanitarian and security situation”.
In Darfur, displaced people fleeing from Jebel Marra have denounced the step by South Africa to withdraw its troops serving with Unamid in Darfur, and described the decision as a mistake.
Activists and newly displaced survivors of Jebel Marra told Radio Dabanga that the South African decision has come in the wrong time; one in which war, rapes, killings and displacement of civilians, robbery, and aerial bombardment are still an everyday occurrence in Darfur.
The 850 South African troops will end their operations on 15 April. South African President Jacob Zuma announced the termination of the country’s involvement with Unamid in a short statement last week. The termination will take effect from 1 April.
Ahead of the presidential announcement, the South African permanent mission to the UN apparently informed the UN departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support via a note the country would be withdrawing its deployed infantry battalion “in lieu of” the scheduled forthcoming rotation, the African defenceWeb reported.
The Operation Cordite of the South Africa National Defence Force (SANDF) started in July 2004 with the deployment of staff officers and observers to Darfur in Sudan in support of the AU Mission in Sudan (Amis).
Not too long afterwards, South Africa was asked to deploy additional observers and staff officers to supplement then existing Sudan deployments. This ended when Amis was terminated in December 2007 to become the first hybrid AU/UN mission on 1 January 2008, called Unamid. In November 2008 the SANDF component of Unamid was increased to around the 800 mark, a figure that has remained constant since then.
Last year, President Jacob Zuma, as commander-in-chief of the SANDF, extended the South African deployment in Darfur by one year. Keeping the 850 soldiers in Sudan until March 31 was estimated to cost ZAR369,079,895 ($24 million) for the 12 months.
South Africa faced a political scandal in June 2015 when President Omar Al Bashir – who was visiting to attend an AU summit – was allowed to escape the country in a private jet. His escape, allegedly with the connivance of South Africa’s controversial President Jacob Zuma, came in defiance of an order by the South African High Court, pending a decision on whether to hand Al Bashir over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague in accordance with international arrest warrants.
Al Bashir was indicted in 2009 by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and in 2010 for genocide in Darfur, Influential AU leaders, however, in spite of being signatories to the Rome Statute, have repeatedly voiced their lack of support for the Court.
Relations between Sudan and the UN became tense after Khartoum called for the withdrawal of the 17,000-strong Unamid peacekeeping mission from Darfur following a dispute over the mass rape in Tabit in North Darfur by army troops in October 2014.
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