The proposal to downsize the AU-UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur is 'an open invitation to accelerate violence against civilians in Darfur', said a civil rights organisation. Meanwhile the US envoy to Khartoum discounted calls by international think thanks to delay the removal of sanctions on Sudan.
In a report released on Monday, Sudan Democracy First Group (SDFG) said that the proposal to the UN Security Council (UNSC) to downsize the joint African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (Unamid) 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”.
Its report titled 'Downsizing Unamid: A potentially fatal mistake' said that the “UN and AU proposal is based on a flawed analysis of the current security and political situation in Darfur”, claiming that the situation on the ground in Darfur does not support the stated reasons for the reduction of the mission.
“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) on internally displaced persons alone between 15 December 2016 and 15 March 2017,” said the activist group.
It mentioned more than 100,000 people who have been displaced by clashes between government forces and the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM-AW) in Jebel Marra.
Peace talks between the government and the armed groups have ceased since August 2016, SDFG pointed out, saying all attempts to revive these talks have failed.
Unamid is the world’s second-largest international peacekeeping force with an annual budget of over $1 billion and almost 20,000 military and police personnel. However, “efforts to effectively protect civilians have been constantly undermined by hostile behaviour and lack of cooperation from the Sudanese government”.
SDFG concluded that the decision to downsize Unamid “reflects a fatigue on the part of the international community”.
The United States Chargé d’Affaires to Khartoum, Steven Koutsis, reacted last week that “Unamid will draw down requires that the government of Sudan step up and fill those gaps in issues of security and development assistance. As we have seen it is not clear that the government is fully able at this point to do that.”
Koutsis brushes-aside calls
Koutsis spoke to AFP after his visit to the Darfur region. Commenting on the lifting of economic sanctions on Sudan next July, he said that Khartoum’s advances on the five tracks agreed with the government to normalise relations have been “positive”.
“The few exceptions being… the implementation of humanitarian access is uneven… and that we want to see that the government begins to act more on moving towards a more permanent agreement with the opposition” on ending hostilities, Koutsis said.
International think tanks, including Enough, and Crisis Group, have accused Khartoum of curbing freedom of speech, violating human rights and repressing Christians and other minority groups, and most urged Washington to maintain the sanctions.
Koutsis said that Washington was not blind to these issues and had “big differences” with Khartoum over them, but: “None of these other issues were the point of sanctions, and none of these other issues, therefore, should be linked to the lifting of sanctions.”
By 12 July, Washington and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson must decide whether to permanently lift the economic and trade restrictions on Sudan it suspended in January – if progress were sustained for the next half year on five tracks: counter-terrorism cooperation, addressing the threat of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), ending hostilities in Darfur and the Two Areas (South Kordofan and Blue Nile), improving humanitarian access, and ending negative interference in South Sudan.