On Thursday, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) approved a major reduction of peacekeepers in Darfur.
The UNSC renewed the mandate of Unamid until 30 June next year, and will restructure the mission “in two six-month phases while closely monitoring the situation on the ground”, the UN said on Thursday.
More than a third of the nearly 19,000 troops and police officers of the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping Mission in Darfur (Unamid) will be withdrawn, the UNSC decided in resolution 2363 that was unanimously adopted.
Following the adoption, Britain’s deputy ambassador Peter Wilson, said “There were still troubling events on the ground, but there was no question that the situation had changed”.
On 14 June, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations El Ghassim Wane told the UNSC that a gradual restructuring of Unamid should take place, given “the significantly lower level of armed hostilities in Darfur”.
The Sudanese government, that has been pushing for the exit of all Unamid forces for years, thanked the Council for its decision, claiming that Darfur has become secure and stable.
According to Omer Ismail of the Enough Project, a Washington-based advocacy group, “It is hard to predict the immediate effect these cuts would have on civilian protection.
“We know the risk of conflict is high in many of the areas where bases are to be closed and military contingents are to be withdrawn,” he told New York Times.
The withdrawal of peacekeepers “will make several key areas unsafe for humanitarian operations, likely leading to closures of programmes upon which tens of thousands of conflict-affected people rely,” Ismail stated.
The “UN and AU proposal is based on a flawed analysis of the current security and political situation in Darfur”, the Sudan Democracy First Group (SDFG) said on Monday, claiming that the situation on the ground in Darfur does not support the stated reasons for the reduction of the mission.
Cutting the number of Unamid forces 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 Kampala-based Sudanese think-tank said.
“The last couple of years, the attacks, killings, rapes, theft, and kidnapping have increased again. There is ample evidence for this. Even Unamid troops themselves as well as aid workers have been targeted,” Hussein Abusharati, Spokesman for the Darfur Displaced and Refugees Association, told Radio Dabanga on 18 June.
“The reduction of the peacekeepers in the region would constitute a major disappointment and a flagrant mistake,” he said.
El Shafee Abdallah, the coordinator of the Central Darfur camps also mentioned an increase in attacks. "The Unamid forces came to Darfur in 2008 because the Khartoum regime was attacking civilians in the region. The situation has not changed. The government is still killing, raping, and displacing the people in the region.”
Abdallah as well pointed to importance of a “neutral monitor” in the war-torn region. “The presence of Unamid, despite its weaknesses in implementing its mandate to protect civilians, means the presence of a body established by the international community, that is monitoring the human rights situation in Darfur.”
In a letter to the UNSC in mid June, rebel leaders Jibril Ibrahim and Minni Minawi stated that “Unamid is considered the conclusive guarantee for the protection of civilians in Darfur, particularly since the government of Sudan renewed its attacks in the region.
“Despite a decline in the direct military confrontations in Darfur, this does not mean the conflict has ended or will not escalate again. This is evident from the clashes that took place in North and East Darfur in May,” they noted.
“The planned cuts reflect a false narrative about Darfur’s war ending,” Daniel Bekele of Human Rights Watch commented recently. “There is no reason to believe that government attacks on civilians and other abuses have ended since the same security forces remain in place; they have never been prosecuted for their crimes and can’t be relied on to protect civilians.”
Unamid has come under criticism in the past for not doing enough to protect civilians from being raped or killed. The mission itself has repeatedly complained of a lack of cooperation from the government in Khartoum.