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‘Unamid exit will exacerbate crises in Darfur’: SDFG

January 31 - 2016 KHARTOUM
A peacekeeper in Tawila, North Darfur, where the presence of militia troops has led to a volatile security situation and displacement, 10 February 2015 (Hamid Abdulsalam/Unamid)
A peacekeeper in Tawila, North Darfur, where the presence of militia troops has led to a volatile security situation and displacement, 10 February 2015 (Hamid Abdulsalam/Unamid)

If Unamid would leave conflict-torn Darfur, the severe protection and humanitarian crises in the region will increase to a large extent, the Sudan Democracy First Group (SDFG) states in a report dated 27 January.

The demands from the Sudanese government for a Unamid exit have increased significantly since November 2014, in reaction to the involvement of Unamid in exposing a mass rape that took place in Tabit, North Darfur (as reported by Radio Dabanga) in late October that year.

While the Sudanese government justifies its demand with claims of peace and stability in Darfur, the reality on the ground shows a steady increase in violence. If Unamid would leave would exacerbate the severe protection and humanitarian crises in the region, SDFG states in its report Walking the Talk or Fleeing the Scene, The pressing need for an effective role of Unamid in Darfur

Instead of discussing Unamid’s exit, the Sudanese think-tank says, discussions must focus on increasing the effectiveness of “the largest peacekeeping mission in the world” through:

- Committing to a continued presence in support of peace building and stabilisation,

- Recognising the falsity of, and rejecting, the Sudanese government’s current claims of peace and stability in Darfur,

- Ending the de facto blockade and restrictions of humanitarian access to Darfur imposed by the Government of Sudan by putting serious pressure on the authorities to allow full and unrestricted access and delivery of humanitarian aid by internationally recognised agencies,

- The inclusion of all parties in the coordination of the mission, including political forces and leaders from the victim communities, and

- Improving the mission’s equipment - particularly with aircraft.

The UN and AU also need to express strong political will in supporting Unamid to fully execute its mandate, the activists group states.

On 31 July 2007 the UN Security Council (UNSC) passed Resolution 1769 that formally established Unamid as a peacekeeping mission to support the implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement of 2006 (the Abuja Agreement). The mission formally replaced the troops of the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS) that was founded in 2004 to originally protect ceasefire monitors sent by the AU.

The mission was designed to keep a peace that does not yet exist, and it does not have the capacity to make it happen.

The justification for the new international mission was the indisputable need for a more effective and stronger mandated mission on the ground to support peace and security and help restore stability to Darfur, the SDFG report reads.

The mission, with a budget of $106 million per month and a force of about 26,000 personnel (19,555 military personnel, 3,772 international police and 19 special police units with up to 2,660 officers) in addition to international and local supporting civilian staff, is considered the largest peacekeeping mission in history.

It was also the first time for the UN to share the command of a peacekeeping mission with another international body in such a “hybrid” model. It was agreed in response to Sudanese governmental pressure that the mission would have an African character with troops sourced from African countries while other countries would provide logistical and financial support.

The mandate of the mission was sufficiently strengthened to include among other tasks: supporting the implementation of the 2006 peace agreement and assisting its political process, the restoration of necessary security conditions for the safe provision of humanitarian assistance, the facilitation of full humanitarian access throughout Darfur. The duty to monitor, investigate and report on instances of violence in Darfur was also included in the mission’s mandate. The peacekeepers were permitted to use military force to protect civilians, mission members, and aid workers.

Criticism

Despite all this preparedness, Unamid was, and still is, being criticized in the course of implementing its mandate. The lack of sufficient equipment affected the efficiency of the mission; particularly the lack of aircraft given the complex topography of Darfur and the use of aerial bombardments as a major tool of violations by the Sudanese government.

The lack of the political willingness to back the use of military force resulted in the catastrophic failure to perform the civilian protection part of Unamid mandate, the Group states in its report. Moreover, inter-AU coordination in addition to the coordination between the AU and the UN proved to be difficult.

The Sudanese think-tank further points to the bureaucratic need to have the Government of Sudan’s permission for every action, even those stated in the mandate, which created further obstacles for the mission. In addition, the Sudanese authorities are continuously imposing heavy arbitrary restrictions on the movement of Unamid personnel and delaying its supply shipments.

The proclamations by the Sudanese government of its intention to dismantle the camps in Darfur and the ongoing discussion on Unamid’s exit strategy, coupled with widespread “Darfur fatigue” by international actors, raise further concerns about the fate of civilians in the region.

It was becoming obvious more and more that the mission was designed to keep a peace that does not yet exist, and it does not have the capacity to make it happen, the SDFG states.

Conspiracy of silence

In April 2014, a former Unamid employee accused the mission of being involved in a conspiracy of silence to deliberately and systematically cover up crimes committed by the government and the militias in Darfur. According to Dr Aicha Elbasri, Unamid spokesman between 2012 and 2013, Unamid troops just stood watching while civilians were being attacked and shot by para-governmental militias. She further added that in some incidences the mission took photos and documented assaults against civilians but never reported them.

Failure to report the widespread government bombing campaigns of populated areas, and the involvement of the government in the 2012-2013 conflict over gold mining in Jebel Amer in which hundreds were killed, and more than one hundred thousand people were forced to flee their homes, were also among Elbasri’s accusations.

Elbasri leaked thousands of diplomatic cables, police reports, military investigations and emails, evidencing her accusations after the UN repeatedly declined her demands for investigation. She demanded the UN and the International Criminal Court to investigate these accusations of cover-up and wrongdoings in Darfur.

Refusing any independent investigation, the UN launched instead an internal “major strategic review of its operation in Darfur”. The report of this review – though secretive and not inclusive to all incidences- found five instances in which Unamid stonewalled the media and withheld from UN Headquarters some critical evidence incriminating Sudanese government forces in crimes against civilians and peacekeepers.

On 30 November 2014, President Omar Al Bashir demanded Unamid to leave. 

He described the mission as a “security burden” rather than support, and accused it of protecting the rebels and not citizens. His demands came after the involvement of Unamid in the revelation of the rape of more than 200 women and girls that that took place in Tabit end October-early November 2014.

The mission was denied access to the North Darfur village from investigating the incident.

The call on Unamid to leave was recently repeated by the Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Ibrahim Ghandour who claimed that Darfur witnesses a state of peace and does state of peace and IDPs return that requires Unamid to leave. In a similar vein, on 28 December 2015 Sudanese Vice-President, Hassabo Abdelrahman, announced the intentions of his government to dismantle the all the Darfur camps for the displaced in 2016.

Darfur fatigue’

The reality on the ground contradicts all government claims of current peace and stability in Darfur. The past few weeks have witnessed an escalated wave of continuous assaults against civilians in different areas of Darfur. SDFG’s recent update has illustrated this picture of increasing waves of violence in Darfur.

On 15 January, the Sudanese military and Rapid Support Forces backed by aerial bombardments launched joint attacks in Darfur’s Jebel Marra leading to an unaccounted number of causalities and wide displacement from the area.

Last year saw a steady increase in military violence that led to the displacement of 233,000 civilians during the year, according to UN OCHA reports.

The proclamations by the Sudanese government of its intention to dismantle the camps in Darfur and the ongoing discussion on Unamid’s exit strategy, coupled with widespread “Darfur fatigue” by international actors, raise further concerns about the fate of civilians in the region, the SDFG warns.

The Sudanese government prefers to divide the region into states on ethnic bases and to settle newcomers who supported the government. This approach maintains the government influence in the region at the cost of preventing the implementation of any comprehensive development plan in the region.

Referendum

Another threat of Unamid exiting is revealed by the recent announcement from the Sudanese government to conduct a referendum on the administrative status of Darfur in April 2016 for Darfur to continue as divided states or to become one region.

The exit of Unamid will allow the Sudanese government to alter the demographic map of the region by imposing its plan to dismantle the camps and forcibly relocate the displaced in order to manipulate the results of the referendum.

The demand of one administrative region for Darfur is a popular demand among Darfuris.

The Sudanese government prefers to divide the region into states on ethnic bases and to settle newcomers who supported the government. This approach maintains the government influence in the region at the cost of preventing the implementation of any comprehensive development plan in the region, the think-tank states.


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