The overall context
IM, a teacher from North Darfur
IA, from North Darfur
In 2015 the UN Security Council reiterated its position that any refinement of UNAMID should be based on progress made against three benchmarks:
- inclusive peace process through mediation between the Government and non-signatory armed movements on the basis of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur
- protection of civilians and unhindered humanitarian access and the safety and security of humanitarian personnel
- prevention or mitigation of community conflict through mediation and, in conjunction with the United Nations country team, measures to address its root causes
Progress against these benchmarks has been minimal. The 2016 joint UN-African Union strategic review paints a picture of a security situation in Darfur which is an improvement on Darfur’s darkest days, but still highly volatile and increasingly fragmented. We would agree with that assessment, although we would suggest that the level of volatility is even higher than suggested. For instance, the conflict analysis and dynamics used in the strategic review are already out-of-date, as fresh violence erupted immediately after its publication. These clashes between government forces and a rebel group that the review had disregarded as an active presence in Darfur - the Sudan Liberation Movement - Minni Minnawi (SLM-MM) - were accompanied by revenge attacks on civilians.
The strategic review also notes that the political process of peacebuilding and reform is not progressing as rapidly as hoped and that "key provisions have yet to be implemented, and a number of outstanding issues related to the aftermath of the conflict and crucial grievances at the origin of the rebellion still need to be addressed". We would agree with this assessment, and further add that the political process is likely to be further slowed, and potentially derailed, as leverage over the Khartoum Government is lost, and bilateral partners fail to take advantage of opportunities to apply pressure.
Sudanese officials already adopt an adversarial attitude towards elements of the United Nations system, and recent appearances at the Security Council have only emboldened them. They will view UNAMID’s drawdown as a major success in their attempts to normalise relations with the international community, and will be further encouraged by the planned lifting of US sanctions in July. The only remaining points of leverage will then be removal from the US State Sponsors of Terrorism list and the resulting debt relief and financial investment this will bring. The US would do well to reward only spotless behaviour from Sudan’s Government in exchange, including against benchmarks relating to human rights and fundamental and political freedoms.
The strategic review mentions the humanitarian situation in Darfur, the protection challenges UNAMID faces, and “an adverse political and human rights climate”. Questions must be asked as to if these aspects have been given enough attention within the plan to drawdown the mission. In particular, for the peacebuilding element of the new mission to be successful then the wider UN system, the African Union, donor countries (notably the EU), and the wider international community need a comprehensive strategy for ‘post-peacekeeping’, which will require investing in human rights monitoring and reporting, supporting policing and the rule of law, and civilian training and humanitarian support. The UN country team has already indicated its incapability to deal with a large chunk of these programmes given its reliance on voluntary funding, so there is a danger that these elements will simply be abandoned if donors cannot be mobilised to compensate for UNAMID’s absence.
Because progress against the 2015 benchmarks is minimal, the strategic review suggests the revision of these and the selection of fresh indicators. This may help give the mission a greater relevancy and purpose, but it provides slim justification for refining the mission.
The consequence is that a drawdown of UNAMID would pose significant risks. We identify these risks as being primarily in the following areas: a lack of flexibility and thus a risk of a failure to perform the protection of civilians mandate, a failure to monitor and reliably report on observance of human rights, and a lack of ability to influence the wider humanitarian situation.
FB from West Darfur
NH, a carpenter from Basi in North Darfur
There remains a strong demand, highlighted in our testimony, for UNAMID to retain the protection of civilians as one of its primary priorities. This reflects the need identified to do so by the International Peace Institute (IPI), the Stimson Center, and Security Council Report joint paper, “Applying the HIPPO Recommendations to Darfur”.
The drawdown plan envisages corralling existing peacekeeping forces into the volatile Jebel Marra area, with protection of civilians elsewhere provided by “mobile quick-response capabilities”. However, our testimony reveals significant concerns surrounding protection from several parts of Darfur well outside Jebel Marra. Furthermore, the recent outbreak of fighting between pro-government militias and the SLM-MM rebel group, and corresponding civilian reprisals, have taken place not in Jebel Marra but in northern and eastern Darfur.
This demonstrates that UNAMID’s needs when it comes to protecting civilians will not be static and predictable. Nor can enhanced mobility be guaranteed to give the mission the flexibility it desires, particularly given the unlikelihood of UNAMID receiving significantly more helicopter lifting capacity. Further, the Government of Sudan has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to restrict the mission’s movement and so frustrate the mission in performing its protection mandate. It would have an even greater ability to thwart the rapid and flexible movement of peacekeepers around the region.
Human rights monitoring
When it comes to monitoring, reporting, and dissuading local-level human rights violations, UNAMID has a very poor record, as detailed in the International Refugee Rights Initiative’s report, "No one on the earth cares if we survive except God and sometimes UNAMID”. As that report states “it is clear that UNAMID has failed to use its presence to provide accurate and timely information about the situation on the ground. Its monitoring and reporting structures must urgently be improved.”
This is not just a UNAMID problem, but one of international engagement in Darfur more widely. Attempted cuts to the UN’s budgets for appointing human rights officers exacerbate issues and leave remaining personnel desperately stretched. In this context, the presence of UNAMID as the only body on the ground able to verify abuses means that when they fail to report, including at times to the Security Council, there is a complete policy and media vacuum.
As such, any attempt to improve the functioning of UNAMID as an effective tool for keeping peace should start with an attempt to increase and enhance the monitoring and reporting of human rights violations.
The humanitarian situation
NH, a carpenter from Basi in North Darfur
Humanitarian access is strongly stressed in the UNAMID benchmarks and the strategic review. Yet there is no plan for improving and enhancing access to humanitarian aid agencies, and no strategy for implementing the benchmark on ensuring the safety and security of humanitarian personnel. In fact, in a dramatic example of the personal danger faced by both troops and humanitarian staff, a Nigerian UNAMID peacekeeper was killed, the 64th in the mission to date, after the release of the strategic review. As the UN looks to transition from peacekeeping to building a sustainable peace, the ability to safely deliver programmes becomes even more important. Any UNAMID drawdown must be conditional on the establishment of full, unhindered, and protected humanitarian access.
In conclusion – peacekeeping better
IM, a teacher from North Darfur
Peacekeeping is a strategy for deescalating conflicts. Deescalation necessitates a gradual reduction in the presence of military forces. It is neither feasible nor advisable for UN peacekeeping missions to maintain large contingents of troops in a conflict or post-conflict region indefinitely. It is therefore appropriate that the UN Security Council consider mechanisms for UNAMID to eventually render itself redundant.
However, for this to be successfully achieved, a sustainable and lasting peace must be built in Darfur. Extreme caution must therefore be exercised to ensure that the drawdown, occurring as it does during a time of volatility and with a newly emboldened but still largely unreformed Sudanese Government, does not upset progress toward such a peace.
This means that the new mission mandate must:
- have the ability to respond to threats to civilian lives across the region and retain protection of civilians as its first priority
- enhance human rights monitoring and reporting with respect to its current levels
- assure humanitarian access
Monitoring in particular is not a task which needs to be performed by armed personnel, civilian human rights officers could perform the same task provided enough are appointed and they are given the access and resources to do so. A drawdown does not have to be incompatible with any of these objectives, but it does require a strategy for ensuring that UNAMID’s future be guided by the needs and wishes of the people of Darfur.
Photos: UN Photo/Olivier Chassot/Albert González Farran