The Peace and Security Council (PSC) undertook a field mission to Darfur and Khartoum this month amid growing concern about the situation in Darfur. The African Union (AU) has been involved in attempts to solve the Darfur conflict for over a decade, having started to send peacekeepers to the area in 2004.
In June 2015, the United Nations (UN) Security Council voted to extend the mandate of the UN–AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), citing a ‘significant deterioration of the security situation’.
The unanimous vote represented something of a defeat: an admission that after 11 years of international involvement, the region remains as dangerous and unstable as ever.
It is important not to underestimate the scale of the Darfur conflict, and its cost – in both human and financial terms. Since the fighting began in earnest in 2003, more than 300 000 people have been killed and an estimated 2.5 million more displaced (this from a population of around 6.2 million).
The AU has had a presence there since 2004, in the form of the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS), which morphed into UNAMID in 2007. UNAMID’s mandate provides for 15 845 military personnel, 1 583 police personnel and 13 formed police units of up to 140 personnel each, which are drawn from 37 different countries. Its budget is currently US$1.1 billion per year. The International Crisis Group (ICG) estimates that the total international cost of the war in Darfur, including humanitarian aid, has exceeded US$20 billion since 2003.
|Over the years, the conflict has changed, becoming ever more fractured and internecine
This investment of money, personnel and diplomatic capital has failed to resolve the situation, however. Even though a high-profile peace deal – the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) – was signed in 2011 between the government of President Omar al-Bashir and various rebel groups, the fighting has intensified over the last 18 months. This has left policymakers wondering whether UNAMID is fit for purpose, and what it should be doing differently.
Changing nature of the conflict
Understanding the tangled web of alliances and motivations that underpin the conflict has never been easy, although when the fighting began it was possible to observe the broad trend, which pitted non-Arab tribes against government forces and government-sponsored militia groups (known pejoratively as the Janjaweed). It is on this basis that peace talks proceeded, and the DDPD reflects this understanding, even though several major rebels groups refused to sign the document.
Over the years, however, the conflict has changed, becoming ever more fractured and internecine. ‘Violence in Darfur has continually evolved. In 2003–2005, it was mostly due to attacks by pro-government, largely Arab militias targeting non-Arab communities accused of supporting the rebels. While those continued and intensified again in 2014, violence has mutated since 2006, with Arab communities and militias fighting each other and, to a lesser extent, non-Arab communities targeting non-Arab communities. Arab militias also turned against their government backers, while rebel factions fragmented and fought against each other as well,’ said the ICG in a report in April 2015 entitled ‘The chaos in Darfur’.
It is also important to note that the conflict has outgrown Darfur itself, especially with the occasional cross-border incursion by Chadian forces, and the deal between several major Darfuri rebel groups and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states to form the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SFR).
This poses challenges for any effective peace talks (although the prospect of new peace talks remains illusory, as the Sudanese government resolutely refuses to renegotiate the DDPD). Where should the international community begin: With the rebels and the government? With the government and the Janjaweed, themselves increasingly resistant to Khartoum’s dictates? With the intra-Arab spat between the Salamat and Misseriya, or the resource-fuelled dispute between the Beni Husein and abbala Reizegat? With the long-standing tensions between the non-Arab Zaghawa and other non-Arab militias? With the faction fighting between fragmenting rebel groups?
Involving armed groups in parallel processes
‘Resolution of Darfur’s diverse conflicts requires many things, including a rethink by the international community, in particular the UN Security Council, of many aspects of its relationship with Sudan. One element of that resolution, however, must be to involve as many armed groups as possible in parallel peace processes, including local inter-tribal conferences; Darfur regional security talks; and the national dialogue. In particular, Arab militias need representation in all processes, and government and rebels must acknowledge that they do not fully represent those communities,’ concluded the ICG.
There are encouraging signs that the AU is cognizant of the need for a new, inclusive peace process, particularly in the wake of the PSC’s field mission to Darfur and Khartoum from 19–21 August. Following this visit, the PSC met to discuss the activities of the AU High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) for Sudan and South Sudan, and issued a communiqué that emphasised the importance of national dialogue. Most significantly, the communiqué indicated that the PSC had extracted significant concessions from al-Bashir while in Sudan:
|The PSC extracted significant concessions from al-Bashir while in Sudan
‘[The PSC] notes the statement made by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir that the Government of Sudan is ready to observe a two-month ceasefire in order to create the necessary confidence for all stakeholders, including representatives of the armed movements, to join the National Dialogue process, and further notes the commitment made by President al-Bashir to grant amnesty to members of the armed movements to enable them to attend the National Dialogue in safety,’ said the communiqué.
This is a ‘big picture’ issue, however, and if it is to have any chance of success it will need a great deal of political will, and time. In the short term there is still an important role for UNAMID and the international community to play. But to do so they may need to focus on smaller, more readily solvable issues.
Room for improvement
In assessing the effectiveness of any peacekeeping mission, there are two distinct levels of analysis. Firstly, would the situation be worse without the presence of the mission? And secondly, what can the mission do better?
To the first point: almost certainly, Darfur and its beleaguered civilian population would be worse off without UNAMID. The mission not only provides protection to various camps for internally displaced persons but also conducts regular patrols and containment operations to minimise the opportunity for violence. According to the most recent report of the UN secretary-general on UNAMID, during the period from 26 February 2015 to 15 May 2015, the mission ‘conducted 10 376 patrols, comprising 5 567 routine patrols, 682 short-range patrols, 204 long-range patrols, 2 007 night patrols, 178 humanitarian armed escorts and 1 738 logistics and administrative armed escorts. A total of 5 008 villages were covered during these patrols.’
In addition to this, UNAMID provides protection and support for other humanitarian operations, and support for high-level mediation efforts. All these go some way towards improving the situation on the ground, even if only marginally.
‘What can UNAMID do better? This question can be answered by asking another question. What would Darfur look like if UNAMID was not there? Clearly, the situation without UNAMID would have been much worse than the situation on the ground now. It is not perfect, but I believe the mere presence of UNAMID contributes a lot,’ said Meressa Kahsu, a Researcher and Training Coordinator for the Institute for Security Studies who has visited Darfur recently.
UN spokesperson describes ‘conspiracy of silence’
Despite its obvious impact, UNAMID has not been immune to criticism that it could and should be doing more to fulfil its mandate, especially when it comes to protecting civilians. Most damaging were the revelations from former mission spokesperson Aicha el Basri, who resigned from her position to reveal what she described as a ‘conspiracy of silence’ to mask the mission’s shortcomings. She said that UNAMID troops had repeatedly failed to intervene to protect civilians, even when incidents happened before their eyes; and that the mission was also guilty of covering up the scale of these incidents. ‘I felt ashamed to be a spokesperson for a mission that lies, that can’t protect civilians, that can’t stop lying about it,’ she told the BBC.
The UN denied these accusations, but it is well aware of other shortcomings in the mission. In his report, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon outlined several factors that prevent it from fulfilling its mandate effectively. These included 60 attacks and hostile incidents against UNAMID personnel in the 90-day reporting period; other attacks against UN agencies and other humanitarian actors; restrictions on movement, access denial and denial of clearances imposed on UNAMID and humanitarian actors, most often by local government officials; and delays or denials of visas for UNAMID staff. These add up to an extremely hostile operating environment.
|Despite its faults, Darfur’s civilians would be worse off without UNAMID
‘The mission is like a prisoner who can’t move outside the jail. UNAMID can’t move outside the base without permission from the Government of Sudan. So how can it be effective in implementing its mandate? One example is the media reports on an incident of mass rape in the village of Tabit towards the end of 2014,’ said Kahsu. ‘UNAMID was unable to reach the village in a timely manner and investigate the alleged cases, only gaining access some days after the incident. This brings the credibility of the UNAMID report on the incident into question.
‘Consent of the host country is one of the principles of UN peacekeeping. In my view, this consent is no longer there,’ said Kahsu. In fact, things have become so bad that the government has demanded that UNAMID leave the country entirely. In response, UNAMID is examining possible options for an exit strategy.
If some of these challenges are beyond UNAMID’s control, it can work harder to address other criticisms. One that is well within the mission’s control is to improve cooperation between the UN and the AU, which is not always as good as it should be. The hybrid nature of the operation poses difficulties, but it also represents an opportunity: by leveraging the UN’s experience with the logistics of such missions and the AU’s political influence with the government in Khartoum, UNAMID should be able to punch well above its weight – and make a real difference. At the moment, Institute for Security Studies research shows that this is not happening.
The international community may not be able to solve the situation in Darfur in the near future. It can, however, take concrete steps to make UNAMID more effective, thereby allowing the peacekeeping force to better fulfil its mandate. Already, UNAMID’s presence is able to mitigate the worst effects of the violence for thousands of Darfuris, and there is no reason why it cannot play this role even more effectively. In fact, if it is truly to live up to its mandate, it must do so.
Communiqué of the 539th meeting of the PSC on the activities of the AU High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) for Sudan and South Sudan
Report of the Secretary-General on the African Union–United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur, 26 May 2015
UN Security Council Resolution 2228 (2015) [extending UNAMID’s mandate until 30 June 2016]