The proposal by the United Nations and the African Union to limit the UN’s protection role in Sudan, threatens the safety and security of civilians in Darfur, Human Rights Watch said.
In a report to be discussed by the UN Security Council, the UN secretary-general and the AU commission chairperson proposed excluding “physical protection” of civilians from the mandate for a follow-on political and peace building mission in Sudan.
Human Rights Watch strongly suggest that when authorizing a new countrywide mission for Sudan, the Security Council should include armed police units that could protect civilians, quick reaction peacekeepers to respond to threats as they arise, and mobile human rights monitoring teams based in Darfur.
“Darfur is not like the rest of Sudan,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The UN Security Council should recognize that Darfur requires a far more gradual withdrawal and keep a UN security presence on the ground to actively protect civilians. Past and ongoing violence there means civilians can’t trust Sudanese security forces alone and still look to peacekeepers for protection.”
The current UN/AU peacekeeping mission in Darfur, UNAMID, is due to withdraw from Sudan by October 2020, following years of downsizing under pressure from Sudan’s previous government and Western governments eager to reduce costs.
After the ouster of Omar al-Bashir as president in April 2019, Sudan’s new government asked the UN to delay UNAMID’s withdrawal. In early 2020, the government sent two letters to the Security Council asking it to authorize a new “follow-on” political and peace building mission to cover all of Sudan.
Across Darfur, where large-scale government-led attacks began in 2003, threats to civilians persist. Government and rebel forces have continued fighting in the Jebel Marra area, where UNAMID focused its protection activities since 2018.
Peacekeepers from UNAMID’s temporary operating base in Golo, set up in 2018, have provided shelters for people displaced from the fighting and in the wider Jebel Mara area. Since November 2019, they have undertaken thousands of patrols to escort humanitarian agencies and provide greater security, including to camps for displaced people, water collection points, farming areas, and migration routes.
While the secretary-general’s report acknowledges that “new displacement continues to occur in the Golo area,” it makes no recommendations to effectively respond to those needs after UNAMID leaves.
Inter-communal violence, often exacerbated by the involvement of government forces, has killed dozens of people in recent months. On March 8, armed ethnic Arab nomads attacked and burned most of an ethnic Zaghawa village in the Hijir Tonjur area, forcing thousands to flee, witnesses said.
In Al Geneina, West Darfur, fighting between Arab and Masalit communities flared up in December 2019, six months after UNAMID forces had withdrawn from their base there. Armed Arab groups, including members of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, attacked an internally camp for displaced people and killed dozens of people, including children, raped women, and girls, destroyed schools, and burned homes, causing tens of thousands to flee.
The proposal notes that these “clashes in West Darfur have highlighted concerns about remaining security challenges in the areas from which UNAMID has withdrawn. The Sudanese security elements are either implicated in these violent incidents or lack capacities to respond.”
In its latest communiqué, the AU Peace and Security Council called for “extreme caution on the withdrawal of UNAMID, to sustain the gains made and to avoid relapse and security vacuum.”
“There’s no need for the UN Security Council to accept the limited options being presented,” Roth said. “The Security Council should instead establish a follow-on mission that supports the nationwide transition to rights-respecting civilian rule and peace building, but that also recognizes the need to continue to protect civilians in Darfur.” (Source: HRW)