Just a few months ago, the outgoing force commander of UNAMID said there is no longer a war in Darfur.
More recently, Sudan’s UN Ambassador echoed that claim. Declaring that “the war is over,” he recommended the United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission start planning for its departure.
But before UNAMID begins packing up its things – many of which, ironically, have yet to arrive – perhaps it’s time to look again.
Perhaps we should consider that while General Agwai felt he could sit back and congratulate himself on successfully ending a war, the new force commander – Lt. General Patrick Nyavumba – has seen three attacks on his mission in less than a week, resulting in the loss of five troops, all his own countrymen.
The UN-AU hybrid operation in Darfur has been called many things, from being criticized as a pawn or a proxy to being dismissed as incompetent or irrelevant.
But the truth is almost always ignored: these peacekeepers are quite literally the only force standing between a vulnerable, victimized population and criminally rampant insecurity. Each and every soldier risks his or her own safety to be there, in the line of fire, protecting Darfuri civilians.
On December 4th and 5th, five Rwandans gave up their lives as part of that important effort.
What’s more, all reports indicate that rather than resort to reckless, desperate measures to save only themselves when under attack, the Rwandan soldiers returned fire with due restraint, thereby ensuring the security of nearby civilians, and fighting for their protection until the very end.
Someone has to be held to account for these attacks.
Sudanese authorities, responding to Rwandan accusations, have denied involvement and suggested these deaths were inflicted by subversive attempts to sabotage the peace and stability that Darfur “enjoys”.
North Darfur Governor Osman Mohamed Yousef Kibir has dismissed the incident as ‘isolated’ and deflected blame to common criminals. He says it was banditry, claiming the peacekeepers were killed by looters for a vehicle.
Make no mistake; these peacekeepers – and the 17 others who have been killed in action since the beginning of 2008 – did not lose their lives simply because of a vehicle.
They were not defeated by petty thieves. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the Government of Sudan and its auxiliary forces have created an environment that works against UNAMID and places its troops in daily danger – as evidenced by the three attacks this week, including two lethal ones in as many days.
Regardless of whether one buys into rumors that the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and their allies SLA/MM are trying to scare UNAMID away, or that beleaguered Darfuri rebel groups are trying to prove they have yet to be defeated, one cannot ignore the reality that the absence of compliance by the Government of Sudan does not mean it can escape some responsibility for the events.
Consider two points. First, according to the United Nations, “no UNAMID movement is permitted without approval by the Government of the Sudan.”
Therefore, in the case of both deadly attacks, the SAF or other Government authorities would have been aware of UNAMID’s activities. Additionally, one location, Saraf Omra, is a government “stronghold” where, according to the Rwandan Armed Forces spokesperson, there was no known rebel activity. UNAMID’s Rwandan platoon was escorting a water tanker a mere 300 metres from Sudan government forces when they were ambushed.
This makes the Sudanese Government – which maintains primary responsibility for security in the region – negligent and incompetent.
There are three main ways in which Sudan has either fallen short of its responsibilities to ensure peace and civilian protection in Darfur: first, by maintaining a lack of transparency in militia disarmament; second, by failing to implement effective security measures in Darfur; and, third, by obstructing and threatening UNAMID.
It is important to remember that, as a sovereign state, the Government of Sudan is responsible for the security of its own citizens. However, as the UN notes, “there is a systematic failure” in the government’s efforts – or lack thereof – to protect its people.
The Government’s response has been, the UN says, to install “some security posts, mostly manned by under-trained and under-equipped personnel, around the areas where internally displaced persons, primarily women, conduct their livelihood activities.”
Rarely do they intervene, and as such, civilians – and now peacekeepers – suffer while the perpetrators “enjoy unchecked impunity.”
Despite signing a Status-of-Forces Agreement (SOFA) in early 2008, the Government of Sudan has been repeatedly implicated in obstructing UNAMID’s operations, though it has denied this is the case, pointing to some legitimate cases of cooperation.
However, while UNAMID now boasts deployment of roughly 75% of its authorized military personnel, some Sudanese government officials astonishingly still claim ignorance of its mandate to conduct patrols and monitoring activities to protect civilians and humanitarian activities.
Officials have announced the arrest of six men allegedly responsible for the recent attacks against UNAMID in North Darfur.
They have reportedly been transferred to El Fasher, which is headquarters for the Force and Sector North, as well as two Rwandan battalions.
If Sudan is truly committed to ensuring UNAMID’s success and protecting its men and women from criminal violence, these suspects should be interrogated and tried with full UN and AU involvement.
It is time that countries like Rwanda, Nigeria and South Africa – which contribute thousands of troops to the peacekeeping effort and hold strong positions of leadership within the African Union – more vigorously demand accountability and cooperation from Khartoum.
African officials should reflect the steadfast will of their soldiers, and refuse to either tolerate or be intimidated by bandits .
Celeste Robinson works with the Save Darfur Coalition