Darfur, in Retrospect: Continuing Misery and International Endeavors

The situation in Darfur and generally in Sudan is very complex, internal power struggle within the ruling party, rebellion in Darfur and ongling violence. Attentions are diverted too by an on-going dispute with South Sudan over the oil rich region of Abyei, the new civil war in South Sudan and the spill-over of refugees.

The International Criminal Court has indicted 50 militia leaders and government officials including the incumbent president Omar Al-Bashir for the atrocities in Darfur, but the ICC’s relationship with Africa has made these prosecutions difficult and tense.

 IDP children in Darfur

In the past four years, Darfur has made headlines very rarely, and usually for death and kidnappings of United Nations and other organisations’ officials. Today Darfur is again highlighted as the UN requests Sudan to facilitate an international investigation of mass rape by government soldiers in northern Darfur, and Sudan for the first time asks UN peacekeepers to leave Darfur.

Darfur is a region in western Sudan, roughly the size of France. Historically intermittent resource based conflicts were common, and disputes were settled through traditional mechanisms of arbitration. However, the advent of British colonial rule changed the balance and dynamics of power and severely disturbed local arrangements.

The current plight of Darfur started in late 2003 when local rebel groups, Sudanese Liberation Army and Justice and Equality Movement, attacked government forces in the region. According to rebels this was an attempt to defend their people from the tyranny of a government which deliberately marginalized the region and its African ethnic communities. The response from the government was horrific. It’s widely accepted that the government in Khartoum embarked on campaign of mass murder and forced displacement against the ethnic African people of Darfur. The estimates for those who were killed or died as a result is between 200,000 and 400,000, with another 2.5 million displaced, all civilians.

The first international intervention was towards the end 2004, African Union Mission in Sudan started with 300 African peacekeepers and increased to 7,000 towards its replacement in 2008, when the first as a hybrid peacekeeping mission between the United Nations and African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) took over.

With the benefit of hindsight, and even without it – at least in this part – UNAMID is a hamster on a treadmill, running hard but getting nowhere. It’s given two different sets of instructions by the UN and the African Union. The UN Security Council  mandated UNAMID under chapter VII of the UN Charter, which means it can use deadly force to do its job, while the AU  along with many troop’s contributing countries have issued orders to shoot only if attacked, and sometimes not to shoot at all. The result of such confusion became clear as time passed and UNAMID was being increasingly seen as failure.

After 7 years, UNAMID’s record in protecting civilians is all but perfect. The UNSC has commissioned an investigation into allegations that the mission has deliberately misrepresented reports about government atrocities. Further, by the time UNAMID was deployed, 1.7 million were internally displaced and another 250,000 became refugees in the neighbouring Republic of Chad. The humanitarian situation is dire and is only getting worse, with about 3 million Darfurians dependent on international aid. Intercommunal violence and displacement have been on the rise for the past two years, causing more misery and havoc among the already suffering communities.

At the moment, each of these problems is responded to separately by the international community. A new approach is needed, a comprehensive look at all the ailments of the Sudan and interconnectedness of all the issues; a partnership between components of Sudanese society fabrics, parties and groups, regional partners and the international community.

This article is contributed by an African Union Employee on secondment to UNAMID. 


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