By Ahmed H. Adam
The international community is being tested by the hopeless performance of its peacekeepers in Darfur. The United Nations and the African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) have failed to protect the civilians in the war-torn western region of Sudan. The recent mass rape of over 200 women and girls by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in Tabit, 25 miles from the headquarters of UNAMID in El Fasher, should bring UNAMID’s track record under serious scrutiny. The incident shows how the Sudanese government has been deliberately obstructing and manipulating UNAMID.
Many victims and witnesses of the mass rape told me of their anger and dissatisfaction with UNAMID. In fact, UNAMID’s investigation team arrived in Tabit ten days after the atrocity; time that allowed the regime’s soldiers to alter the crime scene and intimidate the victims and witnesses. In its press release, UNAMID claimed that the people of Tabit did not report a single rape incident, and that they live in peaceful co-existence with the Sudanese Armed Forces. However, the press release contradicted the findings of their own internal report about the incident.
The mass rape was not an isolated event. The Sudanese Armed Forces and militias have been committing rape systemically as a weapon of war, furthering the negative perception internally displaced persons already have of the UN Mission.
UNAMID’s failure should not surprise anyone because it suffers from serious structural deficiencies. First, UNAMID is a own joint initiative between the United Nations and African Union Mission. The competition and rivalry between the two institutions adversely affects their ability to operate on the ground without creating a bureaucratic nightmare. Second, the Mission was the outcome of a compromise between the divided UN Security Council and the African Union, designed to accommodate, if not to appease, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir. The President subsequently maintains veto power over the selection of the UNAMID’s leadership.
But UNAMID’s issues don’t stop there. UNAMID is called a peacekeeping mission, but peace has not yet been achieved in Sudan. The country is still in a state of war. Worse yet, UNAMID neither has a mandate nor the equipment for intervention, so even in the midst of conflict; it is unable to effectively respond.
The response of the UN Secretariat and the Department of the Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has been nothing short of disappointing. In 2012, Herve Ladsous, the head of the DPKO, endorsed UNAMID’s false reports about the improvement of the security situation and the misleading claims that the conflict in Darfur was in a state of low intensity. Accordingly, Ladsous recommended the downsizing of UNAMID in 2012. Thus, it was not surprising that the UN investigative Review Team concluded that there was no evidence that UNAMID had covered up the Sudanese government’s attacks civilians.
Many international policy makers argue that UNAMID is already vulnerable, so it should not be criticized openly. I completely disagree. However, the largest and most expensive Mission in the world, deployed since 2007, should have done far more to protect the people of Darfur. In other words, its vulnerability lies not in its shortcomings, but in the international community’s refusal to examine and revise the Mission. The death of some 400,000 and displacement of around 3 million in Darfur must push the international community to respond quickly and effectively. The DPKO must stop concealing UNAMID’s failures and start a meaningful review of the UN body.
Like many Darfurians, I recommend that the deficiencies of UNAMID be addressed robustly. The Bashir regime should not be allowed to obstruct the Mission. It is also imperative that the United Nations Security Council authorizes a commission of inquiry to conduct an international, independent, and public investigation against UNAMID, as well as the events that occurred in Tabit. Those who are responsible for UNAMID’s failure and cover-up must be held accountable.
While many of these solutions are already known with UN circles, they are worth restating in the absence of any tangible action to address the core issues. Darfur’s people have suffered for far too long, and they deserve full protection of the law, peace, and justice. 2015 should be a year of action, rather than complacency.
Ahmed H. Adam is a visiting fellow at the Institute for African Development (IAD), Cornell University. Adam is also a research fellow at the American University in Cairo, Department of Public Policy and Administration. He is the author of the forthcoming book: Darfur Betrayed: An Insider Perspective.