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Darfur: African Union Must Insist on More Troops

Mandate to Protect Civilians Should Be Top Priority at Abuja Peace Talks

(New York, August 20, 2004) — The African Union’s chairman, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, should make the protection of civilians in Darfur a priority in talks on Monday between the Sudanese government and Darfur’s two rebel movements, Human Rights Watch said today. The parties to the talks, which will be held in the Nigerian capital Abuja, should agree to increasing the number of African Union troops and giving them a clear mandate to protect civilians.

The Sudanese government and the two rebel movements in Darfur — the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) — will hold negotiations mediated by the African Union to work out a political settlement to the conflict in Darfur.

“Civilians in Darfur urgently need and deserve protection right now, and the African Union should give its troops a clear mandate to protect civilians from abuses,” said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division. “President Obasanjo should ensure that the size and mandate of the African Union protection force are on the table in Abuja.”

In a positive move, the Rwandan government indicated that its 154 troops in Darfur would intervene if civilians are threatened. However, the Rwandan contingent is severely constrained by the size of the force and the lack of a formal mandate to protect civilians under attack. Next week, Nigeria plans to deploy 153 of its troops to Darfur to protect the AU ceasefire monitors. The Nigerian government has also agreed to deploy an additional 1,500 troops, but both the African Union and the Sudanese government must first give their approval.

The African Union should rapidly increase the number of troops deployed and give them a mandate to protect civilians, as proposed by the AU Peace and Security Council in its July 27 communiqué. It should also ensure that such forces are deployed in small towns in rural areas and that they proactively patrol, investigate, document and publicly report on ceasefire violations, attacks on civilians, and provide protection to civilians in these areas.

Human Rights Watch is also concerned with the United Nations “Plan of Action” whereby the Sudanese government would create “safe areas” in which displaced persons would be concentrated. The plan calls for these “safe areas” to be protected by Sudanese police and security forces. However, the Sudanese government is now integrating members of the government-supported Janjaweed militias into police forces, and such militias have been responsible for atrocities in Darfur.

While protection must be provided to the people living in the over 140 camps scattered across Darfur and neighboring Chad, international protection forces should be deployed in rural areas as well to provide security, to facilitate the voluntary and safe return of displaced persons, and to prevent the ethnic cleansing that has already occurred in Darfur from becoming permanent.

“If the Sudanese government is unable or unwilling to carry out its obligation to protect its citizens, and refuses assistance from the African Union or the United Nations to protect civilians, the Sudanese authorities will bear individual criminal responsibility for the atrocities committed,” said Takirambudde.

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