African foreign ministers meeting in Addis Ababa on Friday should call for a transition of the African Union Mission in Darfur to a larger United Nations peacekeeping force with more resources to protect civilians from increasing attacks, Human Rights Watch said today.
On January 12, the African Union endorsed, in principle, that its 7,000-strong mission in Darfur would evolve into a U.N. force. But the Sudanese government, whose forces and government-backed Janjaweed militias are largely responsible for the widespread abuses in Darfur, continue to resist the proposal for a U.N. force.
“Khartoum has consistently resisted every effort to protect people in Darfur, so this anti-U.N. campaign is no surprise,” said Paul Simo, Africa advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “African states must look beyond Khartoum’s divisive diplomacy and call for the stronger U.N. protection force that is urgently needed to protect civilians in Darfur.”
Since January, there has been growing international pressure for a transition from the African Union force, which has experienced logistical and other constraints, to a U.N. peacekeeping mission. Under the proposed transition, the African Union would likely retain its role mediating a peace agreement on Darfur, and African troops would be “blue-hatted,” or absorbed into a larger, better-equipped, and better-financed U.N. force.
As the U.N. proposal gained momentum, Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir warned that Darfur would be the “graveyard” of foreign troops and threatened that a U.N. force could be targeted by al-Qaeda or other extremist elements. More than 7,000 African personnel – mainly from Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, and Senegal – are already deployed in Darfur. In addition, the United Nations is deploying 10,000 mainly African and Asian troops to Southern Sudan, where its mission is mandated to monitor and help implement the January 2005 peace agreement ending the 21-year civil war between Khartoum and southern-based rebels.
“An international protection force could draw on global funds, personnel, and experience,” said Simo. “The A.U. forces have done a valiant job despite huge challenges, but they need U.N. support. Sudanese civilians will suffer if this transition is delayed.”
In the past three months, top A.U. officials have stated the two principal reasons for handing over peacekeeping in Darfur to the United Nations: the increasing complexity of the mission as security worsens, and the need for a stable budget. In recent months, the security situation in Darfur has deteriorated due to the proliferation of armed groups operating in the region, continuing attacks by government-supported Janjaweed militias on civilians, cross-border attacks into Chad by Darfur-based Chadian rebels and Janjaweed militias, and acts of looting and banditry against civilians and humanitarian agencies.
Although Khartoum is intensively lobbying for African states to retain the A.U. force in Darfur, it has placed in the path of African soldiers numerous obstacles, which senior A.U. officials have publicly denounced. The Sudanese government delayed the delivery of 105 armored personnel carriers, denied jet fuel supplies to A.U. aircraft, and painted government vehicles white to pass them off as A.U. vehicles, thus endangering A.U. peacekeepers.
In February, the U.N. Security Council asked Secretary-General Kofi Annan to begin developing proposals for a U.N. force. The Security Council would need to authorize a U.N. operation for Darfur, but U.N. planning will only move forward when the A.U. foreign ministers request the transition.