(New York) – The United Nations Security Council should ensure that its peacekeeping mission in Sudan’s Darfur region continues to conduct human rights monitoring and public reporting in all of Darfur. The mandate of the joint African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is due for renewal by the end of June 2018.
The Security Council is expected to approve drastic cuts in the mission, including closing 14 UNAMID team sites and a plan for withdrawal in two years. The African Union Peace and Security Council has already approved the plan. The plan under discussion would limit the mission’s area of operation to 13 sites around Jebel Marra, the mountainous area where government forces have repeatedly attacked civilians while engaging in operations against rebel groups.
“The UN’s proposed cuts would effectively end the peacekeeping mission’s core human rights and protection role in most of Darfur, which would be a mistake” said Mausi Segun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Security Council needs to ensure that UNAMID will continue monitoring and reporting publicly on abuses throughout Darfur or it will share responsibility for pushing Darfur off the world’s agenda.”
A special report on June 1 by the chairperson of the African Union Commission and the UN secretary-general outlines the plan to downsize the peacekeeping mission. Outside the new operational area, the mission would primarily support other UN agencies in development and humanitarian activities. The UNAMID peacekeepers would no longer carry out regular patrols across the region, which humanitarian agencies have often relied on for security.
The report acknowledges the reconfiguration “would no longer allow UNAMID to continue the monitoring, verification and reporting of protection of civilians’ issues outside the greater Jebel Marra area,” and that the other UN agencies have “limited scope to monitor, raise, and address protection concerns.”
On June 12, the African Union Peace and Security Council expressed concerns about the proposed reduction in the mission’s area of operation. It said that thedrawdown should be guided by the situation on the ground so as not to “create a security vacuum and expose civilian populations.” It also said that the mission should continue to cover “the whole geographic Darfur,” since it is mandated to protect civilians from imminent threat across the region.
The review process, which began in 2014 amid Sudan’s insistence that the UN needed an exit plan, led to significant cuts to the mission in 2017, with the closure of 11 team sites and the addition of a presence in Golo in Jebel Marra. Human Rights Watch warned at the time that the downsizing reflected a “false narrative about Darfur’s war ending” and that any reductions should leave flexibility for the mission to respond to evolving threats and to strengthen the mission’s human rights monitoring and reporting capacities.
Sudan has obstructed the work of the UNAMID human rights staff by delaying visas, denying access and preventing staff recruitment. Instead of accepting these limits, the Security Council should bolster the section’s work and make its responsibility to report on violations across the region more explicit. Even if their physical access is limited by the drawdown, UNAMID human rights officers could still do remote research, which the mission could report publicly, Human Rights Watch said.
While the African Union Commission’s special report recommends that the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should open an office in Sudan, the office has had little success in negotiating permission to work in the country. The Sudanese government’s long practice of intransigence and obstruction leaves little hope that the office would be able to fill the vacuum left by UNAMID, Human Rights Watch said.
The Darfur conflict, which began in 2003, has been marked by large-scale government air and ground attacks on civilians, destruction and burning of civilian property, and mass displacement. More than 2.7 million Darfuris remain displaced, with 1.6 million living in over 60 camps, and hundreds of thousands in refugee camps in Chad.
In 2005, the UN Security Council referred Darfur to the International Criminal Court in resolution 1593. The International Criminal Court brought charges against President Omar al-Bashir and four other officials on charges including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Sudan has refused to cooperate in the investigation and no suspects are in custody, but the Security Council has taken no meaningful steps to insist on cooperation with the investigation. The prosecutor will make her 27th report to the UN Security Council on her office’s work in Darfur on June 20 as part of her twice-yearly briefings to the council.
There was less fighting in Darfur in 2017 following the Sudanese government’s ceasefire declarations prior to the US lifting of its economic sanctions against Sudan. However, while government aerial bombing of villages in Darfur declined, government security forces, including the notoriously abusive Rapid Support Forces, continued ground attacks on civilians in violation of international humanitarian law.
During fighting in Jebel Marra between March and April 2018, government forces attacked and burned dozens of villages, killing an unknown number of civilians and forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes, UNAMID reported. The African Center for Justice and Peace Studies documented at least 23 civilian deaths from government attacks. In addition, longstanding patterns of rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, sexual violence, and discrimination on the basis of gender, as well as a culture of impunity, persist across Darfur, Human Rights Watch said.
In February, the UN special representative of the secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict raised concerns about continued reports of sexual violenceespecially against displaced women and girls, and the deep-seated culture of denial in Sudan around sexual violence. In April, following a visit to Sudan, the UN independent expert on human rights in Sudan reported that government security forces were committing sexual violence against women and girls, and that North Darfur authorities were holding 117 detainees without charge under emergency laws.
“Everything we know about Darfur indicates a pressing need for human rights monitors to continue their work, especially where the mission will no longer have team sites and peacekeepers,” Segun said. “The Security Council shouldn’t adopt this shortsighted proposal, but instead should keep a spotlight on Darfur.”