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I. Summary

The conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region is far from over. Since it began in February 2003, two million people have been expelled from their homes by the Sudanese government’s campaign of crimes against humanity and “ethnic cleansing” conducted in the name of counterinsurgency, and are trapped in refugee camps in neighboring Chad or in internally displaced persons’ (IDP) camps inside Darfur. Small-scale attacks by government forces and government-backed militias continue against civilians, while the actions of rebel groups and opportunistic bandits further subject Darfur’s civilian population to abuse and insecurity. Ethnic cleansing threatens to become consolidated, as civilians remain confined in camps exposed to violence and human rights abuse that prevent them from returning to their homes and claiming back their land.

This report examines the evolving role in the Darfur conflict of the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) from its inception as a ceasefire monitoring body in June 2004 to its current incarnation, AMIS II-Enhanced (AMIS II-E). The report identifies ways AMIS II-E can be immediately strengthened to improve protection for civilians. It also looks at factors that must be taken into account in any further transformation of AMIS II-E, one possible direction being incorporation into a United Nations mission (an option that is reportedly to be considered at the January 2006 African Union summit meeting). The report is based on an expert technical military assessment of the African Union Mission in Sudan as well as on Human Rights Watch’s extensive research and reporting on the human rights and humanitarian crisis in Darfur.1 

On April 8, 2004, the Sudanese government and two Darfur rebel groups—the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement—signed an African Union-mediated humanitarian ceasefire agreement in which the A.U. was mandated to send military observers to monitor and report on the ceasefire.  Hopes were high for the success of this all-African operation, the first ever by the A.U., created in 2004.  But the ceasefire was more fiction than reality: with all parties repeatedly in breach of the ceasefire agreement, AMIS was confronted early on by challenges and expectations beyond its capabilities. The Sudanese government’s failure to protect civilians—indeed its continued attacks on civilians—increased pressure on the observer mission to take on the role of proactive civilian protection.

October 2004 saw an increase in numbers of AMIS personnel as well as changes to the mission mandate and structure.  AMIS was transformed from a contingent primarily of unarmed military observers to a major operation that included armed force protectors, unarmed civilian police, and support teams. By then the military mandate of AMIS was essentially four-fold: to monitor and observe compliance with the ceasefire agreement; to assist in confidence building measures; to contribute to a secure environment by facilitating humanitarian assistance and returns of internally displaced persons; and to contribute to overall security. But while the mandate of the mission may have been clear, its effective implementation remained a concern. Mission personnel lacked training, operational capacity and political initiative to achieve the mandate through proactive mission operations within the mission’s rules of engagement in the face of continuing lack of respect for the ceasefire agreement. Poor planning, logistical difficulties and external factors such as weather compounded the mission’s problems and hampered its impact from the start.

Faced with a potential failure of this high-profile undertaking, the A.U. decided in the first quarter of 2005 to accept military planners and budgetary and logistical experts from outside the continent to provide training and improve operations, as well as to bring in substantial military equipment, such as armored personnel carriers. This marked a significant change in the approach and capacity of AMIS. The A.U. led a March assessment mission with the participation of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), the European Union, the United States, Canada, and other international partners.  The outcome of this assessment resulted in a jump-start for the mission’s initially slow deployment: at a May 2005 conference, international donors pledged over U.S. $312 million to enhance the AMIS mission from 3,320 personnel to a total of 7,700 personnel. The assessment mission recommended no change to AMIS’s mandate, but a re-prioritization of tasks to achieve the mandate: contributing to a secure environment was given top priority, recalling the mission’s specific task from October 2004 to “[p]rotect civilians whom it encounters under imminent threat and in the immediate vicinity, within resources and capability, it being understood that the protection of the civilian population is the responsibility of the Government of Sudan.”2

The full deployment of the enhanced mission AMIS II-E that was to have taken place by September 2005 had not been achieved as of year’s end, however. A further assessment mission of AMIS II-E was conducted on December 10-20 by the African Union, the United Nations and other concerned international actors. In view of that assessment mission’s imminent presentation of findings, it is crucial to look closely at AMIS’s performance to date, including its weaknesses and strengths, to determine what next steps are necessary to ensure AMIS has immediate maximum impact on civilian protection and contributes to the reversal of “ethnic cleansing” in Darfur. A central conclusion drawn from the examination undertaken here by Human Rights Watch is that the African Union Mission in Sudan must provide a more aggressive response to the persistent violence against civilians in Darfur and must be equipped and supported to do so. As a top priority, the mission and its partners need to complete the entire AMIS II-E deployment of military troops, civilian police and equipment. The Sudanese government until very recently refused entry into Darfur for months of vital equipment needed by AMIS to fulfill its mandate.  All possible pressure must be put on the Sudanese government to stop impeding the full deployment and operations of AMIS. 

At present, the only available option for civilian protection in Darfur is aggressive patrolling by AMIS troops properly equipped with armored personnel carriers (APCs), attack helicopters and other necessary equipment with clearly defined and understood rules of engagement among all troops that permit them to use deadly force to protect civilians. AMIS’s mandate and mission tasks already provide for the protection of civilians under imminent threat, but AMIS forces need to apply their rules of engagement more proactively. The rules of engagement must be clarified or modified so that deadly force is explicitly permitted to protect civilians, including humanitarian operations under imminent threat. This change also requires that the decision to use deadly force be delegated from the force commander to the sector commanders in the field where decisions to escalate are most imperative and must be made on a timely basis. As well, AMIS should deploy in each sector, fully equipped (with artillery) quick reaction forces to respond immediately to civilians and humanitarian operations under imminent threat with rules of engagement that provide for the use of deadly force.  To further strengthen civilian protection, AMIS civilian police (CivPol) tasks should be augmented and reformulated to provide CivPols with the power to arrest persons engaged in criminal activity.

These are steps that would bolster the existing AMIS II-E. Debate is ongoing as to whether AMIS could and should be further transformed including through integration into a non-A.U. institution. The possibility of placing the AMIS operation under U.N. authority is one option under serious consideration, primarily for financial reasons, and at this writing it is reported to be on the agenda of African Union summit meeting in Khartoum, Sudan, on January 23-24, 2006. Over and above the objective of fiscal stability, reasons of logistical enhancement and the well-established and tested command and control structure needed for such a large mission may well recommend that AMIS be “blue-hatted” or folded into the U.N. peace support mission running parallel to AMIS in the rest of Sudan. This merger would be desirable only so long as it would not reduce the mandate, mission tasks, rules of engagement or equipment AMIS has or plans to acquire. As African Union leaders and A.U. and U.N. planners consider this option, they will need to ensure that any attempt to integrate or acquire AMIS operations does not diminish in any way the response capability of the mission in protecting civilians.   Even if a decision were made to “blue hat” AMIS, it is clear that any transfer would take many months.  In the short term, AMIS can take immediate measures to improve civilian protection and resources and political pressure must be applied to ensure that it has the capacity, will and support to protect civilians in Darfur.

This report was researched and written by staff and consultants in the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. Primary research sources were the reports of the AMIS military planners, and interviews with African Union, United Nations, European Union, NATO and Canadian government personnel and military plannersand diplomats.

[1]  See “Darfur in Flames: Atrocities in Western Sudan,” A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 16, no.5 (A), April 2004; “Darfur Destroyed: Ethnic Cleansing by Government and Militia Forces in Western Sudan,” A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 16, no. 6(A), May 2004; “Darfur Documents Confirm Government Policy of Militia Support,” A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, July 20, 2004; “Empty Promises: Continuing Abuses in Darfur, Sudan,” A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, August 11, 2004; “If We Return We Will Be Killed,” A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, November 2004; “Targeting the Fur: Mass Killings in Darfur,” A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, January 24, 2005; “Sexual Violence and its Consequences among Displaced Persons in Darfur and Chad,” A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, April 12, 2005; and “Entrenching Impunity: Government Responsibility for International Crimes in Darfur,” A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 17, no.17(A), December 2005. All are available at

[2]  African Union, Communiqué (PSC/PR/Comm.(XVII)), African Union Peace and Security Council 17th Meeting, October 20, 2004, Addis Ababa.

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