Lessons Learned from Darfur’s Peacekeepers

The success of UNAMID, the new UN-AU hybrid peacekeeping force, hinges crucially on its ability to overcome the limitations of AMIS, which has been criticized both by analysts and by displaced persons themselves.130 Some residents of IDP camps have even held demonstrations against it and barred AMIS troops from entering.131 Currently, much of this hostility is due to the view of many people in Darfur that AMIS is a key implementer of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), which they see as flawed. However, criticism began even before the DPA and was largely due to AMIS’s inadequate resources to carry out a civilian protection mandate that was given a less-than-robust interpretation.

AMIS troops are deployed in permanent camps in all three Darfur states. They have a mandate to patrol the region and protect civilians and humanitarian operations from imminent danger. AMIS also provides armed escorts to humanitarian agencies on request. However, AMIS is a small force of some 7,000 peacekeepers that is not properly equipped with adequate material and human resources to carry out its protection mandate in such a vast, rugged, and hostile region. It has had no attack helicopters, which are necessary for rapid response activities, such as conducting real-time surveillance, immediate ceasefire violation investigations, and search and rescue missions. Armored personnel carriers provided by Canada were blocked from entering the country for months by the Government of Sudan. Equipment for nighttime activities has largely been absent. There has also been a persistent lack of interpreters and experienced female staff to address issues of sexual and gender-based violence. AMIS’s various elements—military observers, protection force, and police—do not always share information and lack intelligence gathering technology and analysis techniques. These inadequacies have also left AMIS unable to defend itself. Between January and July 2007, AMIS lost 11 personnel to armed attacks and several of its vehicles were ambushed and hijacked.132

The African force’s mandate states that AMIS should protect civilians “under imminent threat and in the immediate vicinity” and within its “resources and capability.” While resources appear to have been the critical factor in AMIS’s response to civilian protection needs, the loose language may have also camouflaged a lack of political will to undertake robust operations that might result in peacekeeping casualties. Additionally, AMIS’s Rules of Engagement and Standard Operating Procedures—which provide commanders and troops guidance on how and when to use force—were unclear. In May 2006 the DPA outlined more detailed responsibilities for AMIS to undertake, which caused additional confusion.

In 2005 NGOs lobbied AMIS to conduct “firewood” patrols to reduce sexual violence against women and girls traveling outside camps to collect wood, hay, and water, and to farm. In some areas women welcomed the troops and believed they did help reduce sexual violence. However, in many instances, these and other patrols were cancelled because AMIS had too few armed soldiers, or gaps existed between the time when one group of soldiers left their duty station and their replacements were operational. In other instances the patrols have failed since people distrust AMIS because its patrols are accompanied by the much-distrusted Sudanese police, and because they believe that the patrols merely displace, rather than prevent, violence.

The civilian police component of AMIS was given the crucial role of monitoring Sudan’s police force, investigating conflict related crimes, and conducting capacity building activities to help strengthen the police. AMIS police have no powers of arrest and are not mandated to serve as a domestic policing force. It too was plagued by insufficient personnel, including a limited number of female staff with expertise in sexual and gender-based violence and too few interpreters. AMIS police also failed to communicate effectively with the people they were mandated to serve. According to analysts, displaced persons, and international workers AMIS police are often inexperienced and ill-prepared, not trained in the laws of Sudan and international policing standards, suffered from an inability to work with international humanitarian and human rights groups, and failed to report on police misconduct. People living in camps also accuse AMIS police of commingling too closely with the Sudanese police and not exerting enough pressure on the government to improve their practices.

Along with a protection force and police, AMIS also has military observers to monitor the ceasefire agreements. The 2004 N’Djamena ceasefire commission that the observers fed into was active at first, but made little progress in the run up to the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement, which established a new ceasefire commission. The new commission has not yet addressed many substantive issues, but became bogged down in debates over the government’s refusal to allow non-signatories to join the commission and the insistence by non-signatory rebels that the commission judges them only on commitments of the 2004 ceasefire agreement that they signed.

Given the task before it and the limited resources available, AMIS was handicapped from the beginning in its efforts to meet the expectations of the population of Darfur. AMIS, however, also contributed to the distrust and in some cases hostility of Darfurians though its own actions. Consequently, many displaced persons have been altogether dismissive of AMIS even when it offers services that could improve the security situation. The fact that AMIS was tasked with helping to implement the DPA worsened its already tarnished image with the large number of Darfurians who did not support the DPA.

The Future of UNAMID

UNAMID may have up to 26,000 military and police peacekeepers, which should improve matters, but the challenges will remain enormous. The lessons learned from AMIS demonstrate that boots alone will not be enough to ensure UNAMID’s ability to carry out its civilian protection mandate.133 UNAMID will need to be widely and strategically dispersed throughout Darfur, have strong rapid response capabilities, carry out regular daytime and nighttime patrols—including firewood and market day patrols—employ well trained and well resourced policing units, and contain human rights officers who can publicly report on their findings. UNAMID should have a large number of staff who are experts in sexual and gender-based violence, as well as children’s rights. UNAMID should also be equipped to provide a safe environment for humanitarians to work in.

Geographic coverage

Similar to AMIS, UNAMID should be widely and strategically dispersed in stations throughout Darfur, so that its forces have access to the civilian population and to especially volatile areas. Wide deployment to remote rural areas also acts as a deterrent for attacks and is necessary for increasing the potential for people to move more freely and for displaced persons to return home. It will take considerable time to complete permanent bases for the large force and even then there will be a number of areas with no permanent base. Peacekeepers should therefore be equipped and authorized to deploy to temporary bases for short- and medium-length stays. These peacekeepers, which will include military observers, armed soldiers, and police, will need to be mobile, with the ability to travel outside these temporary or permanent bases. A sufficient number of land vehicles and aircraft, including helicopters, will be needed since traveling through Darfur by road is always difficult and can be all but impossible in the rainy season.

Rapid response capabilities

UNAMID must have strong rapid response capabilities—much stronger than ever achieved by AMIS—that could include carrying out reconnaissance missions, placing peacekeepers in positions to protect civilians prior to expected attacks, providing armed protection to civilians who come under attack, conducting search and rescue missions if humanitarian or other convoys are hijacked, or investigating ceasefire violations immediately after they occur. This will require sufficient personnel, attack helicopters and APCs, and real-time and accurate information gathering and analysis technology. They must also have the capacity and equipment to carry out rapid response activities after dark and in the early morning. UNAMID’s police, military observers, protection forces, and other relevant actors will need to establish effective lines of communication and share information for all these resources to be utilized effectively.

Day and night patrols

UNAMID peacekeepers should carry out regular “firewood” patrols, market day patrols, foot patrols inside camps, as well as other day and night patrols inside and outside camps and towns, especially in volatile areas. One of the main lessons from AMIS’s experiences with “firewood” patrols is that units must meet regularly with the local community to build confidence and gather information about when and where these patrols are needed and under what conditions they will take place. UNAMID should contact nomadic communities, rebels, and other armed groups in advance, and on the day of patrols. Throughout the patrols UNAMID should provide visible deterrence and be close enough on the ground to hear or see probable attackers, but not so close as to interfere with people’s normal routines. If government security forces join patrols, their roles should be clarified in advance and written into patrol guidelines.134

Civilian police

Because of the abovementioned deficiencies in Sudan’s own police system, investigating police abuses, visiting detention facilities, and carrying out training activities should be top priorities for UNAMID police. Along with monitoring government police, they may also have to monitor rebel policing activities in rebel-held areas of control. UNAMID’s police must therefore have experience with protection issues relevant to Darfur, such as sexual violence. Female officers who are able to secure people’s trust and ensure the security of information provided by victims, witnesses, and others, will be crucial to the success of their mission. These officers should also be supported by female interpreters. Police versed in children’s rights issues will also be needed. All UNAMID police should be trained on the laws of Sudan; international police standards, especially as they relate to human rights; working with international humanitarian and human rights communities; reporting on police misconduct; and their own police powers and mandate.

Sexual and gender-based violence

Personnel qualified to handle issues concerning sexual and gender-based violence should be employed at all levels of UNAMID. UNAMID should defer to local community members, local and international NGOs, and other UN workers on the best ways to coordinate this work at the local and national levels. As a general rule, UNAMID should ensure that the identities of victims, witnesses, and other informants, who provide information about sexual violence, as well as other rights abuses, are kept confidential unless permission is otherwise granted by the source.

Human rights monitoring

The number of human rights officers in Darfur and the language assistance staff they work with should be increased and dispersed into permanent satellite offices under the supervision of their regional offices. Currently the vast majority of UN human rights officers deployed in Darfur work under the auspices of UNMIS and not AMIS. They operate out of four regional offices (El Fashir, Nyala, El Geneina, and Zalingei) and travel by land and air to conduct fact-finding missions. Their work is complemented by protection officers, some of whom focus on issues relating specifically to children. Human rights officers and protection officers in Darfur have been instrumental in collecting and reporting on human rights and international humanitarian law violations to the UN, the government, and the public. They also monitor trials, visit detention facilities if permitted by authorities, and enter into constructive dialogue with government officials such as police, military, National Security, prosecutors, and judges. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has issued several public reports and press statements based on the work of human rights officers. However, these reports have focused primarily on South Darfur and West Darfur to the exclusion of North Darfur. In addition to more regional coverage, the reports could also benefit from better publicity and stronger follow-up advocacy.

UNAMID police and military observers should efficiently coordinate their work with human rights officers and utilize their expertise in documenting human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law. Given the fact that human rights officers place a high premium on protecting the sources of their information, it will be especially important for UNAMID peacekeepers to consult with human rights officers on how the information human rights officers collect can be used for the ceasefire commission or other UNAMID purposes. UN human rights officers should also have the responsibility of providing internal capacity building initiatives such as training peacekeepers in international law enforcement standards and human rights investigation techniques.

It is critical that human rights officers retain a dual reporting line to UNAMID and OHCHR, and that OHCHR is free to issue public reports in coordination with UNAMID. This is the model currently used in UNMIS. Not doing so runs the risk of UNAMID being allowed to block from the public record one of the main sources of human rights information and analysis in Darfur.

Humanitarian access

Finally, UNAMID must create a safe environment for humanitarian workers. Regular patrols inside and outside towns and camps should, in themselves, improve security for local and international humanitarian workers. As noted above, UNAMID must also have at its disposal the capacity for rapid search and rescue missions if humanitarian convoys are hijacked, or if workers are abducted or simply stranded in a remote location. UNAMID should also liaise with NGO and UN agency security officers to help map out where armed patrols are needed the most to provide a secure environment for humanitarian road access.

UNAMID should, however, ensure that there is a clear distinction between the work of UNAMID peacekeepers and the work of humanitarian groups, including UN agencies. Unlike peacekeepers, humanitarian groups often insist on carrying out their operations at a distance from any armed forces so that their neutrality and safety is maintained. UNAMID must balance the humanitarian groups’ need for protection with the latter’s desire to remain independent from those perceived to be militarily involved in the conflict.

Sudan’s Compliance with Security Council Resolution 1769, Other Obligations, and Benchmarks for International Response

International support for UN Security Council Resolution 1769 authorizing UNAMID and for the rapid deployment of a well-resourced UNAMID force in the coming months will be vital, but this alone will not be sufficient to bring an end to the continuing human rights abuses in Darfur. The Sudanese government’s abusive policies are likely to continue prior to and after UNAMID becomes operational, and until concerned states and members of the UN Security Council implement and enforce effective sanctions on key individuals responsible for abusive policies and activities.

In July 2007, Sudan consented to Resolution 1769, but only after protracted resistance.135 In the past, Sudan had obstructed other peacekeeping initiatives to the detriment of civilians in Darfur. In 2005 it prevented the delivery of 105 Canadian APCs to Darfur intended to help AMIS protect civilians, humanitarian workers, and its own troops. The APCs were eventually allowed in, but only after an attack on AMIS left four troops dead.136 In 2007 Sudan blocked entry of six AMIS attack helicopters, agreeing to allow them in only after receiving assurances that they would not be used for “offensive” purposes.137 The government has also prevented AMIS police from visiting people in detention facilities, even though this is a provision of the Darfur Peace Agreement.138 Rebels and former rebels have also attacked AMIS forces on several occasions and prevented it from entering their areas of control.139

Resolution 1769 also places responsibilities on Sudan, as well as other parties to the conflict, that they have defied in the past, such as to cooperate with humanitarian agencies and relief convoys, cease aerial bombings and remove UN markings from government aircraft, and abide by the arms embargo. The Government of Sudan must also bring violators of international human rights and humanitarian law to justice. All parties to the conflict must work with the UN secretary-general to end the use of children as soldiers, a problem documented by Human Rights Watch and other organizations.140 More generally, Resolution 1769 demands “that the parties to the conflict in Darfur fulfill their international obligations and their commitments under relevant agreements, this resolution and other relevant Council resolutions.”141 These resolutions, which are also being flouted, include Sudan’s obligation to cooperate with the International Criminal Court, disarm the militia, and protect women and girls from rape in situations of armed conflict.142

International response

The war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur have gained global attention over the past four years, generating repeated condemnations from key international officials and institutions. International awareness of the crisis has also coincided with the development, and adoption by the UN General Assembly, of the doctrine of the “Responsibility to Protect.” Under this doctrine, the international community is obliged to protect people throughout the world from serious international crimes such as “genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity” when their own governments fail to do so.143 Key sectors of the international community have failed, however, to take effective punitive and preventative action against the Sudanese government in the face of widespread knowledge of the crimes and evidence of the Sudanese government’s primary responsibility for the violence against civilians.

The UN Security Council established a sanctions committee for Sudan under Resolution 1591 (2005), but to date the Security Council has imposed sanctions on only four individuals. Two individuals—Sudanese Armed Forces Major-General Gaffar Mohammed Elhassan and Paramount Chief of the Jalul tribe of North Darfur Musa Hilal—were sanctioned for their involvement in human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, and the other two individuals—SLA Commander Adam Yacub Shant and National Movement for Reform and Development Field Commander Gabril Abdul Kareem Badri—were sanctioned for violating a ceasefire agreement and impeding the peace process.144 None of the four individuals is a  senior Sudanese government official, although several ministers alleged to be responsible for war crimes under the principle of command responsibility have been among the several dozen people recommended for individual sanctions by the UN Panel of Experts which investigates, among other things, human rights abuses and violations of humanitarian law.145

Divisions among Security Council members have made it nearly impossible to impose additional targeted sanctions. In the most recent example of the lack of political unity, draft language that would have threatened sanctions in the event of Sudanese government obstruction of UNAMID was deleted from resolution 1769 prior to its adoption, apparently at the insistence of China and others.146

In March 2005 the Security Council took the unprecedented step of referring the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court. On April 27, 2007, the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber issued warrants of arrest for a government official, Ahmed Haroun, and a Janjaweed leader, Ali Kosheib, who are being charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity (see Background, above). Sudan has explicitly refused to cooperate with the court and recognize its jurisdiction. In September 2007, the government even nominated Ahmed Haroun to co-chair a human rights investigation committee on Darfur. Ultimately the Security Council need to act to ensure that Sudan lives up to its legal obligations.

Although the European Union and individual EU leaders have on a number of occasions indicated willingness or even threatened to adopt targeted sanctions, none have been imposed. As noted above, on May 29, 2007, the United States unilaterally placed targeted economic sanctions on two Sudanese government officials, a rebel leader, 30 companies owned or controlled by the Sudanese government, and one company alleged to have violated the arms embargo.147

Concerned governments and international institutions should be prepared to strengthen the less-than-robust track record on maintaining pressure on the Government of Sudan and other parties to the conflict to meet their obligations under international law. When parties to the conflict continually fail to do so, governments and international institutions should take multilateral and if necessary unilateral measures, such as implementing targeted individual sanctions on people identified by the UN Panel of Experts, and on other entities, such as companies, that are contributing to rights abuses in Darfur.

The following benchmarks provide a preliminary set of monitoring criteria for the international community to act upon if parties to the conflict fail to comply with some of the key obligations they have under international humanitarian and human rights law.

Cease attacks on civilians

All parties must immediately cease violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, including deliberate and indiscriminate attacks against civilians. The government must refrain from using airplanes and helicopters painted white or otherwise mimicking UN or AMIS colors or markings in violation of the prohibition against perfidious attacks and misusing internationally recognized emblems.

End support to abusive militia/Janjaweed and initiate militia/Janjaweed disarmament programs

Cease military, financial, and political support to, and recruitment of, abusive militia/Janjaweed. Immediately implement militia/Janjaweed disarmament programs in accordance with relevant international standards.

Facilitate the expeditious deployment of AMIS and UNAMID

All parties must proactively facilitate the expeditious deployment of remaining personnel and resources for AMIS and the full deployment of UNAMID and ensure AMIS and UNAMID can carry out their mandates unhindered. This includes facilitating delivery of the Heavy Support Package, expediting visas and delivery of equipment both for deployment and pre-deployment reconnaissance missions, and allowing the peacekeepers freedom of movement throughout Darfur.

End impunity and promote accountability

The Government of Sudan must take concrete steps towards prosecuting or assisting in the prosecution of individuals implicated in war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious human rights abuses, including by members of the government and militia. To accomplish this, the Sudanese government should take the following measures:

a. Promptly comply with the ICC arrest warrants and its other obligations under Security Council Resolution 1593 to fully cooperate with the ICC, including providing the ICC access to all documents, interviews, and other sources of information requested.

b. Amend relevant legislation and revoke the presidential General Amnesty Decree No. 114 of 2006 that confers immunity upon perpetrators of abuses, and amend legislation in accordance with international standards that restricts victims of sexual violence from seeking judicial remedies.

c. Investigate, prosecute, and suspend from official duties pending investigation Sudanese officials alleged to be involved in the planning, recruitment, and command of abusive militia/Janjaweed.

d. Establish credible national justice mechanisms that investigate and lead to the prosecution of individuals responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of human rights law in Darfur. These mechanisms should be in accordance with relevant international standards and open to international monitors who can report publicly on the conduct of their activities. To be credible, these mechanisms should be mandated to overcome (1) the shortcomings that may result from a lack of clarity in domestic law to prosecute crimes against humanity and war crimes, (2) provisions granting immunity to Sudan’s police and security forces, and (3) the unnecessarily high standard of proof that makes it difficult for rape victims to pursue legal recourse.

e. Establish an effective system for vetting appointees to police, security forces, and other official posts to ensure that individuals accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, or other serious human rights abuses are not appointed. The government should not incorporate former members of Janjaweed militia responsible for abuses into government security forces or police.

Humanitarian Access

All parties should actively facilitate humanitarian assistance to reach civilians in need, immediately cease attacks on humanitarian operations, staff, and assets, and issue clear public orders to their forces and allied militia to this effect. The Government of Sudan should expedite entry visas and travel permits for all humanitarian aid organizations and workers, and fully cooperate with such organizations so that they can perform their humanitarian functions.

Consolidation of ethnic cleansing

The Government of Sudan should publicly announce that official or unofficial occupation or settlement of land belonging to displaced persons will not be permitted.

Peacekeeping in the Interim

UNAMID is scheduled to assume full authority over AMIS no later than December 31, 2007, and to have initial operational capabilities no later than October 2007. Focus should not be lost, however, in the interim period—while AMIS is transitioning into UNAMID. It is not expected that UNAMID will have a strong presence in Darfur until January 2008, and even from that point it will likely strengthen itself incrementally. Meanwhile, civilians remain under threat of attack. AMIS, as well as donor countries, should not stop seeking to improve the AMIS protection and monitoring initiatives. AMIS should use the resources from the “Light Support Package” and “Heavy Support Package” to strengthen its peacekeeping and civilian protection operations. Initiatives that have ceased in certain areas, including daytime, nighttime, and firewood patrols, should resume immediately. To support this, there is an imperative need for any remaining resources allocated to AMIS to be deployed or made operational without obstruction from the Government of Sudan.

130 For a discussion on AMIS’s inability to provide protection to civilians in Darfur, see OHCHR, “Fourth Periodic Reports of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in Sudan: Deepening Crisis in Darfur Two Months after the Darfur Peace Agreement: An Assessment,” Geneva, August 9, 2006, p. 15-17.

131 Ibid.

132 Report of the Secretary-General on Darfur, S/2007/462, July 27, 2007,$File/Full_Report.pdf (accessed September 7, 2007).

133 Letter from Human Rights Watch to African Union Chairman and the Under-Secretary-General for UN Peacekeeping Operations, “Darfur Needs Most Efficient, Trained Troops Immediately,” August 17, 2007,

134 These recommendations are heavily based on proposals made by operational nongovernmental organizations in coordination with displaced persons and AMIS, March 2007.

135 “Sudan endorses UN resolution on Darfur force,” Agence France-Press/Associated Press, August 2, 2007, (accessed August 19, 2007).

136 “Canadian armoured vehicles start arriving in Darfur,” CBC News, November 20, 2005, (accessed August 22, 2007).

137 “Sudan agrees to accept UN attack helicopters,” Reuters, April 16, 2007, (accessed August 22, 2007).

138 Darfur Peace Agreement, (accessed August 20, 2007), para. 237.

139 UN Panel of Experts, “Interim report of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to resolution 1591 (2005) concerning the Sudan, submitted pursuant to resolution 1713 (2006),” unpublished, paras. 80-91; UN Panel of Experts, “Report of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to paragraph 3 of resolution 1591 (2005) concerning the Sudan,” S/2006/65, January 30, 2006, (accessed August 22, 2007), paras. 156-161.

140 United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1769 (2007), S/RES/1769 (2007), (accessed August 19, 2007), preamble and paras. 14 and 17. See Human Rights Watch, “If We Return, We Will Be Killed,” and “They Came Here to Kill Us:” Militia Attacks and Ethnic Targeting of Civilians in Eastern Chad, January 2007, vol. 19, no. 1(A), See also Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, “Sudan’s Children at a Crossroads: An Urgent Need for Protection,” April 2007, p. 42, (accessed September 9, 2007).

141 United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1769 (2007), S/RES/1769 (2007), para. 22.

142 See, United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1593 (2005), S/RES/1593 (2005), (accessed August 28, 2007); United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1556 (2004), S/RES/1556 (2004), (accessed August 28, 2007); and United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1325 (2000), S/RES/1325 (2000), (accessed August 28, 2007).

143 Under the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine, states are not permitted to undertake unilateral action, such as armed humanitarian intervention, against another state in contravention of the UN Charter. The doctrine envisages the UN Security Council as being the only authority for allowing armed humanitarian intervention.

144 Such sanctions were authorized in 2005 under S/Res/1591, which also appointed the Panel of Experts to identify individuals on whom such sanctions should be imposed. Sanctions have only been imposed on four individuals under S/Res/1672(2006).

145 A confidential annex to the Panel of Experts report of January 30, 2006, includes 17 names to be considered for sanctions. Presumably additional people were recommended for sanctions in later reports issued by the Panel of Experts. On file with Human Rights Watch.

146 Refugees International, “UN Resolution for Darfur: An Important But Insufficient First Step Towards Protecting Civilians,” August 2, 2007, (accessed September 10, 2007).

147 “US Sanctions on Sudan,” US Department of State Fact Sheet, May 29, 2007, (accessed September 9, 2007).