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Darfur: Peacekeeping and Atrocity Crimes Don’t Mix

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Darfur: Peacekeeping and Atrocity Crimes Don’t Mix

Posted by Enough Team on November 21, 2012

Darfur: Peacekeeping and Atrocity Crimes Don't Mix

Editor's Note: The fact is that the U.N./African Union Mission in Darfur is unable to provide security for a host of hotspots being targeted by Khartoum government-aligned militias. So why did UNAMID deploy to evacuate Khartoum's combatants? Professor and Sudan specialist Eric Reeves examines the question in this guest blog post.

On November 13, 2012 the U.N./African Union Mission in Darfur, or UNAMID, made the decision to provide "medevac" (medical evacuation) to approximately 12 Sudan Armed Forces soldiers wounded following heavy fighting with rebel forces in North Darfur. The injured were taken to the city of el-Fasher, location of the primary SAF military base in Darfur. Such military clashes between the SAF and rebel forces have been escalating for many months, as has violence against civilians, especially by Khartoum's proxy forces in Darfur. All this occurs even as UNAMID has resolutely insisted that fighting and violence have diminished, thus justifying a draw-down in forces. But the grim truth is that UNAMID can't sustain an adequate security presence for the vast majority of locations in Darfur now threatened by violence from Khartoum-allied militia forces.

Why, then, would UNAMID choose to deploy its already vastly inadequate resources to evacuating Khartoum's combatants? The question is especially exigent since such medevac forms no part of UNAMID's mandate or the lengthy Status of Forces Agreement signed by Khartoum and the U.N./A.U. in February 2008.

To be sure, UNAMID spokesman Chris Cycmanick is narrowly accurate in declaring that this medevac does not directly contravene International Humanitarian Law (the medevac was "completely in line with International Humanitarian Law"), and several of the Geneva Conventions are clear on the legality of medical evacuation. But Cycmanick seriously misrepresents the situation by declaring medevac of SAF soldiers is part of the "core requirement of international humanitarian law, which falls under the Mission’s mandate." International Humanitarian Law certainly governs the UNAMID mandate and the actions of UNAMID; but again, there is not one word about medical evacuation of combatants. On the contrary, the meaningful language of the mandate is given over entirely to specifying the obligations of the peacekeeping force to protect civilians and humanitarians—this is the "core" task, and to suggest otherwise is simply disingenuous. 

Moreover, on the key question of International Human Rights Law, Cycmanick is conspicuously silent. This is understandable, given UNAMID's acquiescence before Khartoum's egregious violations of International Human Rights Law, as well as International Humanitarian Law, during the mission's entire time in Darfur.

Indeed, the regime has declared its contempt for international law—and U.N. peacekeepers—throughout greater Sudan. This was grimly evident on August 2, 2011, when SAF officers refused to allow for the urgent medevac of three mortally wounded U.N. peacekeepers in the volatile Abyei region. Despite repeated attempts to secure permission from the SAF in Kadugli, South Kordofan for helicopter evacuation, the U.N. was continually rebuffed until it had become too late. One of the mortally wounded soldiers would have likely survived if he had reached Kadugli earlier. Alain Le Roy, then head of U.N. peacekeeping, declared bluntly that, "We didn't get the clearance for the Medevac helicopter to take off immediately. They [Khartoum's SAF] prevented us to take off by threatening to shoot at the helicopter." 

Does the U.N. really wish to be assisting the combatants of a regime that wages war in this fashion?

In fact, the key issue unaddressed by Cycmanick is UNAMID's evident failure to understand the implications of the "U.N. Human Rights Due Diligence Policy on U.N. support to non-U.N. security forces," or HRDDP, endorsed by the U.N. Secretariat in July 2011. No doubt the Democratic Republic of Congo loomed largest in thinking about the issues involved in such "due diligence," but the purpose of HRDDP is just as relevant to Darfur. For the policy is designed to ensure that no U.N. support of any kind is provided—directly or indirectly—to army or security forces that are engaged in or likely to engage in grave violations of International Human Rights Law. Yet even as Khartoum cynically claims for itself the responsibility to provide "security" for the people of Darfur, nothing could be clearer than that both the SAF and its militia proxies remain engaged in widespread atrocity crimes—most recently in a series of deadly attacks in North Darfur, including one on a UNAMID investigating patrol headed to the Hashaba region. This well-planned attack, by a pro-regime militia, deployed unusually heavy weaponry and was clearly designed to prevent U.N. investigation of earlier atrocity crimes in Hashaba.

UNAMID's resources are inadequate and its leadership corrupt, as this perverse medevac decision starkly reveals. Moreover, we are only now learning that in addition to the current large draw-down of UNAMID personnel, the late-deployed fleet of Ethiopian helicopter gunships that was key in the limited provision of security was withdrawn in October. UNAMID is more impotent and less mobile than ever. Give the directives of HRDDP and the acute civilian protection needs throughout Darfur, there was no justification for this medevac of SAF soldiers. No doubt SAF officers illegally threatened UNAMID with serious reprisals if it failed to heed their demand, and courage would have been required to deny the request—precisely what UNAMID leadership lacks.

Eric Reeves is a professor of English at Smith College. He has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade. His book on Darfur—A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide—was published in 2007. Compromising with Evil: An Archival History of Greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012, an ebook, was released in October 2012.