This week, the United Nations verified that at least 80,000 Darfuris fled their homes due to armed conflict near Jebel Marra earlier this year. The total number of displaced may very well be closer to 127,000, but the Government of Sudan refuses to allow U.N. or African Union personnel access to conflict-affected areas, making verification extremely difficult. Indeed, UNAMID, the joint U.N.-A.U. peacekeeping mission in Darfur, struggles to access areas such as Jebel Marra even though it is clearly within its mandate to do so.
The Government of Sudan has used this tactic of denied access and a myriad of creative ways to undermine UNAMID. Other examples include restricting UNAMID’s freedom of movement, placing unjustifiable denials and delays on visa requests, and employing what often amounts to a blocking of humanitarian assistance, as the government refuses to allow the timely processing of food and supply shipments arriving at Port Sudan. Most recently, the government effectively expelled Ivo Freijsen, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Sudan, when it did not renew Freijsen’s annual permit. The government provided no reason for this action and refused to explain its decision.
Because of the government’s actions, the people of Darfur are still suffering and in need of food, medicine, and other humanitarian assistance. Over 2.6 million people remain displaced in Darfur, even though the government continues its call to close all remaining IDP camps. U.N. officials estimate that at least 1.6 million civilians reside in some 60 IDP camps throughout Darfur. Given the current violence and insecurity, as well as the size of the IDP population, closing these camps would exacerbate an already difficult humanitarian situation. As U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous recently stated: “In a situation of continuing armed conflict, inter-communal violence and attacks against civilians, the current security conditions in Darfur are not conducive to a large-scale return of IDPs to their places of origin.”
On June 15, the African Union Peace and Security Council (AU PSC) endorsed a recommendation to extend UNAMID’s mandate through June 2017. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also recommended this extension, as has Ladsous. In a Security Council briefing earlier this week, Ladsous noted, “little progress had been made” toward finding a viable political solution to the conflict in Darfur. Both the AU PSC and Ladsous concluded that UNAMID’s priorities should remain the same and that no reductions be made to the authorized number of peacekeeping troops or police officers.
Despite the assessment of A.U. and U.N. experts that UNAMID should continue its mission, the Government of Sudan has remained steadfast in its demands for UNAMID’s exit. Refusing to acknowledge the ongoing violence and instability, the government persistently states that the situation in Darfur is stable in its attempts to mislead the international community. Kamal Ismail, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs has even said, “there is no danger to civilians, there is no conflict in Darfur,” when calling for UNAMID’s exit. Although utterly lacking in credibility, the regime continues to make these statements as part of a broader push to convince the international community that it has changed and is now a reliable partner in important global issues, such as counterterrorism, migration and refugee flows, and human trafficking.
This is simply not the case and instead reinforces that the regime will make any claim to advance its objectives, no matter how contrary to the facts these claims might be. By employing a false narrative that it is a responsible government among a conflict-affected and instable region, the Bashir regime hopes to improve relations with the United States, European Union, and other foreign governments with an ultimate goal of gaining sanctions and debt relief. Policymakers must not succumb to this campaign of misinformation. As Sudan expert Ahmed Kodouda notes, “Sudan is not an island of stability in a chaotic region, but rather a nation slowly collapsing while serving as a hub for regional instability and chaos.” Renewing UNAMID’s mandate is one action that policymakers can take to show the regime that this campaign is not working.