Over recent months I’ve been writing about the withdrawal of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic and Chad, known as MINURCAT, and discussing the missing logistical and financial details of the Government of Chad’s, plan to take over from the mission. However, for the majority of people who can’t access regular information about the situation in eastern Chad, and don’t have the luxury of a job that allows them to spend time reading and learning about the situation, there is a lot that has gone unexplained about MINURCAT and the current situation.
To understand the withdrawal of MINURCAT troops, we need to first look at the political climate which allowed the Chadian government to successfully oppose renewal of the mission’s mandate. Peacekeeping missions authorized and deployed by the U.N. Security Council depend on the permission of the host country, which allow the peacekeeping mission to operate within its borders, on condition that its presence is not recognized as a challenge to the state’s sovereignty. When the host government does not have the capacity to address a humanitarian situation such as the one in eastern Chad, they require the assistance of the international community—however, this necessity does not always alleviate concerns about the threat to sovereignty.
In the case of MINURCAT, the Chadian government was concerned about these political issues, as well as about hosting a peacekeeping mission that stood at only 50 percent capacity and had training and conduct issues (as reported by human rights groups such as Physicians for Human Rights and Amnesty International)—shortcomings that the international community has failed to address.
In my opinion, the withdrawal of MINURCAT is unquestionably a step backwards for the security situation in eastern Chad. Unofficial reports from the border area last week reference heavy losses of both troops and vehicles by the Government of Chad during rebel attacks, which raise concerns about the possibility for continuing humanitarian operations in the area. Meanwhile, more than 200,000 Darfuri refugees are dependent upon these humanitarian operations for food, shelter, and medical care in the region.
In his report to the Security Council last week, the Secretary-General recommended that MINURCAT’s military component in Chad be reduced from 3,300 to 1,400 troops. If this scenario comes to pass, the remaining military troops would represent only 38 percent of the troops initially authorized by the U.N. as necessary to securing the displaced refugee population and humanitarian operations in eastern Chad. (Keep in mind that even before this withdrawal, MINURCAT never approached its full authorized deployment of 4,900).
Over the past year the region has remained among the most hazardous operating environments currently sustaining humanitarian operations. The disruption of humanitarian operations this month follows previous multi-week suspensions of operations by agencies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the World Food Programme in May and November-December 2009.
Human rights groups have urged the Secretary-General, in his review of MINURCAT, to consider the security of NGO operations, as well as the need for consultation and transparency with refugee communities and humanitarian agencies on the ground. It is vital that the final recommendations, to be adopted by the U.N. Security Council later this month, are revised to include these concerns.
Joe Read is a fellow at the Harvard University Committee on Human Rights Studies and author of the Action Agenda for Realizing Treatment and Support for Women and Girls in Darfur, published by Physicians for Human Rights. She blogs regularly at Health Rights Advocate and tweets via @readieontheroad.