Yesterday, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a one-year extension of the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Sudan's western Darfur region. The mission's extension comes at a critical time for the people of Darfur as armed conflict and war crimes are once again on the rise. This decision also flies in the face of the wishes of the Sudanese government, which has demanded that all international peacekeeping forces depart the country.
Over the past several months, there has been real concern that the United Nations would abandon the people of Darfur. The peacekeeping mission, known by the acronym UNAMID, has been overwhelmed by growing security threats, a lack of resources, and very little political backing. The UN Security's Council's lack of political will to fully support the mission and pressure the government of Sudan to let peacekeepers do their jobs has only made matters worse. This lack of will has not only had many deadly side effects for the people of Darfur, but also for U.N peacekeepers themselves. While trying to carry out their mission, UNAMID personnel have been harassed, abducted and attacked. Since the force was deployed in 2007, 215 peacekeepers and support staff have been killed, making UNAMID one of the most dangerous peacekeeping forces to serve in.
UNAMID Will Remain As Violence & Injustice Prevail
The UN Security Council decision comes at a time when pressure on the UN to act more decisively in Sudan is rising.
It has now been over 6 years since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued the first arrest warrant against Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir for crimes committed in Darfur. Repeated calls by the ICC prosecutor for the UN Security Council to enforce the arrest warrants have been largely ignored. Despite UN inaction, Bashir was forced to flee South Africa recently when a judge there began taking steps to arrest him.
Meanwhile on the ground in Darfur, UNAMID has struggled to fulfill it's mandate since the mission was first formed. For years, the Sudanese government has slowed down peacekeeping deployments, blocked UN investigations into alleged government war crimes, and intimidated UN staff. UNAMID officials are also responsible for helping to cover-up Sudanese government war crimes.
It appears that these developments and widening criticism of the UN Security Council are being noticed. In her remarks at the recent Council meeting on Darfur, the United States Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power expressed both alarm and concern about conditions on the ground, while also calling for Council members to better support UN peacekeepers in Darfur. Ambassador Power also pushed back against Sudanese government call's for UNAMID to prepare an exit strategy:
The renewed mission then is an opportunity for the UN Security Council to strengthen UNAMID from within and increase pressure on the Sudanese government. UNAMID has never had a real peace to keep and there is currently no real political effort to end the crisis in Darfur, much less in other Sudanese conflict areas. UNAMID will continue to struggle until the UN Security Council meets it's own responsibilities to the mission. Short term, there are three key areas UN Security Council member states can improve in, be it individually or together:
- Fully back all outstanding ICC arrest warrants with regard to the situation in Sudan by devoting intelligence and law enforcement resources towards the goal of implementing warrants.
- Place real pressure on the government of Sudan to allow UNAMID unhindered investigative and protective access across Darfur by enforcing existing arms bans and closing sanctions loopholes.
- Work within UNAMID to end rampant cover-ups and misreporting of war crimes and other human rights abuses.
For UNAMID to improve, the UNSC needs to take an uncompromising stand for the people of Darfur by placing and keeping pressure on the government of Sudan. UNAMID leadership needs to begin holding the force accountable to it's mission. And if Darfuris will accept a much-improved UNAMID, then the force will be in a better position to carry out what will always be a difficult mandate. While it appears that UNAMID will be around for at least another year, there is certainly much work still to be done.