By Jehanne Henry
Last month, Sudanese government forces launched another offensive in Darfur’s Jebel Mara, a mountainous rebel stronghold with an estimated population of more than 100,000 people. By all accounts, the government forces went on a rampage: aerial and ground attacks have reportedly destroyed 47 villages and killed dozens of civilians since January 15, 2016. The United Nations estimates at least 73,000 people have fled their homes. As in the past, Sudan has blocked access to the area by humanitarian agencies and peacekeepers.
The offensive is the latest in a string of attacks since Sudanese and rebel forces started fighting in Darfur in 2003. Especially brutal have been attacks by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a military unit composed of former pro-government militia under command of the National Intelligence and Security Service. In 2014 and 2015, whenRSF-led forces attacked villages in eastern Jebel Mara, RSF soldiers raped and assaulted many women and girls, and destroyed and looted entire communities.
How is this endless cycle of unlawful attacks, displacement, and deprivation allowed to happen? Why isn’t the UN – which has invested billions and with the African Union oversees UNAMID, one of the largest peacekeeping missions in the world – doing something to bring the abuses to a halt?
The situation in Darfur has been a regular item on the UN Security Council agenda since 2004. But for most of that time, the council has been gridlocked by internal political divisions – typically with Russia and China protecting Sudan against criticism or action on grounds of sovereignty. The UN’s decision earlier this month to withhold publication of its Panel of Experts’ report on Darfur that describes Sudan’s ongoing human rights violations, is a case in point.
The council has also failed to condemn Sudan’s indiscriminate bombing in populated areas, or expand sanctions to Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, where Sudan has committed numerous abuses in fighting rebellions since 2011. The UN’s partnership with the AU in the UNAMID peacekeeping mission has been a disappointment. The mission failed repeatedly to protect civilians from attacks and forced exodus.
Sudan’s rapprochement with Saudi Arabia, which has welcomed Sudanese forces in its coalition fighting in Yemen, isn’t likely to help increase the pressure for human rights reforms in Khartoum. This is bad news for Darfur’s civilians, who in the absence of council unity and pressure, continue to be killed, raped, plundered, and forced to flee their homes.
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