This month, June 2016, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC or the council) will consider the renewal of the mandate of the joint United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), Sudan. After eight years on the ground, questions are increasingly being asked about the future of the mission, and about how and when it will, inevitably, exit. It is clear that the government of Sudan believes that the time for the force to leave is now. Following the referendum on the administrative status of Darfur that took place in April 2016, the government is asserting that not only is the situation on the ground secure, but that the peace process is completed.
However, these assertions do not reflect realities on the ground, nor the views of the people UNAMID are tasked with protecting. To date, the UNSC and the African Union Peace and Security Council (AU PSC) have indicated that any changes to the mandate should be tied to the original benchmarks laid out by the UN Secretary General in 2012, which revolve around four key areas: the peace process, security, rule of law, and humanitarian aid and support to recovery.1 However, as the mandate renewal approaches, these issues will doubtless be raised again, and positions are likely to shift. In this context, the following report seeks to insert a voice into the debate that is all too often absent, the voice of the civilians that UNAMID is mandated to protect.
This report, the second of a three-part study by the International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI), on peacekeeping across Africa, presents civilian perspectives on peacekeeping forces in Darfur. It does not claim to provide a comprehensive assessment of the mission, but rather an analysis of UNAMID as seen by some of the civilians they are mandated to protect. Interviews took place in April 2016 in North, Central, West and South Darfur. The team of researchers were unable to travel to East Darfur due to insecurity. A total of 57 interviews were conducted with a cross-section of gender, age category, and social position within each community, most of them displaced. The report also builds on IRRI’s experience since 2005 as secretariat of the Darfur Consortium, now named the Sudan Consortium, coordinating advocacy to push for international action on Darfur, including in the area of peacekeeping.
The research is intended to enable actors involved with peacekeeping – from international NGOs advocating for reform within the UN and UN policy makers in New York, to peacekeepers on the ground – to better understand how the peacekeeping operation might respond to the needs of the population, albeit recognising that the mission is operating under severe constraints as a result of resource restrictions and the political environment in which it is operating.
The findings make it clear that, despite the many shortcomings of UNAMID, this is not the time for the UNSC and the AU PSC to walk away from Darfur. The conflict continues – indeed, since 2014 it has re-escalated – and people continue to be displaced. In a context in which the government is seen by civilians as a key source of insecurity for millions, UNAMID remains, for many, their best hope for protection.
However, the findings also show that civilians hope for much more than the mission is currently delivering. While arguably a little protection might be better than no protection at all, UNAMID needs to do far more. It needs to be more effective in providing the protection that civilians so desperately need, and do more to create conditions identified in its own benchmarks. Of particular importance in achieving this, according to those interviewed, is a robust disarmament process. Ultimately, improved protection would allow people to return in safety and the mission to withdraw without leaving the population in a situation of extreme vulnerability