Briefing on Situation in Darfur and Mission Strategic Review
Tomorrow (17 March) the Council will have a briefing, followed by consultations, on the AU/UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and the situation in Darfur. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous is expected to brief. During the meeting, the Council will likely consider two reports: the regular Secretary-General’s quarterly report on UNAMID (S/2015/141) and a special report (S/2015/163) that analyses the implementation of a strategic review of the mission and includes “recommendations for the future mandate, composition, configuration and exit strategy of UNAMID” as requested by resolution 2173 adopted on 27 August 2014.
A number of key issues will likely be raised in tomorrow’s briefing and consultations. One that is expected to figure prominently and may be a contentious topic is the prospective exit strategy for UNAMID. Some members have been highly critical of Sudan, particularly in relation to the plight of civilians in Darfur and appear to be wary of the exit strategy, given the difficult security environment on the ground. However, others are more sympathetic to Sudan’s calls for the mission to develop an exit strategy. (In November 2014, Sudan transmitted a note verbale to UNAMID indicating that the mission needed “an exit strategy” and in a 16 December letter to the Secretary-General Sudanese foreign minister, Ali Karti, stated that there is “an urgent need for UNAMID to prepare, in cooperation with the Government of Sudan, an exit strategy…” [S/2014/910].)
A joint AU-UN assessment team traveled to Darfur late last year to engage with Sudanese authorities on the potential exit strategy. According to the Secretary-General’s special report, the assessment team discussed with their Sudanese counterparts the possibility of downsizing the mission’s “military and other capacities in relatively safe and stable parts of Darfur” while downsizing in other parts of Darfur would be contingent on the government’s “capacity to protect civilians, commence recovery for war-affected communities and facilitate the return of IDPs.” Some Council members may raise questions about both the Sudanese government’s capacity as well as its will to protect civilians, given continuing evidence that government forces are attacking civilians. A more in-depth discussion of the potential challenges of further downsizing the mission is likely to be raised during the consultations.
Another issue that may be raised tomorrow is the dire humanitarian situation in Darfur. In 2014, over 450,000 people were displaced by the conflict in Darfur, the highest annual number since 2004. Overall the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that the conflict has displaced a total of over 2.5 million people, 1.5 million of whom are children. Food insecurity, especially in North Darfur, remains a significant challenge.
In addition to expressing concern about the humanitarian situation, some Council members may criticise the restrictions on access that the government continues to impose on UNAMID and humanitarian actors. While access is a widespread challenge, the continued unwillingness of the government to allow UNAMID reentry into the North Darfur village of Tabit, where more than 200 women and girls were allegedly raped by government security forces in late October 2014, has been particularly disturbing to several Council members. A number of Council members have publicly called for UNAMID to be provided unfettered access to the town for further investigations. Russia, on the other hand, has disputed the claim that a mass rape occurred and stated that UNAMID’s visit to the town following the rape allegations and Sudan’s own investigation failed to yield evidence that the rapes occurred. (While a UNAMID verification team was permitted to enter Tabit on 9 November 2014, it appears that the presence of Sudanese security forces in the village at the time of the visit inhibited the population from engaging frankly with UNAMID personnel. UNAMID has not been permitted to return to the village since.)
Given the deteriorating security situation in Darfur and the fact that protection of civilians is one of UNAMID’s priorities, Council members are likely to be keen to receive any additional information Ladsous may be able to offer on the revisions to UNAMID’s protection of civilians’ strategy. According to the special report, the strategy is still being finalised. However, there may be interest in any preliminary findings, and how this strategy could be expected to enhance the protection capacities of the UN system in Darfur.
Another topic of discussion tomorrow could be UNAMID’s reporting. Amidst allegations last year that UNAMID’s reporting had been distorted to cover up crimes against civilians and peacekeepers, the Secretariat conducted its own investigation. It found that the mission had not fully disclosed relevant information in five of 16 incidents investigated and that government or pro-government forces were guilty of crimes in these five incidents. In light of these findings, Council members may be interested in progress that has been made in strengthening the accuracy and quality of the information publicly provided by the mission.
Finally, given the stepped-up fighting in recent months between government forces and rebels, Council members may want to hear any information Ladsous may have on the possibility that the parties might reengage in negotiations in the near future. The last round of negotiations ended without progress in late November 2014.