Briefing and Consultations on Darfur Mission Report
Tomorrow afternoon (10 June), there will be a briefing and consultations on the AU/UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID). Assistant-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet is expected to brief the Council on the Secretary-General’s most recent UNAMID report (S/2015/378). The Acting Joint Special Representative and Joint Chief Mediator Abiodun Oluremi Bashua will be present, and available to answer questions in the consultations.
The Council’s discussion on Darfur tomorrow takes place in the context of a further deterioration of the security and humanitarian situation, and no progress on the political front. From late February (when the Secretary-General’s previous report on Darfur was submitted to the Council) to mid-May, fighting intensified between government forces and rebel groups in Darfur, intercommunal clashes worsened, and peace talks between the government and rebel groups were not reconvened.
Some members are likely to express concern about the civilian casualties and displacement caused by the recent fighting, with over 150,000 displaced in Darfur this year. There may be interest in learning more about patrolling, mine clearance, human rights reporting and other activities conducted by the mission in recent months to protect civilians. Civilian casualties caused by aerial bombardments have been a long-standing concern for most members of the Council.; this issue may be raised in the meeting, given reports of civilian casualties from aerial bombardments in April in Rowata, Central Darfur, and El Tomat, Southern Darfur.
The challenging operating environment is likely to be a topic of discussion. UNAMID continues to be subjected to car-jackings, armed attacks, and burglaries. Access and movement restrictions continue to curtail the effectiveness of the mission and its humanitarian partners. Some members may want more information about the 26 April refusal by Sudan to allow an injured peacekeeper, who later died of his wounds, to be airlifted to Nyala for medical treatment, including the rationale for the denial of flight permission by Sudan, which cited “security concerns” according to the Secretary-General’s report.
There are sharp divisions in the Council regarding Darfur. While several members have a pessimistic view of the situation in Darfur and tend to be highly critical of Sudan, China and Russia tend to be more sympathetic to the government. They have argued that some stability has been achieved in the region and that bilateral debt relief would help Sudan to address underdevelopment in Darfur, which they believe is fueling the conflict. Chad, which shares a border with Darfur, has shown particular concern over the security situation.
The presence of Acting Joint Chief Mediator Bashua will give members an opportunity to inquire during the consultations about next steps in the mediation process between the government and the Darfur rebel groups. The government and the rebel groups that have not signed the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur have not met since late November 2014. Furthermore, the “national dialogue” process in Sudan—consisting of the government, the political opposition, rebel groups and civil society—has achieved no progress in recent months.
Members are expected to discuss UNAMID’s exit strategy during the meeting. A tripartite working group, consisting of the AU, the UN and the government of Sudan, was formed earlier this year to develop an exit strategy for UNAMID. According to the Secretary-General’s recent report, the AU/UN team proposed a phased and gradual withdrawal of UNAMID forces from Western Darfur, given the absence of major fighting in this area, as well as the closure of three team sites in Northern and Southern Darfur. The report notes that withdrawal from other areas will be linked to progress by UNAMID in achieving its benchmarks, with the Secretary-General writing that as part of this exit strategy “a political solution to the conflict must be found and direct talks between the parties initiated, starting with a cessation of hostilities”. The implications of a possible drawdown of UNAMID in Western Darfur, and from the three team sites in Northern and Southern Darfur, may be addressed during the meeting tomorrow.
Council members will be interested in the next steps in the tripartite process. Meetings with Sudan on the exit strategy have been suspended, possibly to allow the government to consider the AU/UN proposals. In his recent report, the Secretary-General called on the UN Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council to “provide clear direction on this issue in order to allow a swift conclusion of this process.” With UNAMID’s renewal scheduled for later this month, members may want to discuss possible direction the Council could provide.
The adoption of a resolution renewing UNAMID’s mandate is currently scheduled for 24 June. The Secretary-General has recommended that the mandate remain the same and be extended for an additional 12 months. How the Council chooses to address the exit strategy is likely to be a contentious matter. In recent months, some members have emphasised that conditions on the ground must improve before considering the mission’s departure, while others have appeared less keen to attach caveats to the withdrawal. Based on an informal meeting that Council members held on UNAMID with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations on 5 June, it seems that some members already have concerns about the possible withdrawal of UNAMID forces from Western Darfur, believing that this might create a security vacuum that could leave civilians vulnerable to renewed violence.