Pushing Crimes under the Rug: UN in Sudan

UNAMID Acting Joint Special Representative Abiodun Bashua. Photo: UNAMID/Hamid Abdulsalam

The United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has proved more controversial than most…UNAMID was imposed on a reluctant Sudanese government in 2007, after the worst of the fighting between Darfuri rebels and government forces was over. The conflict has claimed some 300,000 lives and led to charges of genocide against Sudan’s president.  Matters have come to a head over reports of an attack by Sudanese soldiers in the village of Tabit on October 31st and November 1st. The troops are reported to have gone on a rampage, apparently in revenge for the disappearance of one of their own. They allegedly raped some 200 women. UNAMID eventually negotiated permission from the Sudanese authorities to investigate Tabit on November 9th. Thereafter it declared that it found no evidence of such crimes and that villagers “coexist peacefully” with the army.

This sunny conclusion was greeted with astonishment by many Darfuris, for social media were by now carrying eyewitness accounts of the violence. It also prompted a leak of UNAMID’s internal report, which is gravely at odds with the official statement. This report explained how uniformed and plain-clothes Sudanese military officials had infested Tabit while the UN team was there, ensuring that “an environment of fear and silence prevailed”. People were warned not to talk.

UNAMID’s apparent doublespeak over Tabit will have come as no surprise to the mission’s former spokeswoman, Aicha Elbasri. She resigned last year in protest against UNAMID’s ignoble history of such discrepancies, which, in her view, amounts to an organised “cover-up” of the violence in Darfur. The UN’s conduct over Tabit, she says, has been entirely consistent with her own experience of the “huge gap between the reports that we got from the field and the reports that go to the public.”

The cause of such a cover-up, argues the Moroccan-born Ms Elbasri, is the hybrid nature of the mission. The African element of UNAMID, controlled by the African Union (AU), “is completely against justice” for ordinary people and is mainly concerned with defending one of its own, President Omar al-Bashir. For the same reason the AU has been a fierce critic of the International Criminal Court, which has indicted Mr al-Bashir for war crimes.

As if to confirm Ms Elbasri’s conspiracy, Mr Bashir is redoubling his efforts to get rid of the mission now that UNAMID’s tendency to self-censorship has been sabotaged. A supine UNAMID was one thing, it seems; a mission containing a few people who might do their jobs properly quite another. He has already closed the mission’s human rights office.

The UN will have to decide whether to infuriate Mr al-Bashir further by renewing the mission’s mandate beyond next June. It is still dealing with claims of a cover-up, which the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, has called “very troubling”. That might be an apt description of UNAMID’s entire, sorry history.

Sudan and the UN: Mission in trouble, Economist, Dec. 6, 2014, at 62

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