Tag Archives: African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur

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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UN as a Lost Cause in Darfur

unamid

[V]illagers in Darfur say their lives can scarcely get any worse if Sudan insists on international peacekeepers leaving their region.  UNAMID, the joint United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur, was deployed seven years ago to stem violence against civilians during a civil war in which the Sudanese government was accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.  With fighting still dragging on, UNAMID’s shortcomings have drawn criticism from the very people it was deployed to protect and Sudan has told it to devise an exit strategy.

Khartoum’s move elicited indifference rather than opposition in northern Darfur, where much of the violence now rages.  “We won’t be affected if UNAMID leaves because it doesn’t play a significant role in protecting civilians,” said Mohamed Abdullah, a local civilian. “We only hear about UNAMID submitting reports. We don’t know what they do for us….

“Our lives are very difficult since the war began. We cannot grow crops except in a very small area because rebels and gangs come and loot our fields,” said Mohamed Ismail, a resident.Pointing to nearby mountains, Ismail added: “Just six kilometres from here, rebels and bandits dominate the region.”

The Darfur conflict, which erupted in 2003 when mainly African tribes took up arms against the Arab-led government in Khartoum, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced over two million, according to the United Nations.

Tabit was under rebel control for eight years of the war, with the government reasserting its authority in 2010.  But much of that authority is nominal, with gunmen stalking dirt roads to attack military and civilian vehicles alike, preventing villagers from travelling even for healthcare….  With officials standing by during the government-organised press trip, it was difficult to speak freely about the alleged rape of 200 women and girls by Sudan’s forces in Tabit, highlighting the hurdles faced by UNAMID investigators.  UNAMID’s conclusion that there was “no evidence” of the rapes triggered an outcry from rights activists. Khartoum had delayed UNAMID’s first visit to the area in early November and denied it permission to visit a second time…

Last month, an internal U.N. review said UNAMID had failed to provide U.N. headquarters with full reports on attacks against civilians and peacekeepers.The review was ordered after media reports alleged that UNAMID had covered up details of deadly attacks to avoid provoking the government.  “UNAMID is something of a lost cause,” said a Sudan analyst with a conflict-monitoring organisation, asking not to be named.

Excerpts, War-weary Darfuris see grim future with or without UN peacekeepers, Reuters, Nov.25. 2014

The Mass Rapes in Darfur

sudan

As it continues its investigations into the mass rape of 200 women and girls in North Darfur, the United Nations-African Union hybrid mission in Darfur this week organized a forum focusing on the importance of integrated gender perspectives and women leaders in all peace processes…

The Global Open Day forum comes amid allegations of a mass rape in Tabit, which is located 45 kilometres south-west of El Fasher. Last week, UNAMID declared it had initiated an investigation in the area but said that its team had found no evidence confirming the claims and received no information regarding the purported acts. Village community leaders reiterated to UNAMID that they “coexist peacefully” with local military authorities in the area.

Tensions have been simmering across Darfur over the past few months. In October, an attack on UNAMID peacekeepers by armed militants claimed the lives of three peacekeepers.  The UN estimates that some 385,000 people have been displaced by the conflict between the Government of Sudan and armed movements in Darfur since the start of 2014. The world body has repeatedly called on all sides to join negotiations aimed at achieving a permanent ceasefire and comprehensive peace for the people of Darfur, which has witnessed fighting since 2003.

Darfur: amid mass rape allegations, UN-backed event promotes role of women in peace processes, UN News Center, Nov. 22, 2014

See also Darfur: All the Girls are Raped Here

The Fight for Gold: central bank of Sudan against the Militias

central bank of sudan

Jebel Amer, Darfur, Sudan:  Fighting between rival tribes over the Jebel Amer gold mine that stretches for some 10 km (six miles) beneath the sandy hills of North Darfur has killed more than 800 people and displaced some 150,000 others since January 2013. Arab tribes, once heavily armed by the government to suppress insurgents, have turned their guns on each other to get their hands on the mines. Rebel groups that oppose the government also want the metal.

The gold mine death toll is more than double the number of all people killed by fighting between the army, rebels and rival tribes in Darfur in 2012, according to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s quarterly reports to the Security Council.  U.N. officials and diplomats told Reuters the government has been complicit in the violence by encouraging at least one militia group to seize control of mines, a charge the government denies.  Until last year the Darfur conflict pitted the government and its Arab militias against three large rebel groups. The Jebel Amer attack changed that, dividing Arab tribes against each other.  But international peace efforts are still focused on bringing the main rebel groups into a Qatar-sponsored deal Khartoum signed with two splinter groups in 2011.

At the last meeting to discuss the Qatar deal in September, Qatar’s deputy prime minister, Ahmed bin Abdullah al-Mahmoud, expressed concern about the recent tribal violence, but stressed a key factor in bringing peace to Darfur would be to get the rebels to the negotiating table, according to Qatari state media….

The recent resurgence in violence is rooted in Sudan’s loss of a huge chunk of its territory in the south two years ago. When South Sudan seceded in 2011, the rump state of Sudan lost most of its oil production – worth some $7 billion in 2010 – sending the economy into a spin. Sudan’s GDP contracted by 10 percent last year, according to the World Bank.

To replace the oil the government in Khartoum has encouraged people to dig for gold. Now half a million diggers roam Darfur and the north of the country with mine detectors and sledgehammers, according to the mining ministry. The gold rush helped boost output by 50 percent last year to around 50 tons, making Sudan Africa’s third-largest producer, equal with Mali after South Africa and Ghana, according to official data and expert estimates. Gold exports have become Sudan’s lifeline, providing the government with $2.2 billion (net) last year and making up more than 60 percent of all exports.

Sudan’s central bank, desperate for anything to secure foreign currency, pays artisanal miners up to 20 percent more than the global market price, several gold trading sources told Reuters. The central bank denies this.

At the same time, around a quarter of Sudan’s annual gold output is smuggled abroad, industry sources inside and outside Sudan said. If that figure is right, the government lost up to $700 million last year – money it badly needs.  “The government is so desperate for the gold that they are willing to stoke conflict to get artisanal mines under its control,” said Magdi El Gizouli, a fellow at the Rift Valley Institute, a think tank based in London and Nairobi.

On a sunny morning in early January 2013, dozens of Land Cruisers surrounded the town of El Sireaf near the Jebel Amer gold mine. Men readied themselves behind mounted machine guns and mortars and started firing.  “I saw 30 cars. They came from all sides and fired randomly into houses,” said Fateh, a worker who hid in his house as the attack began. “They shot women, children, even cattle, anything they spotted,” he said, asking for his full name to be withheld as he fears the gunmen might come back.  The attackers, members of the Arab Rizeigat tribe appeared to locals to have one goal: to seize control of the mines from the Bani Hussein, a rival Arab tribe…

Until the fighting began, the area was dominated by small artisanal miners. Over the past couple of years, gold diggers arrived from neighboring Chad, the Central African Republic and even far-flung West African countries such as Nigeria and Niger, Darfur residents said.”There were even some Libyans, Syrians and Jordanians,” said Suleiman Dubaid, a Bani Hussein leader who said seven members of his family were killed during the fighting. “Some people made 6,000 (Sudanese) pounds ($800) a day.”

The gold is smuggled out in bags or underwear, to middlemen on the other side of the Chad border. From there it goes to the capital N’Djamena where it is loaded onto commercial flights or stashed in the baggage of courier firms, Sudanese gold sources and Darfur residents say. The final destination is often Dubai, the Middle East’s main gold market.Some gold is also smuggled to Cameroon, where it is exported and shipped to gold markets in India and China, a Sudanese gold source said.

Nonetheless, gold revenues are expected to fall as low as $1.5 billion this year due to declining global prices… That may be one reason, say Western diplomats, tribal leaders and international peacekeepers working in Darfur, why government officials encouraged the Rizeigat tribe to break the Bani Hussein’s control of the Jebel Amer mine. “They wanted the Rizeigat to shake up things a bit so that at least some of the gold goes to the central bank,” said a Western diplomat.

Khartoum has used the Rizeigat before: The tribe provided the core of the feared “Janjaweed” militias, armed and unleashed by the government in 2003 to put down the rebel insurgency, according to rights groups such as Human Rights Watch.The Rizeigat were also Khartoum’s allies during the 1983-2005 civil war with the south, sending fighters armed by the government.

The Rizeigat had their own reasons to seize the mine, according to Western diplomats and tribal leaders. Many of them had been integrated into state forces such as the border guards or central reserve police, but Khartoum has slashed funding to those forces.  Since the January attack, Rizeigat tribesmen have mined Jebel Amer on their own, residents said. Guards have sealed off roads and banned anyone from the Bani Hussein or even some government forces from approaching the site. They attacked a nearby army base in June, according to an internal report from the UNAMID peacekeepers seen by Reuters.

Darfuri rebels want gold, too. Tribesmen from the Zaghawa, the backbone of the rebel Sudan Liberation army (SLA), until recently operated its own mine in Hashaba to the east of Jebel Amer. There is no data on how much rebels make from gold sales but locals and UNAMID staff say Hashaba’s output was much smaller than Jebel Amer.  The potential spoils are huge. To the south of Jebel Amer, for instance, there is an area called “Shangil Tobaya”, which is Sudanese Arabic for “turn a brick and you find gold.” Rebels and Arab militias are vying for control for a strip of low-rise mountains. “People say there is gold up there but we cannot check it because the armed militias are there,” said Adam Saleh, a local farmer.

Excerpts, Special Report: The Darfur conflict’s deadly gold rush, Reuters, Thursday, Oct. 10,  2013

Darfur: All the Girls Get Raped Here

Darfur_IDPs_1_camp. image from wikipedia

Asha Ibrahim was searching for firewood when the attackers struck. She had set off with three other women from the makeshift camp where she has lived since conflict broke out in Sudan’s Darfur region a decade ago.”Several men grabbed and raped us,” the mother of four said, standing on the dusty square of the Shangil Tobaya camp for displaced people in the north of a region the size of Spain. “All the girls get raped here.”

The camp is only a few km from a large base of UNAMID, a joint mission between the African Union and the United Nations and the world’s second largest international peacekeeping force. UNAMID has an annual budget of $1.35 billion and almost 20,000 troops mainly from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. But it has struggled to protect civilians since it set out in 2008. Attacks, often by Arab “Janjaweed” militiamen, continue according to UNAMID and aid groups. The conflict, which started as a row between African pastoralists and Arab nomads over land, has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced two million.  Amsallam Adam, another woman who lives in the camp, said life beyond the perimeter was dangerous. “Even our men don’t dare leave.”

UNAMID has a mandate to use force to “protect its personnel, facilities, installations and equipment, and to ensure the security and freedom of movement of its own personnel and humanitarian workers.” But it is penned in by both rebel fighters and the government, which has armed Arab militias, according to the U.N. resolutions setting out UNAMID’s mission. Around 50 UNAMID peacekeepers have been killed.  “It’s kind of open season on UNAMID,” said Dane Smith, former U.S. special adviser for Darfur. Sudanese authorities make no effort to arrest culprits, he said. Khartoum denies this.  Critics say UNAMID should be more aggressive. UNAMID officials respond that they need to work with the government or risk getting kicked out.  Even if it wanted to be more aggressive, the force lacks transport, equipment and experienced soldiers. Sudan has rejected the deployment of more robust troops from NATO.

UNAMID has a unified command but in practice all troops report to their individual governments. This makes it a nightmare to respond to emergencies.  When diplomats ask UNAMID commanders why its patrols can’t better protect women, they are told that the mission’s shift system does not fit in with that of the women searching for wood. One patrol goes in the afternoon, a rather unproductive time, soldiers say, because people stay indoors to escape the heat. The women like looking for wood late at night when it’s cooler. But the patrols don’t venture too far at night for security reasons.

UNAMID head Mohamed Ibn Chambas said his forces have limited resources. UNAMID stresses that it makes the camps safer and provides basic services such as clean water and hospitals. But women like Ibrahim have given up hope a long time ago. “We have no security, food rations are not enough and no hospitals,” she said. “Life is very bad here.”

In Darfur, the limits of peacekeeping, Reuters, Oct. 10, 2013