Panafrican News Agency

UN’s planned cuts to Darfur Mission risk rights protection - Human Rights Watch

New York, US (PANA) – A human rights group has urged the United Nations Security Council to ensure that its peacekeeping mission in Sudan’s Darfur region continues to conduct human rights monitoring and public reporting in all of Darfur.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Monday that the mandate of the joint African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is due for renewal by the end of June 2018.

It said the Security Council is expected to approve drastic cuts in the mission, including closing 14 UNAMID team sites and a plan for withdrawal in two years. The African Union Peace and Security Council has already approved the plan. The plan under discussion would limit the mission’s area of operation to 13 sites around Jebel Marra, the mountainous area where government forces have repeatedly attacked civilians while engaging in operations against rebel groups.

“The UN’s proposed cuts would effectively end the peacekeeping mission’s core human rights and protection role in most of Darfur, which would be a mistake” said Mausi Segun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Security Council needs to ensure that UNAMID will continue monitoring and reporting publicly on abuses throughout Darfur or it will share responsibility for pushing Darfur off the world’s agenda.”

A special report on 1 June by the chairperson of the African Union Commission and the UN secretary-general outlines the plan to downsize the peacekeeping mission. Outside the new operational area, the mission would primarily support other UN agencies in development and humanitarian activities. The UNAMID peacekeepers would no longer carry out regular patrols across the region, which humanitarian agencies have often relied on for security.

Human Rights Watch said the report acknowledges the reconfiguration “would no longer allow UNAMID to continue the monitoring, verification and reporting of protection of civilians’ issues outside the greater Jebel Marra area”, and that the other UN agencies have “limited scope to monitor, raise, and address protection concerns”.

It said on 12 June, the African Union Peace and Security Council expressed concerns about the proposed reduction in the mission’s area of operation. It said that the drawdown should be guided by the situation on the ground so as not to “create a security vacuum and expose civilian populations”. It also said that the mission should continue to cover “the whole geographic Darfur,” since it is mandated to protect civilians from imminent threat across the region.

The review process, which began in 2014 amid Sudan’s insistence that the UN needed an exit plan, led to significant cuts to the mission in 2017, with the closure of 11 team sites and the addition of a presence in Golo in Jebel Marra.

Human Rights Watch said it warned at the time that the downsizing reflected a “false narrative about Darfur’s war ending” and that any reductions should leave flexibility for the mission to respond to evolving threats and to strengthen the mission’s human rights monitoring and reporting capacities.

It said Sudan has obstructed the work of the UNAMID human rights staff by delaying visas, denying access and preventing staff recruitment.

Human Rights Watch said instead of accepting these limits, the Security Council should bolster the section’s work and make its responsibility to report on violations across the region more explicit. Even if their physical access is limited by the drawdown, UNAMID human rights officers could still do remote research, which the mission could report publicly, Human Rights Watch said.

The statement said while the African Union Commission’s special report recommends that the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should open an office in Sudan, the office has had little success in negotiating permission to work in the country. It added that "the Sudanese government’s long practice of intransigence and obstruction leaves little hope that the office would be able to fill the vacuum left by UNAMID".

The Darfur conflict, which began in 2003, has been marked by large-scale government air and ground attacks on civilians, destruction and burning of civilian property, and mass displacement. More than 2.7 million Darfuris remain displaced, with 1.6 million living in over 60 camps, and hundreds of thousands in refugee camps in Chad.
-0- PANA MA 19June2018