UNAMID Draws Down in Darfur
The United Nations will be reducing the presence of peacekeepers in the Darfur region of Sudan, a move which threatens to intensify violence in the region and destroy a fragile peace between the government and opposition groups.
On June 29, 2017, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2363 for the gradual drawdown of the United Nations–African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). The resolution, drafted by the United Kingdom, calls for the number of troops and police serving in UNAMID to be cut by at least 30 percent. The drawdown will be gradually carried out in two separate six-month phases. The first drawdown will reduce the number of UNAMID troops from 13,000 to about 11,400 by January 2018, and the second drawdown will reduce troops to 8,735 by the end of June 2018. The number of police will be reduced from 3,150 to 2,888 by January and to 2,500 by June.
UNAMID was established by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1769 in July 2007 as a response to the armed conflict in Darfur between rebel groups and government forces. As many as 300,000 were killed in the conflict while another 2.3 million were forced to flee their homes and were displaced. The U.N. Security Council authorized UNAMID to take all necessary actions to protect civilians and humanitarian operations, prevent armed attacks, and ensure the effective implementation of a peace agreement between the government and rebels. UNAMID’s mandate authorized a force of up to 19,555 military personnel and 3,772 police, with a budget of more than $1 billion. UNAMID is the first joint mission between the African Union and United Nations and it is one of the costliest and largest peacekeeping missions. Since its establishment, UNAMID’s military and police personnel have been instrumental in providing physical protection and facilitating access to humanitarian aid for vulnerable civilian populations in conflict-torn areas.
The recent adoption of Resolution 2363, calling for the drawdown of peacekeeping forces, follows a report submitted by U.N. Secretary General António Guterres to the U.N. Security Council on the conflict in Darfur, indicating that there has been a marked decrease in violence due to the Sudanese government’s recent success in suppressing armed movements and curbing intercommunal violence. The drawdown is also part of a U.S. effort to reduce the United Nations’ peacekeeping budget and review peacekeeping missions as their mandates come up for renewal. The United States, which contributes about 28.5 percent of the peacekeeping operations budget, pushed to cut $1 billion from the United Nations’ nearly $8 billion budget for peacekeeping operations. A recent compromise was struck based on a European Union proposal for a $7.3 billion annual peacekeeping budget, which reflects a $600 million cut. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley welcomed the budget cut and stated that they were “only getting started.”
The drawdown of peacekeeping troops and the promise of further budget cuts is worrisome, as they threaten to leave civilian populations in Darfur vulnerable and unprotected. While the conflict in Darfur has largely subsided, there are still reports of fighting between government forces and rebel groups, along with reports of attacks against internally displaced persons. Human Rights Watch’s Senior Director for Africa Advocacy Daniel Bekele said the planned cuts “reflect a false narrative about Darfur’s war ending” and that there was “no reason to believe that government attacks on civilians and other abuses have ended since the same security forces remain in place.” Indeed, in May and June of this year there were reports that government forces had clashed with rebel groups in northern and eastern Darfur and displaced thousands of people. Additionally, a March 2017 report by Secretary General Guterres documented more instances of human rights violations in the first quarter of 2017 compared with the same period in 2016.
Given the fragile security situation in Darfur, the drawdown of peacekeeping forces can and should be reassessed if the Sudanese government fails to protect civilians and humanitarian aid workers in areas where peacekeepers will be withdrawn. Resolution 2363 requests that the U.N. Secretary General and the Chairperson of the African Commission, in consultation with UNAMID, provide a report in January 2018, which reviews implementation of the drawdown, impact on the protection of civilians, impact on the ability of civilians to access humanitarian assistance, cooperation of the Sudanese government with the mission, and “whether conditions on the ground remain conducive to further reductions.” The drawdown should be halted if the report in January reveals that withdrawing peacekeeping troops from insecure areas has exacerbated human rights abuses against civilians in Darfur.
The United Nations has previously drawn down peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Liberia. In the Central African Republic, for example, commentators similarly argued that withdrawing peacekeepers from the country was premature and counterproductive. Since the withdrawal, the security situation in the Central African Republic has been rapidly declining. Hopefully, the same doesn’t occur as a result of the withdrawal of peacekeepers in Darfur.