March 17, 2013 (KHARTOUM) - The United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has revamped its protection strategy for civilians due to an increase in the number and severity of incidents of violence in the strife-torn region in the past year.
- UNAMID airlifts wounded civilians from the El Sireaf locality to El Fasher for medical treatment, in this handout photograph taken by UNAMID on February 24, 2013
In an extensive interview published in UNAMID’s magazine, Voices of Darfur, the agency’s acting joint special representative and joint chief mediator, Aichatou Mindaoudou, outlines the new strategy, as well as discussing some of the pressing challenges the agency is facing under her watch.
The ramped up measures come as the conflict, which began in 2003 when mostly non-Arab fighters took up arms against the Sudanese government, enters its 10th year, with a recent surge in violence threatening previous gains.
The latest crisis unfolded in January when fighting erupted in North Darfur state’s Jebel Amir area between the rival Arab Abbala and Beni Hussein tribes over control of the region’s lucrative gold mines.
The tribal clashes resulted in the mass displacement of at least 70,000 people, sparking fears of a humanitarian catastrophe, with the number of displaced persons in the month immediately following the violent outbreak exceeding the total figures for 2012.
Mindaoudou says the new “multidimensional and community-based” strategy is aimed at providing a more efficient early-warning mechanism and rapid response to populations under threat, adding that the new measures had helped the agency respond to the North Darfur crisis “in a more coordinated, harmonised and comprehensive manner”.
The new measures include an increase in the number of daily patrols, the deployment of civilian staff to critical areas, closer cooperation with internally displaced people and their leaders, closer coordination at the grassroots level with state and federal government bodies, and the development of robust reporting mechanisms on sexual violence and children in armed conflicts.
“I am confident that our current efforts related to refining and tuning our protection strategies will go a long way toward more rapidly responding to reports of violence and displacement, and to more quickly facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance where it is needed most,” she said.
BRINGING PEACE TO DARFUR
UNAMID deployed in 2008 as the largest and most expensive peacekeeping operation in the world, employing more than 25,000 military, police and civilian staff.
The agency’s core mandate is to provide protection to Darfuri civilians and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
However, with no comprehensive or all-inclusive peace agreement in place, UNAMID also directs its support towards ongoing efforts to reach a political settlement to end the conflict.
In what was hailed as a significant breakthrough, the Sudanese government and the Mohamed Bashar-led faction of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), one of the major armed movements in Darfur, signed a ceasefire agreement on the 10 February in Doha.
Negotiations for the ceasefire began last month in the Qatari capital under the parameters stipulated in the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), which was signed in 2011 and forms the basis for a comprehensive peace agreement to end the fighting.
JEM is the second armed movement to commit to the DDPD after the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) signed it last year.
Mindaoudou praised the adoption of the DDPD, saying the agreement represents an important milestone in efforts to resolve the Darfur conflict, laying the groundwork for negotiations on other issues, such as power- and wealth-sharing and the return of internally displaced people and refugees.
UNAMID has come under fire in the past for being too close to the Sudanese government, with critics saying its mandate lacked clarity and the agency had not been aggressive enough in fulfilling its core mandate of protecting civilians.
While Mindaoudou acknowledged the agency faced significant challenges, particularly in the start-up phase, she defended the agency’s role, saying at a basic level the mission’s presence itself was a deterrent to violence and contributed to stability in the region.
In 2010, UNAMID implemented a new patrol strategy that increased the number of active patrols each day. The 24-hour patrol strategy also extends to patrols for civilians even in their day-to-day activities of collecting firewood, water and grass.
Mindaoudou said although hostilities continue in some areas of Darfur due to tribal clashes, criminal elements and confrontation between armed movements and the government, the numbers of people affected by violence had decreased each year between 2008 and 2011.
Access restrictions imposed on UNAMID by the Sudanese government and the complex nature of tribal conflicts in the region continued to pose operational limitations, making it difficult to independently verify reports of violence on the ground.
However, Mindaoudou was at pains to point out that UNAMID’s arrangement with the government over its movements in the region is one of coordination, rather than permission.
“According to the Status of Forces agreement, we don’t need clearance from the government of Sudan for our movements in Darfur; we notify Sudanese authorities of our planned movements,” she said. “But it is a misinterpretation when people say we need clearance from Sudanese authorities for our movements”.
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
She said UNAMID continued to work directly with communities in trying to address the root causes of the conflict and develop locally sustainable peace initiatives.
“We have conducted workshops, held meetings and facilitated events across Darfur to promote a culture of peace at the community level”, she said. “I can point to many examples now where local reconciliation initiatives are being spearheaded, once again, by community leaders and groups themselves. This is a positive sign and signals hope for the future”, she added.
In the interview, Mindaoudou also discusses several key objectives the mission has been working to achieve, notably the voluntary return of displaced people and refugees to their homes of origin or to new areas, which she says remains a top priority.
She said while UNAMID remained committed to the peace process, it was also up to the Sudanese government and the international community to support recovery and development in Darfur and ensure access to security, basic services, education and vocational opportunities.
Despite the recent outbreak of violence and the many challenges still remaining, Mindaoudou said she was encouraged by the signing of the Doha document and still had optimism about the future of the restive region.
“Much has happened to devastate the communities here, but I have hope for the future of Darfur’s people, and I am confident that peace will prevail in the end”.