Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 22 April 2008

Darfur: Why Insecurity by Proxy has to Stop

By Anne Bartlett

April 21, 2008 — Little over two weeks ago, a teacher was killed in Al-Fasher town. Janjawiid militias, able to roam around with impunity entered the market and shot this person, killing them sniper style. The person concerned was a teacher; an innocent; someone’s family member. Once murdered in this way, the militia went on a rampage looting and terrifying the center of the town. On the face of things, this news may not seem all that remarkable in a place where violence is an everyday occurrence. Yet what makes this news so disturbing is the fact that Al-Fasher is a UNAMID operations center. What hope for the rest of Darfur, if it isn’t even possible to maintain security in the very center from which security is supposedly being organized?

Today, we are told that provisional agreement has been reached to bring all parties to the table in Darfur to talk about the cessation of hostilities. Talking about a potential ceasefire, Eliasson has argued for a three stage process to include a security roadmap, methods of cooperation between the Sudanese Government, UNAMID and rebel movements and talks on the cessation of opportunistic banditry. Superficially at least this is good news. Yet the six million dollar question is not whether such security can be talked about, but how such security will be implemented and maintained.

Since the outset of the conflict in Darfur, the Sudanese Government has repeatedly given assurances that they will cease hostilities. Yet it is easy to utter such promises when there are a variety of other proxy agents that can act in their place. It is even easier when the GoS can disguise themselves as the very UN operations they are supposed to be working with, using those disguised planes and trucks for the purposes of bringing in arms and bombing people.

If Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim want to secure peace in Darfur then they need to recognize that the Sudanese government is not just about what is happening at the negotiations table. Negotiating with the Sudanese Government is only a fraction of what needs to happen if the policy of intimidation and violence is to stop. The central plank of the intimidation policy is carried out through proxies: proxies that the government claims it has no control over yet have been at the heart of its strategy of Aktul al-abid, bil’ abid (kill the slave by the slave) for years. Talking about a roadmap to the cessation of hostilities simply will not work unless such groups are reigned in. These groups are not casual or opportunistic criminals: they are in the pay and under the direct orders of Khartoum.

Security in Darfur is a shambles. It is a shambles for a lot of reasons including the behavior of the Sudanese government and its proxies, ready availability of arms, splintered rebel groups with inadequate command and control structures, vastness of the terrain and the incomplete mandate that the AU operated with for so many years. But since resolution 1769, the major reason for inadequate security lies squarely with the government of Sudan and the shenanigans that have gone on around the entry of UNAMID troops. Despite a mandate to intervene, the Sudanese government has been permitted to act as if they are selecting a jury: they have been allowed to refuse any countries that they don’t like the look of and include those with whom they have a “live and let live” relationship. Small wonder then that the result is an under-resourced, ineffective UNAMID force, impotent to stop crimes — even those that are happening on its own doorstep.

At this point, it is difficult to adequately describe the sheer level of misery and abuse that the people of Darfur have been subjected to. What they have suffered is almost beyond words. The cloak of protection that they received from the international community in the wake of the initial violence should have shielded them from the depravity of their own government. It should at least have provided minimal security. Yet this cloak is full of holes. It is full of holes because the Government of Sudan and its proxies have worked out how to get around the international community and find their way in.

If the situation is to improve then attrition by proxy has to stop. Mr. Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim must recognize that if these proxies are not reigned in, then any agreement will simply not work. Producing security is ultimately not about who is at the table, so much as who is not. The Government of Sudan is at the heart of the organization of insecurity in Darfur and without attention to this fact, security, like every thing else Khartoum has agreed to, will not be worth the paper it is written on.

Anne Bartlett is a Director of the Darfur Centre for Human Rights and Development based in London. She is also Asst Professor of Sociology at the University of San Francisco. She can be reached at dcfhr@dcfhr.org or albartlett@usfca.edu