A focus on Darfur

I have been reluctant to contribute to this conversation because I have so little background in the broader issues. I have for the past nine years worked exclusively in attempting to secure a just peace for Sudan and in improving humanitarian access to Sudan’s immensely distressed populations. My efforts have nonetheless touched on issues that are obviously central to this broader discussion of peacekeeping, so I offer this very modest contribution, focusing exclusively on Darfur (the UN Mission in Sudan [UNMIS] peace support operation in southern Sudan, deployed following the January 2005 “Comprehensive Peace Agreement,” is a complex topic in itself, and cannot be easily or unambiguously assessed; it is certainly not readily folded into the issues I see before us in Darfur).

Currently there are, according to the UN, more than 4.3 million conflict-affected civilians in Darfur, and perhaps another 1 million in eastern Chad, including not only 260,000 Darfuri refugees, but almost 200,000 Chadian Internally Displaced Persons, and hundreds of thousands of Chadian host families that have been severely affected by the spill-over from Darfur and Chad’s many indigenous political, economic, and military problems.There is no peace to keep in Darfur; and in eastern Chad the success of the European Union force (EUFOR) is far from clear, though it seems likely to provide significant security if the force is able to maintain its independence from longstanding French military presence, which has in the past supported the cruel regime of Idriss Déby. Even so, eastern Chad hardly has a peace to keep and in too many ways resembles Darfur. UN DPKO recommended strongly that EUFOR be four times the deployment goal of approximately 4,000 personnel.

The question I see before us in thinking about the UN/African “Hybrid” Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), with the Chapter 7 authority of Resolution 1769 (July 2007), is not whether peace can be “kept” or “enforced,” but whether more than 4 million highly distressed civilians will face the coming rainy season/hunger gap without humanitarian assistance. For make no mistake about it: humanitarian organizations, with whom I speak regularly, including those of the UN, are all at the breaking point.

They operate in security conditions that would preclude the entry of humanitarian organizations in any other circumstances. Organizations and workers stay because they know the cataclysmically destructive consequences of their withdrawal at this point—and what would happen to civilian security if there were no international witnesses. But they all have their breaking point, and far too many are simply one violent incident away from leaving altogether or hunkering down in the el-Fasher and Nyala (el-Geneina, capital of West Darfur, would be too dangerous were security to deteriorate any further).

Some measure of civilian security, and security for critically necessary humanitarian operations, is all that UNAMID will be able to provide for the foreseeable future. The securing of road corridors for UN World Food Program convoys is the most desperately urgent task, along with the introduction of Formed Police Units in the most unstable IDP camps, now housing more than 2.5 million civilians (many of these camps are tinder-boxes poised to explode, with uncontrollable consequences). We might debate about what prevents UNAMID from becoming more effective, or whether it would be adequate to keep any peace that might be negotiated in the future; I would be dismayed if we could not agree that the international community must provide as much security as possible—even in the face of variable and very considerable risks. This may not be peacekeeping in any historically recognizable form, but with so many lives at risk, I believe we need to broaden the discussion of how the military resources of the international community are used.

If UNAMID were to become actively targeted on a continuing and significant basis, indiviSenegal has in the past been quite explicit on this point, and their troops are some of the most important on the ground. There are certainly ways in which even incremental improvements in civilian and humanitarian security could be prevented by combatants on the ground in Darfur. But again, the human stakes are simply too great to ignore the potential security that UNAMID might provide.