Building a better Unamid

For years, the activist community has bemoaned the limited support to which the international community is giving the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).  The mission deployed at a snail’s pace, has been hobbled by onerous restrictions placed on it by the government of Sudan, and lacks critical force “multi-pliers” like long-requested helicopter assets.  Still, a new report from a broad coalition of NGOs on the two-year anniversary of UNAMID shows that despite these limitation, UNAMID has been able to make a difference in critical situations.  EG:

In January and February 2009, Muhajeria in South Darfur was the focal point of intense fighting between Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) forces and Sudanese Armed Forces, endangering tens of thousands of civilians. As the fighting escalated, the Sudanese government informed UNAMID that it was preparing to use “all means possible” to drive out JEM elements.[1] The government then officially requested that UNAMID withdraw its troops from Muhajeria and the surrounding area in order to “prevent any unnecessary loss of life.”[2]

In a rare move, UNAMID leadership refused to pull out its troops. High level diplomatic efforts ensued, and UNAMID did not concede to the government’s demands. UNAMID’s refusal to abandon the civilians in Muhajeria no doubt prevented a large-scale attack which would have caused extensive casualties.

Less than a month later, on March 4, 2009, the Sudanese government callously expelled 13 international humanitarian organizations and shut down three local human rights and humanitarian agencies in a flagrant rejection of international humanitarian principles. Less highlighted was the fact that the Sudanese government had already been systematically targeting humanitarian protection monitoring and reporting programs for many months, including closing down women’s centers and gender-based violence programs.

Following Khartoum’s March 4 decree, UNAMID stepped in to help fill the gaping hole in protection programming and re-establishing humanitarian access. A large gap still remains and there is substantially more UNAMID could do stabilize access and fill new gaps in human rights and security information-sharing in the wake of the expulsions. But the force notably increased its presence in some areas, making more consistent patrols to certain camps and proactively trying to secure humanitarian access in a heightened security environment. According to the Secretary-General’s June report, “UNAMID is currently providing 24-hour protection of four warehouses previously managed by an expelled NGO and 67 vehicles belonging to United Nations partners.”[3] In early July 2009, UNAMID’s civilian Gender Advisory Unit worked to reopen women’s centers in Abu Shouk camp which were previously closed by the government. The centers will offer critical livelihood and literacy training, as well as raise awareness about reproductive health and sexual violence for the first time in almost a year.[4]

Just imagine what UNAMID could acheive if it received the full backing of key member states.