Darfur Has Faded From the Headlines, But It’s Still a Total Mess

More than 11 years after the government of Sudan and rebel groups in Darfur took up arms against each other, the conflict still rages on. Amid a lack of international attention, civilians still find themselves caught between various rebel and pro-government forces. On their side is supposed to be AU and UN peacekeepers mandated to protect civilians. But while the international community may have a mandate, numerous reports and events in 2014 demonstrate that they lack the will to carry that mandate out.

The latest atrocity in the conflict appears to be a possible mass rape campaign in the northern town of Tabit. Local media reported that more than 200 girls and women were recently raped but when members of the joint United Nations-African Union (UNAMID) tried to enter the town this week to investigate, the Sudanese military blocked their entrance. According to UN statements, the UNAMID delegation protested their inability to talk to people inside the town and then went to the nearby Zamzam IDP camp to try and gain information. After determining that there has been no recent displacement from Tabit, and after the Chief Prosecutor of North Darfur stated that no rapes had been reported to him, it appears that the investigation into the alleged incident is concluded despite no one speaking to any of the alleged victims or witnesses.

It is this type of investigation that is frustrating international officials and activists alike. Earlier this year Foreign Policy published an investigative series alleging severe failings in the UNAMIR mission.  This led to calls from human rights groups and the International Criminal Court for an independent investigation into the allegations.  An internal investigation released last month found that while there was no willful misconduct by UNAMID forces, fearing reprisal by the Sudanese government they did fail to report all incidents that occurred and evidence that pointed to pro-government forces, even in attacks against UNAMID forces. Representatives from the USA, UK and France criticized the failings and called for more accountability but with little international attention in a world seemingly overflowing with crises at the moment, it’s unlikely that anything will substantially change.

But as this week’s investigation into rape at Tabit demonstrates, the Sudanese government still holds significant influence over UNAMID and the UN in general. Despite strong talk from the UN Security Council and an indictment against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir by the ICC, the conflict in Darfur continues and al-Bashir remains in power.

At a recent conference hosted by the Darfur Women Action Group in Washington, DC, numerous activists and experts voiced concern over the gap between the need for international action and political will, which many feared world lead to impunity for other leaders who choose conflict over peace. Ikklas Abdelmageed, a Research Fellow at the US Institute for Peace, pointed out that despite UNAMID’s mission to protect civilians, their mandate is not well suited for handling rape cases which continues to put women in harm’s way. Likewise, the lack of consistent international protection and resources at IDP camps throughout Darfur means that civilians are forced to leave the camp to gather basic resources such as water and firewood, which also puts them at risk. Yet despite the need for assistance and more action by the international community, Darfur has largely disappeared from the headlines as other conflicts take precedence.

The conflict gives no sign of abating. Although the UN stopped keeping track of the death toll in 2006, it does estimate that nearly 400,000 people have been displaced within Darfur this year alone. Repeated raids by government security forces on IDP camps led to peaceful protests in September that the government dispersed with live ammunition. Attacks on peacekeepers and civilian villages – including destruction of already abandoned villages so no one may return – remain routine, as all sides are wary of the prospect of peace talks. In the meantime, the people of Darfur are stuck between the people who have the will to kill them and the peacekeepers who often lack the capacity to protect.