When the fighting in Darfur reached its peak intensity in 2003 and 2004, hundreds of thousands of Darfuri’s fled Sudan to neighboring Chad. Militias, though, did not respect the international border and launched raids against the refugee population. On top of that, the Chad and Sudanese government have been arming local militias in a proxy war along the Chad-Darfur border. Refugees became the first victims of this proxy war: refugee camps were looted, refugees raped and killed, and humanitarian access blocked.
Finally, in 2007, the European Union (with Security Council consent) launched a mission to protect the refugee population of Chad and the Central African Republic. In 2008, this became a UN peacekeeping mission known as MINURCAT. The mission has deployed nearly 3,000 uniformed personnel, most of which are peacekeeping troops. According to NGOs working in the region, the mission has helped to deter attacks against the refugee population and has played a critical role in training Chadian police to provide security for their refugee and IDP population.
In other words, the mission was doing what it was meant to do: protect Darfur refugees and IDPs in Chad and CAR. It is a wonder, therefore, why Chad President Idriss Deby would declare his government’s desire to see to MINURCAT leave. The mission’s mandate is due to expire on March 15, and Deby has called on the Security Council to not renew MINURCAT’s mandate. This is very significant (and from the perspective of the refugees served by MINURCAT distressing) because peacekeeping missions require the consent of the host state to remain operational. A peacekeeping mission becomes an invasion (or in UN-ease a “peace enforcement” mission) when that consent is withdrawn. This, in turn, means that the Security Council would have to invoke Chapter VII to authorize the violation of a country’s sovereignty by an invading force.
Needless to say, this is not how UN peacekeeping operates. UN Peacekeepers are just that–peacekeepers. They do not fight wars against a member state. This is why the host country’s consent is so critical. When that consent is withdrawn, as it appears to have been in Chad, the peacekeeping mission effectively ends.
The only thing that can save the mission at this point is the Security Council. Or, to be more precise: France. “Unless France decides to push Deby on this, MINURCAT’s mandate renewal is not going to happen,” says Erin Weir, a senior Peacekeeping Advocate with Refugees International. That’s because France is by far Chad’s most important international benefactor; French troops even helped repell an attack on Chad’s capital two years ago.
The fate of hundreds of thousands of Darfur refugees and internally displaced in Chad and CAR hang the balance. The only question is whether the international community (read: France) can muster the requisite political will to save MINURCAT.
Image: UN Photo/Olivia Grey Pritchard “Officers of the United Nations Police (UNPol) and Détachement intégré de sécurité (DIS) interview Sudanese refugees in their camp.”