Há uma década, após o genocídio no Darfur, a Organização das Nações Unidas (ONU) enviou para a região do Sudão uma força de 20 mil capacetes azuis. Missão: proteger os civis. Uma investigação da revista Foreign Policy mostra como a ONU falhou os objectivos e o que sabia que tinha acontecido. Este é o primeiro de uma série de três artigos publicados esta semana.
BLOOD OATH: INSIDE THE UNITED NATIONS’ DARFUR DEBACLE
“THEY JUST STOOD WATCHING.”
At 6:20 p.m. on March 24, 2013, a convoy of United Nations and African Union peacekeepers escorting three buses of displaced residents of Darfur to a peace conference was stopped by a group of uniformed men in a pair of Toyota Land Cruisers.
Mistaking the heavily armed men for government soldiers, the convoy commander, Lt. Paulinus Ifeanyi Nnadi, stepped out of his armored vehicle to talk them into allowing the vehicles through. As he walked toward the SUVs, five gun trucks filled with armed rebel fighters opposed to the talks roared out of the bush.
The rebels boarded the buses and ordered the drivers to follow them away from the main road. The captives were driven to a rebel stronghold where insurgents opposed to the peace talks stole their cell phones, bags, clothes, watches, and cash. They were then separated into groups of men and women and put into small cells where, according to several victims, they were beaten. Six days later, the rebels released their captives to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Nnadi, the peacekeeper’s commander, later told U.N. investigators that his forces had attempted to prevent the abductors from heading off with the civilians. The victims and bus drivers, though, said they were handed over without a fight. Several said they even saw the U.N. soldiers flashing “thumbs up” signs to the kidnappers as the buses drove off. The U.N. personnel peacekeepers, one of the bus drivers told investigators, “did nothing.”
“[The peacekeepers] made no visible effort to prevent the abduction of IDP [internally displaced persons] conference participants from the convoy,” an unreleased assessment by other U.N. personnel later concluded. “They just stood watching as the gunmen drove away the buses carrying the IDPs.”
The mass March 24 kidnapping — the details of which have never been publicly disclosed by the U.N. — marked a humiliating setback for troops from the African Union/United Nations hybrid operation in Darfur (UNAMID), a beleaguered, U.N.-funded force that was established specifically to protect Darfur’s citizens from a renewal of the genocide that had raged in the region years earlier, leaving more than 200,000 dead. The peacekeepers, though, have been bullied by government security forces and rebels, stymied by American and Western neglect, and left without the weapons necessary to fight in a region where more peacekeepers have been killed than in any other U.N. mission in the world. The violence that once consumed Darfur, meanwhile, has returned with a vengeance, resulting in civilian casualties and the large-scale flight of terrified men, women, and children.
Drawing on a massive trove of highly confidential UNAMID documents — including thousands of pages of emails, police reports, internal investigations and diplomatic cables — Foreign Policy will over the next three days publish a series of articles that shed light on how Darfur’s combatants, particularly the Sudanese government, have effectively neutered the U.N. peacekeeping mission, undermining its capacity to fulfill its primary duty to protect nearly 2 million civilians displaced by Sudan’s genocide. During the past year alone, more than 500,000 terrified men, women, and children have poured into the region’s already overcrowded refugee camps.
The mission’s former spokeswoman, Aicha Elbasri, provided FP with the documents to draw attention to what she sees as UNAMID’s failings and unwillingness to call out Khartoum for what she views as its deliberate targeting of Darfur’s civilians and UNAMID peacekeepers.
The documents — which track the period from 2012 through the end of 2013 — constitute perhaps the largest single leak of internal documents on an active U.N. mission in the world body’s history.
“It is fair to say that UNAMID peacekeepers largely failed to protect Darfur civilians, and their presence didn’t deter either the government or the rebels from attacking the civilians,” Elbasri, a dual U.S.-Moroccan citizen, wrote last May in an end of mission report weeks after she resigned from the mission in protest. “They sometimes helplessly witnessed the attacks and harassment of civilians, some of which took place near UNAMID team sites.”
U.N. officials concede that the Darfur operation is deeply flawed. The mission, which is administered jointly by the U.N. and the African Union (A.U.), has been hobbled since its birth by a range of disabilities: conflicting visions of its role between U.N. headquarters and African leaders; a lack of cooperation by the Sudanese government; poor leadership; and badly-equipped troops that lacked the helicopters, trucks, and other military hardware needed to patrol a region as vast as France.
“[UNAMID’s] effectiveness is seriously constrained by access restrictions and, in case of the uniformed components, mobility constraints and shortfalls in the operational capabilities of several troop and police contingents,” according to a strategic reviewproduced in February by the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations. In a statement to FP, the U.N.’s top peacekeeping official, a former French diplomat named Hervé Ladsous, said that it was “no secret that the relationship with the government has always been challenging.”
“In every mission there is a tension between the necessity to preserve the consent and good will of the host government required to allow our peacekeepers to do their jobs and the sometimes contradictory imperative to report accurately and candidly on any and all incidents of violence,” he wrote. “Bad relations with any host government can make it impossible for a mission to operate — to move around the country, to have their equipment cleared by national customs, to deploy new personnel.”
Some officials say the mission’s failings are beyond repair, but that the political leadership in African capitals and on the U.N. Security Council is unlikely to shut it down while violence is surging in Darfur. “That would require them to do something about it,” one U.N.-based diplomat said.
Others say that UNAMID — despite its failures and limitations — is vital to the well-being of Darfur’s most vulnerable civilians. “The problems of Sudan can’t be solved by a U.N. peacekeeping mission,” Princeton Lyman, President Barack Obama’s former special envoy to Sudan, said in an interview. “But if you withdraw UNAMID, I would fear for the people in the [refugee] camps. They would have no protection at all; and it’s not even clear they would be fed.”
“WE ARE FAILING OUR MANDATE.”
A decade ago, Darfur was at the heart of one of the world’s bloodiest ethnic cleansing campaigns. Between 2003 and 2005, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir orchestrated a brutal counterinsurgency campaign against the region’s key rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement. Sudanese bombers bombed suspected rebel positions from the air, while fighters from an Arab militia known as the Janjaweed stormed through local villages on horses and camels, burning homes and killing men, women, and children. Members of Darfur’s ethnic Fur and Zaghawa tribes took the brunt of the violence because they were suspected of supporting the rebels.
The slaughter drew widespread international attention, with movie stars such as George Clooney and Mia Farrow using their personal celebrity to raise awareness about the obscure region and apply pressure on governments to deploy peacekeepers in Darfur.
UNAMID was supposed to end the killing. For a while, U.N. and A.U. officials claimed that the peacekeeping army’s 20,000 troops were doing just that. Just before leaving his post, Rodolphe Adada, a Congolese politician and diplomat who ran the mission from May 2007 to late 2009, said Darfur’s darkest years of mass killing were effectively over.
“We can no longer talk of big conflict, of a war in Darfur,” he told the Associated Press in September 2009. “I think everyone understands it. We can no longer speak of this issue. It is over.”
Adada’s optimism was badly misplaced. The current violence hasn’t approached the levels of violence seen during the genocide, but peace remains elusive. The Janjaweed — that iconic symbol of Darfur’s darkest days — have never disappeared. They have simply been given uniforms and integrated into government auxiliary forces, including the Border Guards, the Central Reserve Forces, and the Popular Defense Forces.
The nature of the conflict, meanwhile, has grown increasingly complex as Darfur’s fractious rebel groups formed a coalition, including fighters from outside Darfur, to topple the government. The Sudanese government, facing severe financial constraints, has been unable to meet its payments to the Arab militias, testing its proxies’ loyalty and prompting them to fight other tribes for control over Darfur’s limited natural resources, including farmland and gold mining concessions. Last year alone, there were six major outbreaks of fighting over natural resources. In some cases, the Sudanese government fought alongside the militias, and in others they turned against one another.
But the gravest threat to Darfur’s civilians remains largely the same as it was a decade ago: a government-backed offensive, supported by the Janjaweed, that has used a combination of air power and ground attacks to depopulate large swaths of Darfur, swelling the ranks of the region’s displaced from about 1.2 million people late last year to nearly 1.7 million in 2014.
While UNAMID has helped provide some measure of support to the displaced, it hasn’t been able to fully protect them. In one poignant expression of local frustration with the peacekeepers, victims of a November 2012 massacre by a government-backed militia in the town of Sigili delivered the corpses of 10 civilians, wrapped in white cloth, to UNAMID’s headquarters in the nearby town of El Fasher to protest its failure to act. When UNAMID visited the town of Sigili the following day they were greeted by an angry mob that blocked their movement with burning tires and pelted their vehicles with stones, according to an internal UNAMID document.
Mohamed Ibn Chambas, a Ghanaian diplomat who took over the mission in early 2013, conceded that UNAMID has struggled to protect civilians. But he said in an interview that the presence of armed peacekeepers near Darfur’s largest camps for the displaced has nevertheless deterred attacks. When violence strikes, Chambas said, Darfuris turn to UNAMID for protection. “When the population living in villages outside of the IDP camps are threatened where do they run to? To UNAMID team sites,” he said. “There have been problems but one cannot speak of systematic intrusions [by armed groups] into the IDP camps to harm the people. In that regard we are fulfilling our mandate.”
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