The discussion in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, nowadays over whether the country should accept a new UN mission under chapter 6 of the UN security council or not, reflects the different realities in the eastern African country.
The new UN mission will replace the current UNAMID mission with its 26 000 troops in Darfur which were deployed in 2007 under Chapter 7 of the UN security council to protect civilians in Darfur Region of Western Sudan by using force if it’s necessary. Because of COVID-19 the decision about the follow up mission had to be postponed from March to May 2020.
The different realities manifest itself in two different groups. On the one hand there are the supporters of the former regime arguing that Sudan would lose its sovereignty in case it accepted the new UN mission. In addition to them, some Islamic extremists share the same view. Members from both groups have taken to the streets during the lockdown asking to stop what they called the intervention of the West and the new colonialism in the country. There has also been a video circulating on social media in which an extremist group wearing the Saudi Arabian flag threatening the Prime Minister Dr. Abdallah Hamdok to be assassinated if he let the international mission to be continued in the country.
On the other hand, a group of about 100 civil organizations including journalists, and NGO-representatives of women’s and human rights groups and of internally displaced people from the historically marginalised areas signed a petition asking the Prime Minister to extend the current and robust UNAMID mission under Chapter VII and not replace it with a lighter Chapter VI mission, because this would no longer “put civilian protection at the top of the list”; citing many cases of violence against civilians in Darfur, in the Western part of the country.
“In a cone of silence, violent conflict persists in Darfur with entire camps being burned again. In El Geneina and in Jebel Marra, communal clashes became the norm. Certain groups in Darfur continue to be displaced; several million people are already trapped in camps that are becoming less secure and more vulnerable to attacks. Women living in camps still have to walk far to obtain firewood for cooking, in the process are being raped and humiliated”, reads the petition, signed by 98 groups, many of them operating in Darfur.
Since the fall of former president Omar-al-Bashir in April last year the local media in Darfur have been reporting, almost on a weekly basis, the raping of women and girls by Arab militias for leaving their IDP camps or for going out to collect wood or getting water. And stories of villages burned by the same militias which are in coalition with the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) under its commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, called Hemeti. The RSF was established in 2013 to fight armed rebel groups in Sudan and grew out of Janjaweed militia groups which human rights groups accused of having committed war crimes. Hemeti is currently the deputy head of Sudan’s ruling Sovereignty Council.
The conflict in Darfur has been going on since 2003, when government troops and its Janjaweed militias sought to suppress an insurgency by the people in Darfur fighting against political and economic marginalization. The conflict has claimed more than 350.000 lives and made two million people flee their homes.
But it seems that both the civilian and the military sides in the government are happy with a less robust mission. In a video circulation on social media Prime Minister Mohammed Hamdok has explained this position: “We asked the UN to help us with the transitional issues, including the peace agendas, including people in the refugee and internally displaced (people’s) camps, and that is a huge issue so that we need the UN resources to help us with them”.
This seems to go along with the report, commissioned by the UN-Secretary General which on March 12th recommended “the establishment of a political and peacebuilding integrated support presence, headquartered in Khartoum, with responsibility for all of Sudan, taking into account the request expressed by the Sudanese authorities.”
The military side of the government has also endorsed this position without expressing that explicitly. But what the RSF has done shows their true intentions, having already taken over 12 sites of the UNAMID troops in Darfur, even before the security council has made its decision on the future mandate of the UN mission by the end of May.
The fear is now that the most vulnerable people in Sudan might lose any hope for getting protection due to the selfishness of the elites and the army who are sending the wrong image to the rest of the world which does not reflect the reality in the country.
Zeinab Mohammed Salih is a freelance journalist based in Khartoum.