Civilians in Darfur Still under Threat, as Proliferation of Weapons Aggravates Situation, Peacekeeping Chief Tells Security Council
Despite a significant decrease in armed conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region, civilians remained exposed to violence and criminality, while long-term comprehensive solutions to address the needs of the region’s 2.6 million displaced persons remained elusive, said the United Nations peacekeeping chief as he briefed the Security Council this morning.
Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, outlining the contents of the Secretary-General’s most recent report on the evolution of the conflict in Darfur (document S/2016/1109), pointed to a marked decrease in violence as a result of the Government of Sudan’s recent military successes against armed movements and efforts to curb intercommunal violence. However, he said, civilians remained under threat and the situation had been further exacerbated by the wide-spread proliferation of weapons and the inadequacy of rule of law and justice institutions.
In addition, he said that, despite efforts by the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel on the cessation of hostilities negotiations and other stakeholders, little political progress had been made.
“The linchpin of the process and future political talks — an agreement on the cessation of hostilities and humanitarian assistance — remained stalled due to persistent disagreement between the parties,” in particular on the modalities for the disclosure of armed movement locations in Darfur, the release of prisoners and the role of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur in future negotiations, he said.
Government forces had inflicted significant losses on the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army-Abdel Wahid (SLA/AW) armed group, he said, adding that the latter had also suffered the desertion of many of its fighters. While the group maintained its presence in the eastern and south-eastern zones of the country, it was estimated that it only had about 300 combatants left, a number that UNAMID had been unable to verify due to restrictions imposed on it by the Government.
The mission had seen only two clashes since the Government’s September 2016 announcement of the victory of its forces in the Jebel Marra region and the end of the Darfur conflict, he said. The security arrangements implemented by the Governors of Darfur’s five states, along with their more sustained interaction with customary chiefs, had also contributed to a relative drop in violence.
Nevertheless, he said, tensions between various communities continued to centre on access to land, water and other natural resources, and were exacerbated by the proliferation of arms, continued impunity for acts of intercommunal violence and ongoing skirmishes between farmers and livestock herders.
The civilian population, notably displaced persons, were still at risk of violence and human rights violations, he continued. On 1 January, Government forces had not hesitated to open fire in a camp for internally displaced persons in Nertiti. While there had been no casualties, a subsequent exchange of gunfire with the man suspected of killing a soldier had left two displaced persons dead and several injured in Nertiti.
Humanitarian actors had verified that some 97,000 people had been displaced as a result of fighting in Jebel Marra in 2016, he said, noting that an additional 88,000 people had not been verified due to a lack of access to relevant locations. Meanwhile, humanitarian work remained impeded by insecurity and delays, as well as denials of access and travel requests.
In that environment, he said, UNAMID continued to provide physical protection through military and police patrols to prevent, deter and respond to threats of violence against civilians focusing on large areas of displacement, such as Tawilla and Sortony in northern Darfur. Following the attack on internally displaced persons camps in Nertiti, the mission had immediately deployed a police verification patrol in the area, followed by intensifying military and police patrols and engagement with the Government of Central Darfur and the internally displaced persons community.
Turning to the political situation, he said that, despite concerted effort by UNAMID and the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel, and initiatives taken by other international stakeholders, little tangible progress had been made in the Darfur peace process. Agreement on the cessation of hostilities and humanitarian assistance had not been reached due to persistent disagreement between the parties.
On 31 December 2016, Sudan President Omar al-Bashir had announced a one-month extension of the Government’s unilateral ceasefire in Darfur and the Two Areas which had expired at the end of 2016, and had reiterated his call for opposition groups to join the National Dialogue. Recalling that Sudan Liberation Movement/Army-Abdel Wahid still remained outside the peace process, and had rejected any form of talks with the Government, he went on to describe the steps taken by the Government to implement the recommendations of the National Dialogue — which had concluded in October 2016.
In the absence of an agreement with the Government on the format and substance of the National Dialogue, major opposition groups continued to boycott and criticize the process for lack of inclusivity, he said. The opposition had also argued that the current situation in Sudan was not conducive to national reconciliation and a free and inclusive political process as envisaged under the National Dialogue.
He went on to describe progress that had been made in the mission’s relations with the Government, including the unobstructed customs clearance of food shipments at Port Sudan and the granting of visa requests for some UNAMID personnel. At the Council’s request, the United Nations and the African Union had also held discussions with the Government on the implementation of the mission’s benchmarks and exit strategy.
However, he said, the Joint Working Group convened on that matter in late 2016 had not been able to reach consensus on specific modalities for the mission’s reconfiguration, and discussions on those issues would continue.
Following the briefing, the representative of Uruguay welcomed the fact that there had been no major armed conflict in Darfur during the reporting period and fewer intercommunal clashes compared to previous years. However, he said, such encouraging signs had not been accompanied by any tangible progress in addressing the root causes of the conflict.
Encouraging all concerned parties to resume dialogue and to reach a formal agreement on the cessation of hostilities and humanitarian access, he stressed that UNAMID was operating in a difficult environment. The Government of Sudan must take necessary measures to eliminate all bureaucratic obstacles and to provide a suitable environment for the mission to carry out its mandate.
Addressing the Council, the representative of Sudan reiterated his country’s commitment to achieve lasting peace in Darfur and pointed to constant improvements in its security and humanitarian situation, which had been confirmed by reports and official visits. Removing rebel forces from the area had led to fewer intercommunal clashes, he said, describing the actions as a significant achievement. Also worth noting was the return of thousands of internally displaced persons and the provision of basic services in several villages.
“The Government is doing everything possible to establish a holistic approach and to move forward,” he said. With a view to ending the conflict, it had launched a national dialogue in which 79 political parties and 28 armed movements had participated and adopted an outcome document. Further, the Government had endorsed principles of democracy and underlined the concept of equal citizenship and the diverse Sudanese identity.
He went on to call upon the Council and African Union to firmly deal with the Abdul Wahid al Nur and to add him to the Sanctions List. While acknowledging UNAMID’s continued engagement with the parties in an attempt to bridge their differences, he noted that the Government had requested the mission’s gradual disengagement and progressive withdrawal due to the drastic improvement of the situation.
The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and ended at 10:41 a.m.