Withdrawal of Hybrid Peacekeeping Operation in Darfur Completed by 30 June Deadline, Under-Secretary-General Tells Security Council, Outlining Plans to Liquidate Assets
The African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) completed the withdrawal of all uniformed and civilian personnel by its deadline of 30 June 2021, Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support Atul Khare told the Security Council today, achieving a milestone set by the 15-member organ for the Mission’s exit and empowering Sudan’s Government to take charge of maintaining peace in the region.
He said staff not involved in the Operation’s liquidation — except for those that constitute a uniformed Guard Unit — have also withdrawn. The task involved the repatriation of almost 6,000 troops and police, separation of nearly 1,200 staff and consultations with stakeholders to ensure that uniformed members who expressed a desire to not return for reasons related to international protection needs were processed by the refugee authorities of Sudan.
He said the drawdown also involved the parallel closure and handover of the former Operation headquarters and 13 team sites to local authorities for civilian use in Central, South and North Darfur States. All remaining personnel and assets are now consolidated within the El Fasher logistics facility, other than small components based in Khartoum and Port Sudan to support the interaction with authorities during UNAMID’s liquidation.
He outlined plans to support the team that remains through disposal of remaining assets across two liquidation phases: The first — from 1 July to 30 September 2021 — will involve the withdrawal of retained United Nations assets, sales to United Nations entities and non-government organizations at market value, and the destruction of equipment subject to end-user restrictions. The second phase — from 1 October 2021 and beyond — will involve donation and distribution of fixed and moveable assets to Government institutions and non-government organizations in Sudan.
In the ensuing discussion, delegates hailed UNAMID — formally established by resolution 1769 (2007) — as an example of the United Nations storied peacekeeping history and its cooperation with regional organizations. The representative of Tunisia, speaking also for Kenya, Niger and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, called it an “exemplary model” whose lessons should be shared as an important tool, including during future Missions’ exit strategies. He strongly recommended that Sudan work closely with neighbouring countries as well as with regional bodies to address its challenges.
The Russian Federation’s representative agreed that Sudan is facing numerous challenges, with ripple effects in neighbouring Libya. It is important to maintain fair-handed contacts with Sudanese authorities and to assist them in implementing the 2019 Constitutional Declaration to bring about internal stabilization.
China’s representative called UNAMID “a success story” in achieving agile and diverse ways to support countries in maintaining peace and security. He looked forward to the Secretary-General’s assessment report, expressing hope the United Nations will complete the Operation’s liquidation methodically and avoid both asset loss and improper disposal.
On that point India’s representative — who described UNAMID’s drawdown as the end of one of the United Nations most successful peacekeeping operations, in which more than 100,000 military and police personnel were contributed by dozens of countries, including his own — called the handover of team sites and donation of UNAMID medical facilities “commendable initiatives, marking a valuable transition from peacekeeping to peacebuilding, which is Sudan-led and Sudan-owned”.
Several delegates pointed to the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) and its integrated country team, which the United Kingdom’s delegate stressed will continue to play a key role in supporting the Government’s efforts to promote peace and stability in Darfur. As intercommunal violence continues, France’s delegate called on Sudan to accelerate implementation of the Juba agreements, with the support of UNITAMS, and deploy as soon as possible the joint force provided for by these agreements.
Offering the national perspective, Sudan’s delegate said federal and local authorities have cooperated fully with UNAMID to ensure an orderly and safe withdrawal of troops, personnel, and equipment. Going forward, Khartoum will engage with the Secretariat during the liquidation period and guard the El Fashir base to ensure that Mission-owned assets and contingent-owned equipment can be safely repatriated, in line with the framework agreement signed in March.
“We are aware of some residual challenges in Sudan, generally, and Darfur, in particular,” he said, adding that the Government will work closely with UNITAMS and other bilateral, regional and international partners to effectively address the issues and to implement its Council mandated strategic objectives.
Also speaking were representatives of Norway, Estonia, Mexico, Ireland, Viet Nam and the United States.
The meeting began at 10 a.m. and ended at 11:12 a.m.
Atul Khare, Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support, said the Secretariat achieved the milestone set by the Security Council to withdraw all uniformed personnel formerly deployed to the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), and staff not involved in its liquidation, except for those that have constituted a uniformed Guard Unit, by the deadline of 30 June 2021. This task involved the repatriation of almost 6,000 troops and police, the separation of almost 1,200 staff and consultations to ensure that uniformed members who expressed a desire to not return for reasons related to international protection needs were processed by the refugee authorities of the Government of Sudan.
He said the drawdown also involved the parallel closure and handover of the former Operation headquarters and 13 team sites to local authorities for civilian use in Central, South and North Darfur States, as UNAMID equipment was recovered, environmental remediation was completed, and former Mission personnel were withdrawn. All remaining personnel and assets are now consolidated within the El Fasher logistics facility, other than small components based in Khartoum and Port Sudan to support the interaction with authorities during UNAMID’s liquidation.
Describing his second visit to Sudan since the conclusion of the mandate on 30 December 2020, he said that between 6 and 15 July, he met with Chairperson of the Sovereign Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Deputy Chairperson Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (otherwise known as General Hemeti), and Minister for Interior Ezzeldin Sheikh, as well as with the newly appointed Governor of Darfur, Mini Minawi, and the new Wali (Governor) of North Darfur State, Nimir Abdel Rahman. He then travelled to Addis Ababa, meeting with Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission Monique Nsanzabaganwa and the Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Bankole Adeoye, on 19 July.
He went on to report that contingent-owned equipment belonging to Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, China, Jordan, Kenya, Senegal, United Republic of Tanzania and Togo has now either been returned to its home country or deployed to another peacekeeping operation. The equipment of Djibouti, Ethiopia and the Gambia is at Port Sudan awaiting vessels for transport, while that belonging to Egypt, Pakistan and Rwanda, as well as a Chinese engineering unit, is en route from Darfur to Port Sudan. A Guard Unit authorized by the Security Council remains in El Fasher to provide internal security to remaining United Nations personnel.
Noting that the General Assembly has approved $79 million to support the liquidation of UNAMID no later than 30 June 2022, he said the process will involve a sustained effort across numerous complex tasks. Among the more urgent is the destruction of ammunition, much of which was found to have reached its expiration date. The facilities and equipment handed over to local authorities, outside of El Fasher, had a residual value exceeding $41 million. Yet, reports suggest varying degrees of destruction and theft at 10 of the 14 sites handed over to local authorities. While the associated assets no longer belonged to the United Nations, these are major losses for the communities involved, he said.
In addition, he said a wide variety of moveable equipment and inventories have been consolidated at the El Fasher base, including hundreds of vehicles, generators, furniture, information and communications technology (ICT) equipment and maintenance supplies. “It is critical that the Government of Sudan makes every effort to ensure that this enormous reserve of facilities and equipment is sustainably applied to national imperatives for civilian use,” he stressed.
He outlined plans to support the team that remains in UNAMID through disposal of remaining assets across two liquidation phases: The first — from 1 July to 30 September 2021 — will involve the withdrawal of retained United Nations assets, sales to United Nations entities and non-government organizations at market value, destruction of equipment subject to end-user restrictions and commercial sales of equipment that is beyond economical repair. The second phase — from 1 October 2021 and beyond — will involve donation and distribution of fixed and moveable assets to Government institutions and non-government organizations in Sudan, based on the Assembly’s consideration of a holistic, Sudanese-owned donation plan.
While UNAMID equipment valued at $8.1 million has been transferred to other operations, the bulk of assets will remain in Sudan for donation to the authorities for civilian use, he said, pointing to 170 tons of sodium hypochlorite salt, which can be used to purify 6.8 billion litres of water: enough to meet the drinking and cooking needs of more than 1 million people for a year. He implored Government interlocutors to emphasize the immediate development of a single, holistic donation plan, with input and agreement from Government interlocutors at the national and local levels. This plan could form the basis for the Secretary-General’s proposal to the General Assembly to guide donations in support of national priorities.
Turning to the issue of armed movements with stationed forces around the El Fasher compound, he said units from at least five groups, as well as the Sudanese Armed Forces, have been identified by colleagues based in El Fasher. After initial confusion led to the disruption of UNAMID movements — and in some cases, harassment of United Nations personnel — he said movements have proceeded as needed in recent weeks. He will continue to monitor the liquidation closely, he said, based on his discussions with the President, Vice-President and the new Governor and Wali of Darfur and North Darfur respectively.
Ms. FARREY (United Kingdom), recalling that the Council deployed the first and only African Union hybrid mission to Darfur nearly 14 years ago to the day, said the Mission has contributed to a more peaceful and stable situation on the ground. Expressing her hope that the lessons learned throughout its deployment will be used to improve future peace operations, she said cooperation at the federal and state levels in Sudan — including on the free movement of United Nations personnel and assets — will continue to be crucial. Stakeholders must consolidate and build upon the strides made, and abide strictly by the terms of the Juba Peace Agreement. Meanwhile, she said, the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) and its integrated country team will continue to play a key role in supporting the Government’s efforts to promote peace and stability in Darfur.
MONA JUUL (Norway) joined other speakers in welcoming the positive political developments in Sudan over recent months, noting that — while many challenges remain — “the transition in Sudan is irreversible” and presents the opportunity to create conditions for sustainable economic growth. Thanking the Transitional Government and the Darfur state capitals for their role in ensuring a responsible drawdown of UNAMID, she said the fragile security situation in Darfur and confusion regarding the end-use of team sites and assets creates challenging conditions for peacekeepers. Civilian protection must remain at the core of all efforts, even during UNAMID’s drawdown and thereafter. “Lack of protection fuels conflict, displacement, and mistrust,” she stressed, calling for particular attention to children, women and combating conflict-related sexual violence. Voicing her hope that the recent advances in UNAMID’s transition will prevent any unnecessary delays during the coming rainy season, she urged the Government of Sudan to protect the assets handed over from UNAMID, as they will be of direct benefit to the civilian population in Darfur.
TAREK LADEB (Tunisia), also speaking on behalf of Kenya, Niger and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, agreed with other speakers that UNAMID’s deployment marked an important step in the United Nations cooperation with regional organizations, as well as in its peacekeeping history more broadly. Assessments of that exemplary model, as well as lessons learned during its deployment, should serve as an important tool going forward, including by paving the way for future Missions’ exit strategies. Commending the efforts made by the Transitional Government and the Darfur state capital towards UNAMID’s orderly withdrawal, he welcomed the agreement reached on the handover of 14 Mission sites and the Transitional Government’s commitment that they will be used to provide social and community services. As part of its liquidation, UNAMID must carry out and complete environmental clean-up and restoration and dispose of hazardous materials in accordance with established standards. Urging the Transitional Government to accelerate the implementation of its national plan for the protection of civilians, he said intercommunal clashes in Darfur remain a major source of instability, and strongly recommended that Sudan work closely with neighbouring countries as well as regional bodies to address its challenges.
ANDRE LIPAND (Estonia) commended those who have helped UNAMID drawdown “at a historic speed”, which is no easy endeavor. “Now it is important to ensure that the liquidation process goes according to plan,” he said, calling upon the Government of Sudan and other relevant stakeholders, including the Juba Peace Agreement signatories and other armed opposition movements, to cooperate fully with the United Nations and the African Union. The pursuit of peace, justice and civilian protection in Darfur will remain relevant even after the closure of UNAMID, he said, stressing that the implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement cannot be overemphasized. The Government of Sudan should take extra measures to ensure that civilians are protected in Darfur — especially the populations who are more vulnerable — and it should cooperate closely with UNITAMS to build the necessary capacities for civilian protection.
NAGARAJ NAIDU (India) described UNAMID’s drawdown as the end of one of the United Nations most successful peacekeeping operations. During the Operation’s 13-year mandate, more than 100,000 military and police peacekeepers were contributed by dozens of countries from around the world, including India. Thanking all those who served, he noted that the drawdown exercise has been completed within the tight timeline and benchmarks set by the Council and welcomed progress made since February, when members were last briefed on the matter. That included the handover of team sites and the donation of UNAMID medical facilities for use by local communities. “These are all commendable initiatives, marking a valuable transition from peacekeeping to peacebuilding, which is Sudan-led and Sudan-owned,” he said. In addition, the Government of Sudan has established unity of command and purpose by appointing a unified Joint Task Force and the State Handover Committee, as UNAMID’s key interlocutors during the drawdown. Going forward, he said, it will be important for the Government to ensure the protection of the Logistics Base and the repatriation of the remaining staff. Outstanding key tasks, such as the handover of the El Fasher camp to Darfur authorities, must be expedited.
DAI BING (China) called UNAMID “a success story” in achieving agile and diverse ways to support countries in maintaining peace and security. He said China looks forward to the Secretary-General’s assessment report, expressing hope the United Nations will complete the Operation’s liquidation methodically and avoid both asset loss and improper disposal. Noting that the Sovereign Council and Transitional Government of Sudan are implementing the Juba Agreement and have taken several steps to maintain stability, he said intercommunal violence in Darfur must be addressed through reconciliation and mediation, with support from the United Nations country team to help those displaced by violence. Following the withdrawal, the United Nations Transition Assistance Mission (UNITAMS) can help the Government bolster its ability to protect civilians. For its part, the Council should consider the impact of the arms embargo on this effort. As the security situation in Darfur remains precarious, he called for scaled-up international peacebuilding support, recalling that China was among the first countries to contribute peacekeepers to the Mission.
ENRIQUE JAVIER OCHOA MARTÍNEZ (Mexico), noting the transition from peacekeeping to peacebuilding in Darfur, underscored the need for a smooth closure of the Operation and transition. Recalling that personnel belonging to the Guard Unit remains in order to protect staff, property and assets during the liquidation phase, he welcomed that most of the assets will remain in Sudan to benefit the people. Armed groups should refrain from interfering with UNAMID convoys, he said, urging Sudan to continue to guarantee respect for all provisions of the Status of Forces Agreement, notably for the coordination of armed groups around El Fasher. Equally important will be ensuring respect for the agreement protecting UNAMID assets, he said, expressing Mexico’s support for UNITAMS in its new phase and hope that the Council will support the democratic transition process in Sudan.
ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) said Sudan is facing numerous challenges, with impact in neighbouring Libya, leading to greater numbers of refugees and fostering the spread of COVID-19. It is important to maintain fair-handed contacts with Sudanese authorities and to assist them in implementing the 2019 Constitutional Declaration to bring about internal stabilization. He welcomed the signing of the peace agreement between the Transitional Government and the Sudan Revolutionary Front, which will help resolve urgent socioeconomic problems, expressing hope it will be signed by Sudanese armed groups currently not party to it. While there have been intercommunal clashes in several states, these events did not change the overall picture, he said, thanks in part to the swift response by authorities and implementation of the national plan for civilian protection. Stressing that the time has come to prioritize the region’s economic development, he said the Russian Federation facilitated the adoption in June of resolution 2524 (2020) on the establishment of UNITAMS and supported that Mission’s renewal by one year, in line with 2579 (2021). He said the Russian Federation trusts that the work of this United Nations presence will bolster Khartoum’s capacity in the areas of peacekeeping, stabilization of the situation in Darfur, and in fostering law and order.
BRIAN PATRICK FLYNN (Ireland) said moving from UNAMID to UNITAMS has been one the most complex and challenging transitions that the United Nations has undertaken. “It has highlighted the need to plan and execute the drawdown, reconfiguration and exit of United Nations peacekeeping missions in a way that helps maintain progress towards sustainable peace,” he said, emphasizing that transitions should take place in a responsible, coordinated and graduated manner responsive to the needs on the ground. They must also engage with host Governments to reinforce national ownership, he said, welcoming the engagement described today by the Under-Secretary-General. With UNAMID on track to complete its closure by 30 June 2022, all stakeholders must comply with the provisions of the Status of Forces Agreement. Expressing regret that the drawdown has not been without incident, he said Sudan must live up to its responsibilities by working to ensure withdrawal of all armed elements positioned around the El Fasher site, and by taking steps to avoid further looting. “UNAMID assets must not be used to fuel insecurity,” he stressed, also calling for the full and immediate implementation of the National Protection of Civilians Plan and the security pillar of the Juba Peace Agreement.
TRA PHUONG NGUYEN (Viet Nam) said UNAMID has become an example of successful cooperation between the United Nations and the African Union, emphasizing that the drawdown has taken place in a timely, orderly and safe manner, thanks to the close cooperation between the Operation and the Government. It is crucial to ensure the safety of remaining personnel, in line with resolution 2559 (2020) and the Status of Forces Agreement, and to fully respect the framework agreement ensuring the integrity of handover of UNAMID team sites and assets. She welcomed the political security developments in Sudan, as the country has achieved tremendous progress in transitioning from peacekeeping to peacebuilding. Amid challenges related to natural disasters and intercommunal violence, it is imperative that Sudanese parties resolve differences to implement the remaining provisions of the peace agreement. Sudan must continue to strengthen its responsibility for the protection of civilians, notably by implementing its national plan on the issue, she said, noting that support for UNITAMS and neighbouring countries will remain essential. She also expressed hope that the Secretariat and UNAMID will pass on lessons to UNITAMS so it can support the transition in Sudan.
RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States) said that while UNAMID has played a critical role in stabilizing the region, the root causes of violence in Darfur remain, including human rights violations, which have led to large-scale displacements. He urged authorities to fully implement the national plan to protect civilians, pressing Sudanese leaders to allow a full vetting of Darfur’s new security force. Underscoring that the primary responsibility to protect civilians is with the Government, he expressed concern over potential security risks to United Nations personnel and assets at El Fasher and encouraged the United Nations to use its good offices to ensure its staff can continue the liquidation process. Sudanese authorities must protect team sites, as they can be used as health clinics and training centres. The shared goal is to maintain security around those sites. The United States is committed to working closely with the Transitional Government, the Council, UNITAMS and all stakeholders in support of democratic rule in Sudan, he added.
NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France) commended UNAMID and the Department of Operational Support for their work towards a timely withdrawal, which represents a major logistical challenge. Also welcoming the cooperation of the Sudanese authorities — which must continue to be pursued throughout UNAMID’s liquidation period — he said the freedom of movement and security of United Nations personnel, as well as the protection of companies and equipment, must also be ensured. However, recent security incidents, including the pillaging of several sites handed over by UNAMID to the Sudanese authorities, have demonstrated that more work and cooperation are needed. Sudan should therefore accelerate the implementation of the Juba agreements, with the support of UNITAMS, and to deploy as soon as possible the joint force provided for by these agreements. He also called on all other armed groups to join the peace process.
AMMAR MOHAMMED MAHMOUD (Sudan) said that the federal and local authorities in his country have cooperated fully with UNAMID to ensure an orderly and safe withdrawal of troops, personnel and equipment. Going forward, Sudan will engage with the Secretariat during the liquidation period and guard the El Fashir base to ensure that Operation-owned assets and contingent-owned equipment can be safely repatriated in line with the framework agreement signed in March by the Government and the Secretariat, and former UNAMID sites in Darfur which have been transferred to local authorities will be used for civilian health care, education and other social services. He emphasized that the Secretariat must finish environmental clean-up and restoration work, as well as the disposal of expired ammunition and other hazardous materials, as soon as possible and before the end of the Mission’s liquidation.
Sudan’s transitional Government is committed to protecting people in Darfur after UNAMID’s exit, according to the National Plan for Civilian Protection, he continued. With the Juba Peace Agreement in place, the protective environment in Darfur has been greatly strengthened, with a special emphasis on displaced persons, children, women and other vulnerable groups. The joint force mandated by the Agreement, which comprises the Sudanese Armed Forces and former combatants of armed groups, is being deployed to better protect civilians. He stressed that Sudan, in carrying out its responsibility to protect, will adhere to and abide by international humanitarian and human rights law.
“We are aware of some residual challenges in Sudan, generally, and Darfur, in particular,” he said, adding that the Government of Sudan will work closely with UNITAMS and other bilateral, regional and international partners to effectively address those challenges. He concluded by calling on the Council to support UNITAMS’ work as it carries out its mandate. From its part, Sudan shall support UNITAMS in order to implement its Council-mandated strategic objectives, he added.