With international attention squarely on ISIS’s reign of terror in Iraq and Syria and very little recent reporting on the intra-governmental conflict that sprouted in South Sudan at the end of 2013, one might be inclined to think the decade-old genocide in Darfur finally came to a peaceful conclusion.
Not so. A UN Dispatch article recently reported a potential mass rape campaign involving more than 200 girls and women in Tabit, a village in Northern Darfur. According to Reuters, the Sudanese military blocked the United Nations-African Union (UNAMID) from entering Tabit to investigate for almost a week. When UNAMID arrived and was allowed to interview alleged victims, the Sudanese military was there, too.
“[T]here has been a heavy military presence during the team’s visit and [U.N. special envoy on sexual violence in armed conflict Zainab Hawa Bangura] stressed that while the rape allegations remained unverified, in her view it was not possible to conclude that no sexual violence took place,” said Australia’s U.N. Ambassador and President of the U.N. Security Council Gary Quinlan.
One alleged victim told team members that the Sudanese military said they would speak to UNAMID on their behalf, ordering them not to talk to the visiting officials.
An internal U.N. report added, “The behavior and responses of interviewees indicated an environment of fear and intimidation.”
Accounts of mass rape add more tragic fuel to the ongoing human rights disaster, but the relationship between UNAMID and the Sudanese government in these abuses is another frightening example of a lack of justice, oversight and transparency.
A Foreign Policy article shared details of a recent U.N. report which found five cases of UNAMID concealing evidence that revealed abuses by the Sudanese government against civilians, as well as U.N. peacekeepers.
“The report concluded that U.N. officials in Darfur, fearing reprisals from an often hostile Sudanese government, self-censored their reporting on Sudanese abuses, leading to ‘under-reporting of incidents when Government and pro-Government forces were suspected to be involved,’” said a summary of an internal review given to members of the U.N. Security Council and acquired by Foreign Policy.
There are several theories for UNAMID’s failure to properly fulfill its mandate. Fear of backlash from the Sudanese government is a common assumption.
“Maintaining civil relations and cooperation with the Government of the Sudan to ensure the Mission can fulfill its mandate to the best of its ability has become an end of itself,” said the summary of the U.N. review.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he empathizes with the difficulties of UNAMID’s work.
“Nevertheless,” he said, “the lapses in the reporting standards of the Mission and its tendency not to report fully on incidents involving attacks on civilians and U.N. peacekeepers are very troubling.”
UNAMID’s efforts to placate the Sudanese government appear to have failed, with the government recently asking UNAMID to prepare to end its peacekeeping mission in Western Darfur, which began in 2007. According to Reuters, Sudan’s Foreign Minister Under-Secretary Abdallah al-Azraq offered no justification for the government’s demand.
These reports raise many serious questions. When it comes to UNAMID, however, the most pressing is whom it is serving: the Sudanese government or the people suffering violence at its hands?
*In this Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014 photo taken on a government organized media tour, a woman rides a donkey past a convoy of government troops in Tabit village in the North Darfur region of Sudan, where allegations surfaced of rape of women by government allied troops. The spokesman for the joint United Nations African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur says the Sudan government has asked his mission to prepare plans to exit the country. This comes amid tension between the mission and the government over an investigation into allegations of mass rape in the violence-torn western region of Darfur.