UNAMID peacekeeper from Tanzania watches over the camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) in Khor Abeche, South Darfur, from a watchtower in the UNAMID's compound. Photo by Albert Gonzalez Farran, UNAMID

UNAMID peacekeeper from Tanzania watches over the camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) in Khor Abeche, South Darfur, from a watchtower in the UNAMID’s compound.
Photo by Albert Gonzalez Farran, UNAMID

An internal UN report has found that the UN Peacekeeping force in Darfur (UNAMID) failed to report evidence of crimes against civilians by the Sudanese government and Janjaweed militia.

The investigation concluded that U.N. officials feared consequences from the Sudanese government, leading to “under-reporting of incidents when government and pro-government forces were suspected to be involved “.

In a statement, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said he is “deeply troubled by these findings” and stressed that underreporting “cannot be condoned under any circumstances”.

The scandal began earlier this year when Aicha Elbasri, former spokeswoman for UNAMID, released thousands of documents that alluded to serious allegations against the Sudanese government, including aerial attacks and crimes against civilians.

Foreign Policy magazine ran a three-part series that shed light on UNAMID’s possible underreporting, effectively demonstrating how “Darfur’s combatants, particularly the Sudanese government, have 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”.

Many international groups demanded that the Security Council take immediate action. In a letter to Samantha Power, United to End Genocide, along with several partner organizations, called on the Security Council to treat the UNAMID scandal with “utmost seriousness” by introducing a resolution which ordered a full investigation.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon did not agree to an independent investigation but in late July, began an internal inquiry sending a former U.N. peacekeeping official to review the allegations. The subsequent report noted five instances in which UNAMID withheld evidence indicating the culpability of Sudanese government forces or Janjaweed combatants in crimes against civilians and peacekeepers.

Meanwhile, in the background of these institutional and ethical failures, Darfur remains a dangerous place for those who believed the war was coming to an end. In 2014 alone, almost 500,000 people have been newly displaced. Janjaweed forces who led the charge during the height of the genocide have not disappeared – many have been integrated into government auxiliary forces or the Rapid Support Forces that continue to endanger civilians. Labeling Darfur as a ‘post-genocide’ or ‘post-conflict’ area has had grave effects as the world diverted its attention from the 2.7 million displaced people and the ICC-indicted warlord, current Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir.

Whether UNAMID “intentionally reported in such a way as to cover up crimes against civilians and peacekeepers”, or not, it is most important that we bring the focus back to peacebuilding in Darfur. The media spectacle around this scandal is the perfect smokescreen to humiliate and divide UN leadership but, this situation needs to be put in context with the more pressing problem – people are still dying in Darfur.

Therefore, it is important to recognize that the mission of UNAMID is vital to the well-being of Darfur’s most vulnerable civilians, and should not be disbanded. UNAMID requires the full support of the Security Council, who failed to address the reporting issue over six months ago when Foreign Policy first reported it. Now, more than ever, we need the peacekeeping mission to operate to its full potential and with a priority on civilian protection.

Blaming UNAMID for failing to report crimes against civilians seemingly hides the larger problem – the reasons why UNAMID cannot accurately report crimes. In order to be effective, UNAMID needs more resources from the international community to address what the UN report calls its “internal management problems” and “lacking capabilities of troop-contributing countries”.

Immediate attention must be given to correcting institutional failures that could lead to inaccurate or ‘conservative’ reporting. But most importantly, the world must take a part in limiting Sudanese government interference with UNAMID missions so crimes can be reported in a timely, accurate manner, and without threats. Already, more than 50 troops and personnel have been murdered since the force took up its mandate. Therefore, priority must be given to the external factors that intimidate UNAMID officials to withhold certain information.

The mission in Darfur has failed to keep peace for ten years too long. This incident with UNAMID should renew our focus on maintaining peace and employ the international community, especially the Security Council, to prioritize protection for Sudanese civilians and UN peacekeepers.

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