(New York, August 28, 2006) – The United Nations Security Council should adopt a resolution to send a 20,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force to Darfur as a first step to enhancing civilian protection, Human Rights Watch said today. The Security Council will meet today to discuss a draft resolution against the backdrop of rapidly deteriorating security in Darfur and a buildup of Sudanese government troops in the region.
Despite opposition from the government of Sudan, the United States and the United Kingdom introduced a draft resolution to the Security Council on August 17 that would give a U.N. force broad powers to protect civilians in Darfur. The proposal calls for a gradual transition from the under-funded and overwhelmed African Union (AU) force in Darfur, which has been unable to prevent widespread abuses against civilians, to a U.N. protection force of 17,500, in addition to 3,300 civilian police.
With the AU mandate expiring at the end of September, AU officials have asked in vain that the Sudanese government agree to a transition to the U.N. force, in which many AU soldiers would be “re-hatted” and become U.N. peacekeepers. While legal mechanisms exist to deploy U.N. peacekeepers to a country against its will, Security Council members to date have indicated that they would only send peacekeepers to Darfur with Khartoum’s consent.
Sudanese President Omar El Bashir has categorically rejected a U.N. peacekeeping force. In an August 21 letter to the president of the Security Council, Bashir stated that the transition from the African Union to the U.N. was widely unpopular in Darfur. However, First Vice President Salva Kiir and Minni Minawi, the former rebel who is now senior assistant to the president, have publicly supported the U.N. deployment, as have many internally displaced persons in Darfur.
With violence against civilians escalating in Darfur, Human Rights Watch urged members of the Security Council to pass the draft resolution to send in U.N. peacekeepers, and then use maximum leverage on the countries that have influence on Sudan, particularly China, Russia and Qatar, to secure its consent for the U.N. force.
“Rape, murder and forced displacement continue in Darfur, in large part because Russia, China, Qatar and others have protected Khartoum from tough measures by the Security Council,” said Takirambudde. “We know the Security Council’s attention is focused on Iran and Lebanon, but the United States, Britain and France must step up efforts to ensure that Darfur is a priority also.”
In the event that Sudan does not consent to a U.N. force, Human Rights Watch urged the Security Council to apply targeted sanctions to the Sudanese officials responsible for blocking U.N. efforts to protect civilians in Darfur. The draft resolution to deploy U.N. peacekeepers envisions sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, for individuals who block implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement or commit human rights violations.
Khartoum, which is rejecting the resolution to deploy U.N. peacekeepers in increasingly strident terms, has also introduced a proposal to the Security Council, under which it would send 22,500 new government troops to Darfur in a bid to end the crisis. The plan makes no mention of many provisions in the Darfur Peace Agreement signed on May 5, such as demilitarized zones and the disarmament of the government backed “Janjaweed” militias. But it details Sudanese government troop deployments to Darfur, in direct violation of the agreement. Government troops have been massing in recent weeks in Fashir and other locations in North Darfur, where rebels are active.
“Sudanese government soldiers are not an alternative to international peacekeepers,” said Takirambudde. “Any new military operations by government forces or rebels would inevitably have devastating consequences for civilians.”
The U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations will present a point-by-point analysis of Sudan’s proposal to the Security Council on August 28.
The government and the largest Darfur rebel group signed the Darfur Peace Agreement in Abuja, Nigeria, under the auspices of the African Union. But two smaller rebel groups refused to sign and continue to fight the government; Janjaweed militias and bandits also persist in attacks.
The U.N. reports that violence in Darfur is worse than ever despite the deal, leading to the forcible displacement of 21,000 people since July in the state of North Darfur alone. Humanitarian access in Darfur is at its lowest level since 2004, with almost 500,000 needy civilians beyond the reach of humanitarian aid.