Amidst the war-torn and ravaged Darfur, a region that has not seen peace or stability in over a decade, United Nations peacekeepers protect civilians from the violence that surrounds them. Members of UNAMID, or the African Union/United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur, symbolize security and humanitarian aid, while also facilitating discussion regarding new agreements and advocating for the rule of law. They bring justice and hope to an otherwise irreparable situation. But, as a result of a decision by the United Nations Security Council, roughly a third of the UNAMID workers will be pulled away from the nation, leaving Darfuris unsafe and unprotected in their hellish landscape.
Conflict first arose in the western region of Sudan in 2003. Arab militias backed by the Sudanese government known as the Janjaweed have brutally tormented and slaughtered both local civilians, including members of rebel groups such as the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM), in the forms of rape, torture, theft, and the destruction of Darfuri homes. The beginning of the conflict marked the first genocide of the 21st century. To this day, despite the continued efforts of United Nations peacekeepers, these horrendous crimes occur. As a result, millions of innocent men, women, and children are exposed to a world of violence and terror. In nearly a decade and a half of conflict, over 2.5 million citizens have been displaced from their homes, and 3 million Darfuris have been left in critical need of humanitarian aid.
The dangerous decision to remove a third of the United Nations troops from the unstable region may have been premature and reckless, if not alarming. While the African Union and United Nations note that conflict has decreased and fewer people have been displaced annually since UNAMID formed in 2007, thousands are still being forced from their homes due to the fighting. This has lead many to believe that the United Nations workers are still vital in reducing the level of violence in western Sudan.
Despite an imperfect record in Darfur, UNAMID peacekeepers remain one of the few forces maintaining any level of stability in Darfur. While some question the effectiveness of the peacekeepers, their inability to acquire the cooperation of the Sudanese government, or the various scandals surrounding UNAMID, the role they play in sustaining agreements and protecting innocent lives is undeniable. Furthermore, peacekeepers would likely play a vital role in the establishment of a stable relationship between the government of Sudan and its people, while also assisting millions of displaced citizens. Without the necessary resources and troops, UNAMID may no longer be able to perform these tasks. As Omer Ismail, an advisor for the humanitarian group Enough Project, said about the situation, the action of withdrawing UN peacekeepers from Darfur “will make several key areas unsafe for humanitarian operations, likely leading to closures of programs upon which tens of thousands of conflict-affected people rely.”
Other official figures support this opinion. Amongst them, former UNAMID spokesperson Aïcha El Basri has called the retraction of troops a betrayal to the people of Darfur. Another spokesperson, Hussein Abusharati of the Darfur Displaced and Refugees Association, stated: “A reduction of the number of UNAMID peacekeepers will make the Darfuris more vulnerable to abuses of all kinds by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and other militias operating in the region.” To them and many others, it is believed that the loss of UNAMID workers will lead to less, not more, peace and stability moving forward, thus making the United Nations decision even more distressing.
Worse still, this impactful decision to pull troops out of Darfur may have only been amongst the first caused by cuts to the United Nations peacekeeping budget. The United States government, the largest donor for worldwide peacekeeping efforts, has decreased spending within the United Nations. U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley has already pushed for a budget cut of around half a billion dollars in an effort to reduce costs in the States. But the cuts are clearly unfinished, as she says “…we’re only getting started.” This implies that the retraction of peacekeepers may continue not only in Darfur but in unstable countries worldwide. While the impacts of such reductions remain unknown, they have the potential to lead to catastrophe in the world’s most unstable regions.
Throughout history, we have seen the blue helmets of United Nations peacekeepers as a symbol of security in war-torn areas of the world. After the Holocaust, a mass genocide of Jewish people, world powers came together and formed the United Nations, saying, “Never again”. But if the reckless reduction of peacekeepers in locations such as Darfur continues, the United Nations may be breaking that promise to the world’s citizens.