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Damned if they do, damned if they don’t

August 15, 2010

UNAMIDincampDarfur’s joint U.N.-African Union peacekeepers face a dilemma in Darfur which could shape the future of the world’s largest U.N.-funded force.

After violence left five people dead in the highly volatile Kalma Camp, six refugees sought sanctuary in the UNAMID force’s police base there. They are thought to be rebel sympathisers and the government accuses them of instigating the camp clashes, demanding that UNAMID hand them over.

Kalma, just outside Darfur’s largest town Nyala, has long been a problem for the Khartoum government, whose offices in the camp were burned down by angry refugees. Rebel supporters in the camp have obtained arms and there have been clashes with government police in the area.

Now if the six are responsible for the violence, which was between refugees who support rebel leader Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur and those who took part in peace talks which Nur rejects, then it is Sudan’s right to try them in a court of law.

However the government is headed by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, a man wanted by the International Criminal Court for presiding over genocide and war crimes against these same Darfuris, which is why they are in the refugee camps in the first place.

Repeated reports during the seven-year conflict of the torture of Darfuri detainees give a pretty good indication that they are unlikely to get a fair trial if UNAMID hands them over.

So what to do?

This is the stuff of nightmares for U.N. peacekeeping officials.

If they hand them over they lose the trust of the 2 million Darfuri refugees they were sent to protect and could be subject to attacks by rebel forces, who would see them as an enemy. But if they don’t hand them over, they are stuck in a standoff with Khartoum.

The force relies on cooperation with the government for its own security. The government also allocates visas for staff, allows equipment in through customs and gives travel permits. And the government has shown it is ready to use these powers against any foreign organisation that annoys it.

According to U.N. sources, the instruction came from New York not to hand over the six refugees without a bona fide arrest warrant based on real proof they had committed a crime and guarantees they would get a fair trial, which UNAMID would need to follow very closely and publicly.

As one UNAMID staff member told me, “If we can’t even do that we may as well go home.”


Should UNAMID hand them over?

Can UNAMID guarantee them a fair trial?

Can UNAMID continue to defy the government request?


It’s hard to imagine living amongst the atrocities that go on in Darfur. I never really had a grasp on just how horrific the situation was over there until I saw Attack on Darfur at the NY International Film Festival. Genocide, torture, rape- the film did not hold back and although it was hard to watch at times, it really made me want to get involved. If we don’t do anything to help, who will?

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