Interview with Ibrahim Gambari, African Union-United Nations Joint Special Representative for Darfur

Ibrahim Gambari, African Union-United Nations Joint Special Representative for Darfur. UN Photo/O. Chassot

13 August 2012 – The Security Council recently extended the mandate of the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur – known by the acronym UNAMID – for another year.

The Council also demanded that all parties to the conflict in the Sudanese region – which has pitted Government forces and allied militiamen against rebel groups since 2003 and led to the displacement of millions of civilians – immediately end violence, attacks on civilians, peacekeepers and humanitarian personnel, as well as work towards a peace settlement.

Beginning operations in 2008, UNAMID is the world's largest peacekeeping mission in existence, with 26,000 personnel, and has the protection of civilians as its core mandate. It is also tasked with contributing to security for humanitarian assistance, monitoring and verifying implementation of agreements, assisting an inclusive political process, and contributing to the promotion of human rights and the rule of law.

The UN News Centre recently spoke with the outgoing African Union-United Nations Joint Special Representative for Darfur and head of UNAMID, Ibrahim Gambari, on the latest developments and future outlook for the region.

UN News Centre: What is the security situation in Darfur at the moment?

Ibrahim Gambari: It is difficult to give a single description, but if you compare the situation in Darfur in 2011 to 2010, there has been vast improvement as measured by the number of fatalities that arose out of the confrontation between the Sudan Armed Forces and those of the armed movement. In fact, the death toll was estimated at roughly about 1,300 in 2010. In 2011, it went down to just under 400, so that is almost a 70 per cent decrease.

Similarly, the fatalities arising from conflict over resources between the nomadic communities and the farmers also wI think that, objectively, the security situation overall has improved and this is due to in part to the fact that UNAMID has become much more robust in its approach and in its protection of civilians.ent down by about the same proportion. The third indicator of an improved security situation is the fact that according to OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] figures, a number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in South Darfur are moving to West Darfur, just as a number of refugees in eastern Chad are returning to West Darfur. Why? Because as a result of the rapprochement between President [Idriss] Deby of Chad and President [Omar] Al-Bashir of Sudan, they decided to stop supporting armed oppositions, and West Darfur has become, relatively, the most secure part of the whole of Darfur.

Having said that, I am afraid that the number of conflicts between the Government and the armed movement has gone up in the past six months, and also the fighting in the states of East Darfur and Central Darfur has also gone up, as well as criminality. However, I would say that for the most part the security situation in 2011 registered a vast improvement over 2010.

Now, there are some people who are still fixated on what Darfur was in 2003, 2004, up to even 2006, 2007. I think that, objectively, the security situation overall has improved and this is due to in part to the fact that UNAMID has become much more robust in its approach and in its protection of civilians.

There is also something that was not there before: a peace agreement that gives people hope that peace is at hand. However, it is very important that the armed movements that have not yet signed to the peace agreement and have not joined the political process are persuaded to do so for the sake of the people of Darfur, because unless and until they do, the conflict between them is likely to continue.

JSR Gambari (centre) takes part in a military and police parade for UN Day 2011, in El Fasher, Sudan. UN Photo/Olivier Chassot

UN News Centre: Has the Doha document for peace in Darfur, which was agreed on in Qatar last year, had any impact on the ground?

Ibrahim Gambari: Well, not as yet. However, I have two things to say about that agreement.

First, the commitment of the Government of Sudan to its implementation and the commitment of the Liberation and Justice Movement is very strong. The problem is that the resources available to the Government of Sudan now are not like they used to be when the Darfur peace agreement was signed in Abuja in Nigeria. At that time, there were more resources than political will, but now you have higher political will but fewer resources. The League of Arab States, Qatar, the African Development Bank and others are trying to find ways in which they can provide resources so that the impact and benefit of peace are felt by the civilian population.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) converses with JSR Gambari at a ministerial meeeting on Sudan at UN Headquarters. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Second, all the institutions provided for in that agreement are in place: the Darfur Regional Authority (DRA), the ministers, the special prosecutor. But it is fair to say that the concrete benefits to the people – apart from giving them a sense of hope for peace – have not been felt as they should have been because it has been almost one year since that agreement was signed, but the institution to implement it on the ground, the DRA, was inaugurated only last February.

UN News Centre: So it comes to down a question of resources?

Ibrahim Gambari: At the moment, yes, mostly resources. But also there is some reticence on the part of donors who come with programmes of early recovery, reconstruction and development since the peace agreement that is at hand has not been signed or joined by a number of movements that are strong militarily, such as the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid, the Sudan Liberation Army/Minni Minawi and the Justice and Equality Movement, and there has been sporadic fighting.That does not encourage donors who want to give money.

JSR Gambari addresses the second meeting of the Implementation Follow-Up Commission on the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur, in El Fasher, Sudan. Seated right is Ahmed bin Abdullah Al Mahmoud, Qatar’s Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs. UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran

So yes, resources – but it is also the failure of the armed movements to join the peace process. And finally, the armed movements who have not joined the political process have now formed what is called the Sudan Revolutionary Front, with the objective of overthrowing the Government of Khartoum by force. This has not encouraged a climate that is conducive to the kind of activities on the ground that will make a positive impact on the lives of the people of Darfur.

UN News Centre: What progress is there in your efforts to convince the armed groups to join the peace process?

Ibrahim Gambari: I have tried, and I will never give up. I feel that I need to keep trying for the sake of the people that have suffered too long and too deeply. They need to enjoy the benefits of peace; they need the cessation of hostilities and fighting all over Darfur. The problem is that, obviously, we need a lot of help.

The Qataris are helping to facilitate. I have managed to get the Government to agree to remain flexible and open to negotiations with those who are outside the Doha document for peace, but the Government was clear that they do not want to renegotiate the entire text because this has taken two and a half years to build.

The clashes between the Government of Sudan and rebel movements have lead to the displacement of tens of thousands of people. Here, after fleeing its village, a family seeks protection at Zamzam IDP camp, in North Darfur. Photo: UNAMID

The Qataris are also very generous and very patient, but we cannot take this for granted, so what I am suggesting is that those who have influence on this movement, and there are countries in the region who have influence over them, that they should be used to persuade them to abandon the logic of violence and war, and really opt for peace once again for the sake of their own people who really do not need to continue this suffering that has caused hostilities, displacement, deaths and destruction.

UN News Centre: Looking ahead, what are the major challenges facing UNAMID?

Ibrahim Gambari: First, it is that we are almost fully deployed and now UN Member States are looking at how to reduce costs in a climate of financial difficulties.

Residents of Shangil Tobaya village, located 65 kilometres south of El Fasher, North Darfur, welcome the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, accompanied by JSR Gambari. UN Photo/Olivier Chassot

As I said in the beginning, the security situation has vastly improved – so there is a feeling that there could be some reductions and reconfiguration. So one challenge is to make sure that in drawing down some of the forces, it is done in such a way that does not undermine the gains that were made on the ground, particularly in terms of the civilian protection. That is one challenge.

The second challenge entails the restrictions that we often encounter in our patrols on the part of the Government, but also on the part of the armed movements. Statistically these are not huge, but, according to the status of forces agreement, we are not supposed to be impeded in our movement, and we contest it when this happens and in most cases we overcome.

However, this leads to the third challenge, those areas which have not been accessible for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, which is one of our core mandates. Now there are particular areas which have not been assessed for months and obviously we are not happy about that. We are making efforts to re-launch what I did last year – called Operation Spring Basket – where I personally led the military, the police, the humanitarian actors, and the UN country team to open up humanitarian space. Now we want to do the same thing this year, so that all the areas in need of humanitarian assistance will be served.

JSR Gambari embraces two newly-released South African UNAMID peacekeepers, who along with two colleagues, had been abducted in South Darfur. UN Photo/Olivier Chassot

The third and final theme is that we still have a peace agreement which we have to implement and we are partners in implementing it. Although the principal responsibility lies with the Government, as long as there are others who are not part of the process the fighting will not stop, so we do not have an all-inclusive peace agreement which is what UNAMID is supposed to implement.

The final challenge is internal, which is to make sure that all the top contributor countries do three things. One is to assure that the quality and quantity of contingents’ equipment are up to par. Second, that the pre-deployment training they give to them is adequate, thorough and rigorous, and, thirdly, that the selection of the people who they actually send is also of the topmost quality and that they operate much more cohesively.

We have had some contingents, including sadly from the Nigerian contingent, which have not really performed up to par. Fortunately, the Nigerian Government has really addressed the issue. They repatriated the battalion and are preparing to send new ones. The UN has to examine the state of preparedness, the training and the equipment and I believe that this has been addressed. So those are the major challenges.

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