Published On: Tue, May 21st, 2013

Where Are the Intervention Brigades When We Need Them?

Map_of_Abyei_Area_enOn 21 May 2013, the UN Secretary-General released his report on the situation in Abyei[1]. Abyei is a zone in between Sudan and South Sudan that has a “special administrative status” since 2004. The Abyei region is considered to be part of the states of South Kordofan (Sudan) and Northern Bahr el Ghazal (South Sudan), and serves as a natural bridge connecting the two discordant nations. Conflicts between the various indigenous groups in Abyei occur on a regular basis, especially between “Tora Bora” Rebel Militia Group, Sudan People’s Liberation Army, Ngok Dinka displaced peoples, and the Misseriya. Despite the presence of the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) in the region, violence is an imminent threat.

In the report, the Secretary-General claims that various incidents have occurred that demonstrate the rift in beliefs that still exist between local groups. Violence in the region ensues, killing and injuring UN Peacekeepers, UN officials, and civilians alike. UNISFA was established on 27 June 2011 in UN Security Council Resolution 1990 (2011).[2] The mission contained 4200 Military personnel, 50 police personnel and additional civilian support. Its mandate included “monitoring and verifying the redeployment of any Sudan Armed Forces, Sudan People’s Liberation Army or its successor, from the Abyei Area as defined by the Permanent Court of Arbitration”[3] and declared the Abyei Region a demilitarized zone, giving UNISFA and the Abyei Police Service a theoretical monopoly on the use of force in the region. While the proclamation of Abyei as a demilitarized zone was a bold step taken by the UN Security Council, despite their best efforts, UNISFA has not yet been successful in achieving its main objectives despite significantly having exceeded their initial mandate.

On May 6, a top tribal chief and UN peacekeeper were killed in an attack on a UN convoy. The UN Security Council responded by “strongly condemning” [4]the act of violence and “reiterated its full support for UNISFA by calling on all parties in the Abyei area ‘to exercise maximum restraint, to cooperate fully with the mission, and to use mechanisms they have put in place to facilitate an effective investigation’ into the acts of violence”.[5] The attack on the UN Convoy was part of an ongoing feud between the Ngok Dinka farmers and the Misseriya, two ethnic groups in the region who have consistently clashed over the past years. The question here then is if this is an ongoing feud, and violence can be anticipated, why were UNISFA peacekeepers not equipped to counter and prevent such acts of violence?

While peace talks have been underway in the region since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, with the independence of South Sudan in 2011, there has been little progress on the issue of Abyei. The report states that “little progress was made on the implementation of the 20 June 2011 agreement during the reporting period.”[6] This is because the UN has failed to retain political credibility in the region and has not been able to establish peace between leaders in the political arena. While UNISFA permits peacekeepers to be mediators and bring the various chiefs of the region together with regional political leaders and the presidents of the respective nations, the diplomatic negotiations have gone on to no avail. Sudanese leadership claims: “Time has come for the UN Security Council to end diplomacy and take aggressive measures, take [a] serious and unified decision, take firm and strong action against the government of Sudan. The National Congress Party is just wasting people’s time and resources. It wants us to engage in indefinite negotiations.”[7]

On 28 March 2013, the UN Security Council passed a resolution allowing for the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) to “neutralize” and “disarm” rebel groups in the area for the sake of promoting peacekeeping.[8] While the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo is very different than that in South Sudan, the introduction of the intervention brigade marks a significant milestone in UN peacekeeping. It marks the introduction of a third generation of peacekeepers, who are not only given the authority to defend themselves, and assist in protecting the peace like before, but now have the permission to become actively involved in the conflict. They can actively defend civilians and neutralize militia groups, to protect demilitarized zones thus actively securing the safety of civilians. So, the question remains: how long until similar troops are deployed in regions like Abyei to assist in the peace process? How many more people need to die in avoidable conflicts for the UN Security Council to realize the gravity of the situation? The simple condemnation of killing will not help the peacekeepers on the ground, but instead simply demonstrate the lack of influence that the UN has in the region, and works against the diplomatic ties that the UN should have with local leaders and civilians in the region so affecting its overall pull in the peace process.

It is evident that fighting in the region will not die down any time soon. Despite the unstable conditions in the region, the UN has not been successful in neutralizing armed groups. Although guiding and mediating peace talks between chiefs, and higher authorities, the fact of the matter is that the situation on the ground is evidently more dangerous than is displayed in newspapers. In conclusion, as it stands now, UNISFA will not gain substantial ground in tackling the issues in the region. The time for diplomacy has expired, and the situation in Abyei is worsening with every passing day. It is time for the United Nations Security Council to intervene with a resolution that will take hard measures to broker peace in the region. The UN has to stand up for the rights that it so strongly promises to protect. Instead of merely condemning violent situations, the UN must allow UNISFA to work to alleviate the situation in Abyei, giving it the authority and means to do so, so that there can be a clear understanding of who controls the zone, and action can be taken to protect the people who call it home.







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