U.N. peacekeepers in Chad will begin packing their gear this week, the first step in the U.N.’s phased withdrawal from a politically fragile African country that has grown weary of hosting more than 4,000 foreign peacekeepers on its territory.
But the move has alarmed human rights officials and some U.N. officials, who fear that the U.N. drawdown will leave hundreds of thousands of Darfuri refugees exposed to violent attacks from a host of predators, including elements of the very Chadian security forces that are supposed to protect them.
The U.N. mission in Central Africa and Chad, known as MINURCAT, has warned that Chad’s security forces lack the training, leadership, and technical capacity to fill the security vacuum that will be left behind by the U.N.’s departure, according to internal U.N. documents. Both the Chadian army and a U.N.-trained police force — the Détachement Intégré de Sécurité (DIS), which was established in October 2008 precisely to help provide security for refugee camps — are considered not up to the job.
"The stated ability of Chadian Military forces to replicate the present operational outputs of [the U.N. force] in an orderly and structured manner is…strongly disputed," according to a security assessment issued by the U.N. peacekeeping mission that was obtained by Turtle Bay. The report claims that "No credible evidence exists that the Chadian military forces have in place the required logistical supply chain" to ensure a safe environment for relief workers and displaced people.
The Security Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to begin scaling down the mission, while urging Chad to meet its commitment to ensuring the safe delivery of relief supplies to the needy and to protecting refugees and U.N. relief agencies. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the decision and highlighted what he saw as recent improvements in the capacity of the U.N.-trained DIS unit to secure refugee camps, citing more than 7,000 security patrols and aid escort operations.
"Notable advances have also been highlighted in the promotion of the rule of law, including human rights," Ban wrote in a report to the Security Council last month. He also cautioned that he was "mindful that Chad is situated in a region that, despite some recent positive developments, remains fragile.
Nevertheless, in a sign of its lack of confidence in the Security Council’s decision, the U.N.’s top refugee agency said Wednesday that it may have to scale back its activities when the U.N. forces withdraw.
"When they leave, we might have to restrict our operations," Mans Nyberg, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told the BBC. "We understand the reasons behind [the decision to withdraw U.N. peacekeepers] but we are concerned for the consequences for our operations in eastern Chad."
The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Chad was established in September 2007 to replace a European peacekeeping force tasked with stabilizing Chad’s border with Sudan and handling the reception of Darfuri refugees. Chad’s leader Idriss Déby never wanted foreign troops on his soil, and only grudgingly accepted them under pressure from France. Déby announced plans to kick the U.N. out in January, after securing a peace agreement with Sudan to secure the border and halt anti-government rebels on both sides.
Amnesty International and other human rights groups, citing the peace deal’s failure to provide for the protection of the more than 400,000 thousand refugees and displaced civilians already in Chad, argue that U.N. forces are still urgently needed.
Claudio Cordone, the secretary-general for Amnesty International, said that a provision in the U.N. drawdown resolution that calls for the protection of civilians in some circumstances is a "fig leaf." He urged the council to reconsider its decision from Tuesday, saying it has an obligation to "impose its will" on Chad in order to ensure that civilians are protected. "In a situation where the government says ‘I don’t want your troops but they’re the only ones who can provide a minimum of security ,’ you would be able to impose your will on that government," Cordone told Turtle Bay.
Amnesty and aid workers in Chad have also expressed unease over the ability of the DIS, the U.N.-backed police force, to guarantee security in the camps. DIS has been linked to rights abuses by both the U.N. and human right groups. The U.N. has repeatedly cited DIS for violations ranging from reckless driving to human rights abuses.
"DIS officers have been involved in some serious incidents involving the use of firearms, undermining the confidence of humanitarian actors," according to a July 2009 report by Ban. "To date, four cases of serious misconduct have been recorded, including the murder of a civilian in March and the accidental killing of boy in Joukou Angarana in June. On Tuesday, DIS recruits in the town of Gereda lost control of the Nissan Land Cruiser they were driving and ploughed into a crowd of civilians in the town of Gereda, injuring seven and killing a woman."
Secretary-General Ban, however, has pushed back against the more serious allegations. In his latest report on Chad to the Security Council, Ban said that over the past year the 800-person DIS successfully dismissed 45 officers on disciplinary grounds and conducted thousands of patrols and humanitarian aid escorts.
But U.N. peacekeeping officials have said privately that Ban has exaggerated their accomplishments by relying on unreliable statistics furnished by the Chadian government. They contend that the U.N. has no systematic procedure in place to measure whether the DIS really have been carrying out their patrols.