By Evan Gray, Blog Writer

Last month, local media outlets in Sudan’s Darfur region reported horrifying allegations of a mass rape committed by Sudanese soldiers in the town of Tabit. According to these reports, more than 200 women and children were subjected to sexual violence on the orders of a Sudanese army commander, who mistakenly believed the villagers to be responsible for the disappearance of one of his men. The recent events in Tabit have refocused international attention on the ongoing violence and insecurity in the Darfur region – a serious problem that had fallen out of the public eye in recent years. However, widespread criticism of the response by UNAMID’s, the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur, has also created a parallel controversy, calling into question the effectiveness of the world’s largest peace-keeping operation.

Much of the recent criticism leveled against UNAMID has centered on the ineffectiveness of its initial attempts to verify and investigate the reports coming out of Tabit. Although the mission is headquartered a mere 20 miles away in the town of El Fasher, investigators were kept from visiting the site of the crime for almost a week by the Sudanese government. These restrictions provided the army ample time to intimidate the villagers into silence and destroy any physical evidence of rape. While the mission’s own investigators noted an “environment of fear and intimidation” in Tabit due to the presence of armed soldiers who insisted on supervising the interview process, UNAMID’s report on the issue found no conclusive evidence to support the charges. Although it appears that no witnesses came forward to investigators, the inconclusive nature of this report has led some to accuse UNAMID of ‘covering up’ the incident for the Sudanese government.

This is not the first time that UNAMID has been criticized for its reporting of human rights abuses in Darfur, with the UN having launched its own probe into the matter this summer. Although the results of this report have not yet been made public, the impression that UNAMID has been complicit in covering up human rights abuses by the Sudanese government has become widespread, with some even calling for the mission to be defunded.

In fairness, UNAMID’s investigation has been severely hampered by Sudanese government interference, including denial of access to humanitarian groups and peacekeepers seeking to investigate allegations of violence in Darfur. The recent events in Tabit have put even more strain on the relationship between peacekeepers and the government, resulting in the Sudanese foreign ministry requesting the creation of an exit strategy for UNAMID and the closing of the UN’s human rights office in Khartoum.

With the credibility of UNAMID’s commitment to its mandate already being questioned, this request now casts more doubt over the future of the mission. According to a recent UN report, the level of violence in Darfur has only increased over the past few months, heightening the need for effective peacekeeping. At the same time, however, government interference and mismanagement have progressively weakened UNAMID’s ability to implement its mandate. Clearly, something will have to change if the mission is to ever fulfill its stated goal of protecting the Sudanese people and bringing about peace in the region.