Urgent and sustained diplomatic measures aimed at bringing about sustainable peace in Darfur will ultimately provide the framework for ending violence against civilians. While an effort to build lasting peace is absolutely critical, the Save Darfur Coalition also pursues concrete efforts to address current insecurity on the ground caused by over six years of genocidal violence and increasing instability.
In July 2007, the United Nations Security Council authorized the AU-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur, better known as UNAMID, with a strong mandate to protect civilians. Early political and bureaucratic obstructions by the Sudanese government - including stalling on signing agreements and dictating the make-up of the force - caused waning political will for sufficiently resourcing and supporting the force. Two years after it was authorized, UNAMID stands at 69 per cent of its total authorized military strength and still lacks critical resources that would increase the force's effectiveness, including helicopters. It is critical that the Sudanese government remove all hurdles to the deployment of the force and the international community - including the United States - take the necessary steps to procure the resources needed for the force to succeed.
Many Darfuri civilians rely on peacekeepers to provide protection and stability in the present realities of the conflict. For the people of Darfur, their home has become an unpredictable climate of violence and survival. According to the United Nations, 4.7 million people in Darfur rely on humanitarian aid for food, healthcare, clean water, and countless other services. On March 4, 2009, the Sudanese government recklessly expelled 13 international aid organizations and shut down three domestic relief institutions, representing about 50 per cent of the aid delivered in Sudan and placing millions of lives at risk.
Darfuri civilians feel the brunt of this unstable climate, especially women and girls. Women and children make up the overwhelming majority of those living in displaced persons camps, with some estimates as high as 80 per cent. Today, women and girls are under attack. Rape is endemic. The Sudanese government and its janjaweed militias continue to conduct a targeted campaign of sexual violence. Years of continued insecurity has led to an increase in opportunistic rape by a multitude of actors. The camps where women and children are forced to flee are also unsafe, and when they leave to collect firewood or other essentials they are often attacked. Sexual violence is contributing to the region's instability and is rapidly breaking down the social fabric in Darfur. UNAMID can be more effective in protecting women and girls if it is properly trained and equipped to do so - this means increasing the number of females in the force and establishing communication mechanisms with local communities to better understand protection needs.
Despite its challenges, UNAMID presents the most immediate opportunity to provide civilian protection in Darfur, facilitate open humanitarian access, and deter and investigate attacks, including those sexually violent in nature. The international community, led by the U.S., must invest diplomatic and materiel resources to ensure the force can fulfill its mandate.