Argument

Conflict of Interest

Chadian peacekeepers may be leaving the Central African Republic, but will the war-torn country ever really be free of its meddling northern neighbor?

On Saturday, March 29, Chadian troops opened fire on a market in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR). The soldiers drove into one of the capital's northern neighborhoods, purportedly to guard some of the city's last remaining Muslims residents. When they arrived, the force sent a hail of bullets into the market, killing 30 and wounding hundreds. The soldiers have claimed that they were responding to a grenade attack, but a U.N. investigator who spoke with witnesses reported that the peacekeepers fired "indiscriminately" and "without provocation" on the civilian population.

Initial reports suggested that the attackers may have been Chadian special forces, which operate outside the scope of the African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission currently operating in the CAR. (The U.N. Security Council paved the way for the AU force, as well as the deployment of French troops, in December.) Yet the fallout from the incident has still affected international intervention in the country. On April 3, Chad announced it would be withdrawing its troops from the AU peacekeeping effort. In a statement, the Chadian government decried a "gratuitous and malicious" campaign to blame its soldiers for "all the suffering in CAR."

The announced departure is significant. Chad has played a major role in the international intervention in CAR, and its 850 soldiers will be missed as boots on the ground. Yet Chad's parting will also relieve the peacekeeping force of soldiers who have often undermined the effort to stabilize a country that has been immersed in terrible, inter-religious fighting for more than a year.

The Bangui market attack is only the latest incident in which Chadian soldiers have been implicated in abuses. The allegations -- ranging from aiding Seleka rebels, the coalition of Muslim militias that took up arms against the CAR government in late 2012, to indiscriminately attacking civilians -- have called into question the fitness of Chadian soldiers to serve as peacekeepers. They also speak to a broader criticism that Chad has been meddling in its southern neighbor's affairs for the Chadian government's own strategic purposes.

These concerns emerged early in the CAR conflict. In December 2012, Chadian troops were deployed as part of an initial regional peacekeeping mission, known as FOMAC. The mission, which also included soldiers from Angola, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and the Republic of Congo, was mandated with protecting the government of former President François Bozizé against the Seleka who, at that point, had captured a number of towns in the CAR's north and were marching toward Bangui.

By January 2013, peacekeepers had effectively halted the rebel offensive at the town of Damara, some 44 miles north of Bangui. Yet the détente did not last. On March 21, FOMAC forces -- mostly Chadians -- willingly retreated, allowing the Seleka an open corridor to the capital. On March 24, the rebels captured Bangui, installing their leader, Michel Djotodia, as president after Bozizé fled.

Under Djotodia's new administration, Chadian peacekeepers, still purportedly stationed to pacify sectarian attacks, were implicated in a crackdown against Bozizé loyalists. In a monitoring report, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights documented collusion between Chadian FOMAC troops and Seleka fighters in attacks against Christian civilians and anti-balaka, an equally brutal network of Christian civil-defense militias initially set up to protect towns and villages from the Muslim rebels. In one instance in December 2013, peacekeepers and rebels went door to door in Bangui, rounding up and killing suspected opposition fighters.

Chadian forces "have at least assisted Seleka leaders if not actively participated in some killings," Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director for Human Rights Watch, who is currently based in Bangui, said in an interview.

The allegations have fueled animosity toward men who are supposed to be part of a force for good. On Dec. 23, 2013, scores of demonstrators had taken to the streets of Bangui to protest Chad's continued involvement in their country. They held up signs that read "No Chadians in Bangui" and "No to the Chadian army." Chadian soldiers responded by firing live ammunition into the angry crowd, killing at least one person and injuring several others.

To those loyal to Bozizé, "[Chadian forces] and Seleka are one and the same, and they blame Chad...for what Seleka did," Bouckaert said.

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While Chad's involvement in the CAR in part reflects Chadian President Idriss Déby's efforts to position his country as a regional power, it also serves more odious tactical aims. Déby, who has been in office for 23 years, has a lengthy history of interfering in the affairs of the CAR. The Chadian president has alternatively propped up and sabotaged successive CAR governments in a long-term strategy to ensure a pliable administration in Bangui.

For instance, Déby helped keep CAR President Ange-Félix Patassé, who served from 1993 to 2003, in power by sending troops to protect him from several coup attempts. Yet when Bozizé, then an upstart army chief of staff, threatened Patassé's rule, Déby switched his allegiance, offering Bozizé's rebels refuge in southern Chad. As president, Bozizé also relied on Chadian soldiers to form the bulk of his presidential guard. This proved to be a miscalculation, given Chad's slippery, shifting alliances in the CAR: As Seleka militias bore down on the capital last year, the presidential guard, like the Chadian peacekeepers, allegedly put up little resistance. Bozizé has also claimed that Chadian special forces aided the Seleka during the offensive against his government; Chadian officials deny the accusations.

Chad has several overlapping interests in the CAR. Paramount is oil. Chad's future energy supply depends on the CAR neglecting to develop its own oil interests: Chad's main oil field straddles the border, and thanks to a quirk of geology, supply would drop should the CAR start extracting from its side.

"With no functioning army, gendarmerie or police force in the CAR, Déby knows that there will never be any serious development in the north, especially in the area near Chad's border, where both countries sit on top of oil reserves," said David Smith, director of Okapi Consulting, which works to bolster local African media networks, and a long-time observer of the region. "If the CAR did the same, and they've been trying to do so in fits and starts, they'll be tapping into Chad's biggest foreign currency earner, and that would put a serious strain on Déby's ability to arm his military."

Another factor is Déby's own security. Over the years, the long-sitting president has had to combat a series of rebel insurgencies, some of which have used northern CAR as a launch point for attacks. Deploying his army in the CAR secures his southern border.

In January 2014, amid continued violence between rogue Seleka elements, which were aligned with government forces, and anti-Balaka militias, Djotodia agreed to follow Patassé and Bozizé into exile. In yet another example of Chad's close involvement in the CAR, those delicate exit negotiations, conducted under the auspices of the regional Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), were held in N'Djamena -- the capital of Chad. Déby's personal intervention was crucial in getting Djotodia to agree to step down.

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Since Djotodia left office, the CAR has become even more lawless. The ascendance of interim President Catherine Samba-Panza, who took office in January, has failed to alleviate sectarian tensions. Vicious reprisals by the anti-balaka against the country's Muslim population for their perceived support of the Muslim rebels have left thousands dead and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. The country is in the middle of a humanitarian crisis affecting almost the entire population.

In response to ongoing sectarian violence, the U.N. Security Council is gearing up to deploy some 12,000 international peacekeepers within the next six months. The force is expected to be approved at a meeting in the second week of April. Explaining the mission's main goals, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for "more troops and police to protect people. More efforts to get a peace process under way. More support for President Samba-Panza to get the government functioning again. More funding for humanitarian assistance. Accountability for perpetrators of sectarian cleansing and other grave violations of human rights."

Chad's announced withdrawal of its peacekeepers might save U.N. planners from a difficult decision about whether to incorporate some of the very soldiers that have helped sustain the current conflict.

Chad removed its first contingent of soldiers on Friday, April 4, but a full drawdown is by no means certain. It issued a similar threat in April 2013 to pull some 2,000 troops out of the international effort to subdue Islamist rebels in Mali, but did not do so. Nor is there any word on whether Chad will evacuate its special forces.

Either way, it's unlikely that Chad's strongman will ever completely abandon his interventions in the CAR. "The role of Déby in CAR is very complicated," said Human Rights Watch's Bouckaert. "Déby holds so many cards in his hand that he can do as he pleases in CAR."

ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images

Argument

We Can't Say All That We See in Darfur

A former spokesperson reveals the web of lies, half-truths, and omissions that the United Nations has built in Darfur.

Nearly five years ago, Rodolphe Adada, the first chief of the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur, known as UNAMID, misled the world by declaring that the devastating war in the western region of Sudan was over. Many people objected to his claim. I did not. Back then I was one of the people who had thrown dust in their own eyes so as to see no evil in Darfur beyond an age-old conflict between farmers and nomads.

In this state of denial, I went on with my U.N. career until I took on the post of the UNAMID spokesperson in Darfur in 2012. My early exposure to the horrors occurring under Darfur's harsh sun made me feel as if I were walking out of Plato's cave. I struggled against my own denial, and over time I was compelled to see the truth that a horrible war on civilians was being hidden from the world.

It was on Aug. 25, only nine days after I set foot in Darfur, that I received a call from a journalist from the Washington-based Radio Afia Darfur inquiring about reports of clashes in the Tawila area of North Darfur. My subsequent request for information from UNAMID officials received the reply, "According to team sites commanders (military and police), the situation in Tawila locality is calm. Yesterday they observed SAF [Sudanese Armed Forces] and Arab militias moving toward the south." I went back to the journalist with the "situation is calm" line; it would prove to be a lie I unwittingly conveyed.

Soon thereafter, UNAMID deployed a verification mission to Tawila. It established beyond doubt that during Aug. 24-27, Sudanese government forces aboard more than 150 military vehicles attacked four villages mainly inhabited by Zaghawa and Fur ethnic groups on the suspicion that they supported Darfur's insurgents. The soldiers raped several women, assaulted men and children, looted, and destroyed many farms.

The local population alerted UNAMID on Aug. 26 to the attack, which was forcing thousands of civilians to flee their homes. But the peacekeepers didn't rush to protect them. They waited four days to leave their base to patrol the villages, which were only about 12 miles away.

Tawila was the first of the many systematic U.N. failures I managed to document. It exemplifies how UNAMID lied to the media and failed to protect, or in some cases even make an effort to protect civilians in the region.

As I was trying to make sense of what had happened in Tawila, I asked the deputy force commander of UNAMID, General Kisamba Wynjones, why the peacekeepers did not report and closely monitor the government forces' joint movement with the "Arab militias" -- which in the U.N.'s jargon means the infamous Janjaweed. He answered, "Sometimes we have to behave like diplomats. We can't say all [of] what we see in Darfur."

Kisamba stopped there, giving no further explanation as to the reasons for his position.

His statement shook me to the core -- and I repeated it in a meeting of senior advisors that Kisamba himself attended. I recall the awkward silence that filled the room and the absence of any debate on Kisamba's words, or even any comment.

Four months later, as I continued to raise questions about the mission's flawed reporting, Aichatou Mindadou, the acting chief of UNAMID at the time, confided to me in writing that the mission had been "hijacked by 2 or 3 people.... A lot of games are being played and people have different agenda[s]" that were "not every time in line neither with the mission's mandate nor with the sake of the Darfuris." She also revealed that all the information coming from the mission was "manipulated," something she didn't agree to and was doing her best to address, she said.

Over time, it would become clear that the lies, omissions, half-truths, and disinformation about Darfur weren't limited to UNAMID. They certainly extended to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, some U.N. agencies, and all the way up to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Ban's report on Darfur covering the July-September 2012 period (S/2012/771) kept quiet about the Tawila attack. It also stopped short of alerting the U.N. Security Council to the Sudanese government's intensifying bombing campaign that was killing great numbers of civilians in Darfur, including over 100 in the Hashaba area alone.

Even more disturbing in this report is Ban's attributing the killing of one civilian and the wounding of eight others on Sept. 5 near the town of Kutum to "the crossfire of a firefight between armed Arab militia and Government regular forces." The truth is that there was no crossfire and no firefight, only defenseless civilians peacefully traveling to Kutum in a truck who were stopped and shot in cold blood in front of UNAMID peacekeepers by "Arab militia." The peacekeepers looked on and took photos of the assault. 

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The web of lies that various parts of the United Nations has woven about Darfur is vast. Orwellian doublespeak deliberately disguises reality and distorts words. U.N. reports on the region, for instance, typically and euphemistically use "air strikes" for indiscriminate bombing of civilians, "sporadic clashes" for continuous war, and "sexual and gender-based violence" for systematic rape. As for their references to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's "regular forces," I often wondered how there could be anything "regular" about the hordes of fighters who operate lawlessly and jointly with the Janjaweed death squads. They make no distinction between civilians and combatants, bomb children and terrorize adults, rape women, and loot and burn everything they find to the ground.

In the same vein, perhaps most egregious is the U.N.'s removal of the word Janjaweed from its vocabulary. In July 2004, facing international pressure, the Security Council gave Khartoum 30 days to disarm the Janjaweed and bring their leaders to justice, or face "further actions." But far from disarming the Janjaweed, al-Bashir brazenly integrated an unknown number of them into Sudan's armed auxiliary forces. (Others continued to fight on camels and horseback, in fatigues or civilian clothing.) The U.N. panel of experts' report of from Jan. 30, 2006 (S/2006/65) warned the Security Council of this ruse:

It appears that the Security Council's intent to deny arms to the so-called Janjaweed militia, through the adoption of resolution 1556 (2004), was circumvented by the fact that many of the militias were already formally part of the Government security organs or were incorporated into those organs, especially the Popular Defence Force (PDF), the border intelligence guard, the central reserve police, the popular police and the nomadic police, after the adoption of the resolution.

Yet the United Nations failed to tell the people of Darfur and the world this story. While Khartoum claimed that the Janjaweed no longer existed in Darfur, U.N. diplomats pretended they did not see them either. Speaking to Reuters in October 2008, then-U.N. Sudan envoy Jan Eliasson said that "the Janjaweed were no longer a discernible group." The mission and the United Nations also purged public reports and statements of any mention of the Janjaweed. Since the deployment of UNAMID in 2008, only one mention of the word Janjaweed has appeared in the more than 30 reports Ban has issued on Darfur, undoubtedly by mistake (S/2008/400).

Instead, the United Nations has used a plethora of deceptive labels: "Arab militia," "pro-government militia," "government-allied militia," "Arab tribal militia," "tribal militia," and "armed groups." In so doing, the United Nations has espoused the Sudanese government's official line that blames all the atrocities on inter-tribal conflicts and out-of-control "militias." Nothing could make al-Bashir and his government happier. The United Nations has offered them the perfect pretext to claim they are innocent of the crimes committed by their own forces, while also claiming that they have, indeed, disbanded the Janjaweed.

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It took me months to understand the intricacies of this war and what all the labels meant. However, my biggest struggle was offering honest and timely answers to the increasing questions from journalists who were desperate to hear the truth about the crimes being committed in Darfur and the identity of the perpetrators. Not a week went by without media queries going deliberately unanswered or inadequately answered by UNAMID. Many senior advisors would either keep quiet or give vague replies. In most cases, reporters would give up after they missed deadlines, and their questions would die a quiet death. I, too, was exhausted by my constant struggle to get credible and timely answers to the media.

On April 4, 2013, nearly eight months into my post, I resigned. I had discovered that UNAMID troops -- contrary to their claims -- did not make any effort to stop hostile and armed insurgents from abducting 31 displaced people who were traveling to a refugee conference under their escort on March 24. I could no longer speak on behalf of a U.N. mission that is incapable of protecting defenseless civilians and can't stop lying about it.

As I was preparing to depart a few weeks later, the mystery behind another favorite verbal distortion of the United Nations -- the use of the phrase "unidentified assailants" to describe people who attack UNAMID troops -- began to unravel. On the night of April 18-19, UNAMID troops were attacked twice within four hours in Muhajeria (in east Darfur) by Sudanese government forces. The long firefight resulted in the death of one peacekeeper and one Sudanese officer. Subsequently, in the following early morning, Sudanese Lieutenant Ibrahim Abu-Bakr Abdallah, accompanied by hostile soldiers, bullied his way into the UNAMID compound and threatened to launch another attack if the mission failed to pay blood money for killing his officer.

Under the advice of Karen Tchalian, the mission's chief of staff, and supported by the head of the Communications and Public Information Department, Michael Meyer, the new UNAMID chief, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, opted to distort these facts. He issued a statement that mentioned only the second of the two attacks, turned the government perpetrators into "unidentified assailants," and suppressed all facts attesting to the government soldiers' responsibility for the attack -- this despite my having voiced concern about such incomplete and inaccurate public reporting, which could very well constitute a violation of the U.N.'s public information policy.

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On this final, disturbing note, I left Darfur. On May 11, 2013, I wrote my end-of-mission report, detailing the reasons for my resignation and asking the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to look into UNAMID's breaches of the U.N.'s pubic information policy. My appeal was ignored, so on Aug. 30, I formally requested the U.N. Office for Internal Oversight Services to open an investigation into the many lies and the disinformation I had documented.

The United Nations has answered my requests with deafening silence. Having failed to get the United Nations to investigate the situation, I have decided to put the matter in the hands of the public by sharing documents that show what the United Nations has done and how it has lied. Since the United Nations may never investigate its own wrongdoing, and the African Union is more concerned with shielding war criminals than protecting the people of Darfur, I hope the media and the general public will take up the challenge and call the United Nations, as well as the African Union, to account.

My intent is not to lash out at the United Nations, which I diligently served for years. I simply wish to provide testimony on how the organization has been covering up grave crimes against civilians and its own peacekeepers, and to bring Darfur back into the media spotlight. My hope is that, soon, the international community will stop the carnage and broker a genuine, comprehensive peace for all of Sudan.

As an Arab-African Muslim, I refuse to remain silent while innocent civilians are being killed in my name. I chose to end my U.N. career to regain my freedom to speak out. I have only lost a job; countless Darfuris are still losing their lives.

ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images