Policing Sudan: A tale of two forces

As the African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur gradually merges into a larger AU-United Nations force (UNAMID), expect a call for more policing resources from Canada.

After multiple extensions that left the AU at the breaking point, the UN Security Council in July voted to shore up the under-funded force, dissolving the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) into a more robust hybrid. In addition to an increased force of 20,000 soldiers, the new mandate calls for an almost tenfold increase in civilian policing, from 700 to 6,000.

Canada’s CIVPOL contribution to UNMIS is small – four positions at present – but it has been highly effective. In fact, the project manager for the nine-month transition from UNMIS to UNAMID is a Canadian RCMP officer, Walter Boogaard, responsible for the logistics of positioning 6000 officers in Darfur.

“We’re going to be asked to contribute,” said Sergeant Richard Davis, an RCMP officer who served from May 2006 to May 2007 as the mission’s reports officer. The Sudanese government has insisted on a primarily African force, but it is expected that roughly 30 percent of the expanded mission will be non-African. “We may not have the most people there but the UN certainly likes having us in key positions, which speaks highly of Canada. The UN frequently comes to Canada for expertise.”

The UN mandate for CIVPOL flows from the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed by the government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in January 2005. Since then, 42 countries including the Philippines, India, Nigeria, Ghana, Pakistan and Australia have provided officers to monitor, advise, mentor and train two very distinct police forces.

In northern Sudan, where a well-established force has asserted itself, the challenge was convincing the police that UN officers could add value to their training. “They take pride in the fact that they are established and their training standards are good,” Davis said. “So we had to demonstrate that they could also learn by sharing information with other countries. The Jordanians played a significant role in bridging that gap. A Turkish contingent also made significant strides in specialized training through funding from their government.”

In the war-ravaged south, where few adults have known anything but conflict, the challenge is converting trained soldiers into police officers. “They were developing into police officers, much like they were developing a new government,” Davis observed. “This was not the military doing a new function.”

From basic training and even basic record keeping in the south to more advanced functions such as computer crime in the north, the mission has helped integrate tribal and customary law with universally accepted norms.

“It was a learning experience for us as well,” Davis admitted. “They were doing what has been customary for as long as they can remember. For example, it wasn’t uncommon for a family member to take the place in custody of a person who had committed a crime and then left the area. They are trying to adapt to international standards.

“One of the major initiatives taken on by Danish UN Police Commissioner Kai Vittrup was to have us working side by side with the local police in an effort to enhance their skills by being there to help them if they were involved in incidents. We had the ability to comment but not necessarily to effect arrests. It was purely an advisory role, which was one of the biggest challenges for a police officer.”

Davis, who worked directly with Vittrup, was tasked with providing regular reports on the activities and accomplishments of the almost 700 international force. Not surprisingly, relationships with staff at the Canadian embassy and the military were strong. But Davis was impressed with how quickly and effectively international partners adapted to each other.

“I think the police commissioner played a large role in ensuring there was consistency, there was equality as far as national balance went, so that people felt a sense of belonging,” he said.

Though the UN has failed to develop a successful blueprint for its military operations, it has developed an impressive set of best practices for its police training. “I was quite surprised at how developed it was,” Davis said. “Sudan is a unique situation, in many ways, because the mission is in a country with a very strong and opinionated government. Usually, the UN goes into places where there isn’t a government or where it is taking over for a government.”

As a result, he said, although the mission has a strong sense of direction, it must always deal with the government’s reaction and its protracted timetable.

“Change is slow but sometimes it’s only through reflection after you’ve been gone that you realize that differences have been made. I think the reason the CPA delayed elections until 2011 was purposeful; they realized it would take baby steps to get there.”

 

Author: Chris Thatcher from the Jan/Feb 2008 issue published

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