When the Joint Special Representative of the UN and AU for Darfur, Rodolphe Adada, presented his report to the UN Security Council on Monday, he felt confident enough to make public the findings of UNAMID’s monitoring of the situation in Darfur.
The language Amb. Adada used and evidence he presented came as a surprise to some Security Council members. The phrase ‘low intensity conflict’ was criticized by at least one ambassador. She did not question his numbers (presumably because the statistics are validated by her own country’s reporting), but disputed whether the numbers alone should be the basis for defining whether Darfur was ‘low intensity.’ (The Uppsala Conflict Data Program definition of a ‘minor’ conflict is less than 1,000 battle-related deaths per year, the U.S. definition of ‘low-intensity conflict’ has no numerical threshold.) The phrase ‘a war of all against all’ was also highlighted by the UN media reporting.
Neither of these phrases are surprising to those who have been in the field in Darfur and listened to the descriptions and analyses of military observers. The UNAMID Force Commander, Gen. Martin Agwai, uses the phrase ‘war of all against all’. The incident reporting system from which Agwai and Adada drew their conclusions is supervised by a French military officer. Military attachés in Khartoum use these descriptions routinely. The estimates for overall numbers of fatalities have also been common knowledge in Sudan.
Amb. Adada made some important caveats. He is after all a professor of mathematics and at home with numbers, and he stressed that the number cannot be considered 100% precise. The 2,000 deaths are, he emphasized, too many. He described how some incidents had been prevented from escalating and resulting in more fatalities. (UNAMID is becoming an interesting and important case study in how the ‘responsibility to protect’ can actually be realized.) He said that tens of thousands of civilians had been killed in earlier phases of the war. And a low-intensity conflict is still a conflict, with major risks of deterioration.
The key purpose of Adada’s presentation, as I understand it, was to bring the best analysis from the field in Darfur to the Security Council, and ‘speak with authority on the situation on the ground.’ His intention was to anchor international policy in evidence for the current situation on the ground. The Security Council needed to hear this. Monday’s session was a dose of reality and helps clarify possible ways ahead.