When Saviors Become Victims: Trends in Attacks Against Aid Workers and Peacekeepers
Here’s a paradox: declining levels of worldwide conflict and increasing violence against aid workers. The Human Security Report has documented a worldwide decline in the number and intensity of armed conflicts since 1992. This is a dramatic and consistent, though the decline has slowed recently.
Meanwhile, analysis of data by the Overseas Development Institute indicates that attacks on aid workers have risen even sharply, from about 4 per 10,000 aid workers in the field in 1997 to 9 per 10,000 in 2008 (268 incidents in which humanitarian workers were killed, seriously injured or kidnapped). (For ongoing discussion of violence against aid workers, also see Patronus Analytical.)
Currently, the worst places for violence against aid workers are Somalia and Afghanistan, which account for a disproportionate number of attacks, and where belligerents have ceased to respect the neutrality of humanitarians. Whether these two extreme cases account for the whole phenomenon, is not clear.
Sudan ranks in third place. It’s now clear that the level of lethal violence against civilians in Darfur is down. But that is not the only index of insecurity: there is also forced displacement, sexual violence and robbery as well””and attacks against aid workers and peacekeepers. Anecdote suggests that international workers in Darfur have never had it so bad, with a new spate of hostage-taking alongside ongoing banditry and government expulsion of NGOs.
In this posting I examine the trends in violence against aid workers and peacekeepers in Darfur, using the UNAMID dataset. Unlike reports of violence against Darfurians, the dataset for attacks on UNAMID, UN agencies and international NGOs is comprehensive and reliable, as incidents are reported through a centralized system. Attacks on Sudanese NGOs and their staff are not included in these data, and some agencies such as the ICRC fall outside this reporting system. Notwithstanding these shortcomings, the trends are clear.
The summary data for incidents in 2008 are as follows:
Carjacking: 195 incidents (50 against UNAMID with 57 vehicles; 52 against UN agencies with 61 vehicles; 93 against international NGOs with 98 vehicles).
Hostage taking : zero.
Armed attacks: 108 (20 against UNAMID, with 4 deaths and 3 injuries; 10 against UN agencies with no casualties, 78 against INGOs with no casualties).
The summary data for 2009 to date are as follows:
Carjacking: 83 incidents (55 against UNAMID, 59 vehicles; 5 against the UN with 5 vehicles; 23 against INGOs with 28 vehicles).
Hostage taking: 6 (2 UNAMID international civilian staff, 4 INGO).
Armed attacks: 26: (22 against UNAMID, with 3 deaths and 15 injuries; 2 against UN agencies and 2 against INGOs, no casualties).
These data suggest that security is indeed improving for peacekeepers and international aid workers. However, all is not so simple.
Violence against UNAMID is at about the same level in 2008 and 2009. In the meantime, the number of UNAMID peacekeepers and staff has more than doubled, and they are much more active in mounting patrols. This could be interpreted to mean that UNAMID members are only half as much at risk now, representing a success. Or it could be interpreted to mean that despite the doubling of UNAMID strength, attacks have not diminished””a failure.
While the trend of carjackings and armed attacks against INGOs is sharply down, this might be partly attributable to the fact that the number of international aid workers dropped dramatically in March this year when the Sudan Government expelled many of them. However, the same trend is also apparent with respect to UN agencies, which were not expelled. What accounts for this decline? Is it better security procedures including increased police efficiency? Is it a bigger UNAMID presence? Is it a different operational pattern””perhaps selectively avoiding the more dangerous areas? Or is it that the general improvement in security is also reducing crime against international agencies?
Hostage taking is a new phenomenon. There have only been a few cases so far, so it is hard to say whether it is a political or a criminal activity, or a bit of both.
Also, restrictions on UNAMID movement and operations have markedly increased between 2008 and 2009, mostly obstruction by the Sudan Government.
Across the border in Chad, 2009 has been a more dangerous year than 2008. A recent report from Abeche suggests that carjacking has become endemic there, with UNHCR losing as many as two vehicles per day. Local conditions, it seems, are everything.