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How to Protect Civilians in Eastern Chad

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While international efforts remain focused on resolving the conflagration in Darfur, a less publicized but equally urgent crisis across Darfur’s borders in eastern Chad and northeastern Central African Republic is finally receiving attention and—possibly—action. Half a million internally displaced persons, refugees, and other conflict-affected civilians are vulnerable to the steadily escalating violence in eastern Chad. The regional contagion that is Darfur—which is fueling instability throughout the region—requires a comprehensive strategy, of which a crucial component is protecting civilians in these neighboring countries.

The leadership emerging from Paris—and the alliance on Darfur being forged between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown—to ensure the deployment of a European Union force to eastern Chad is crucial in this regard, but it must be seen as a bridging element to a larger U.N. operation. In the meantime, the military and non-military components of the international peacekeeping presence must be sufficiently mandated and resourced to effectively protect civilian populations, stabilize the region, promote political solutions, and support the return of displaced populations to their homes.

How this force is deployed in eastern Chad, with what mandate, and in the context of what supportive civilian and diplomatic components will largely dictate whether civilians will indeed be protected and the crisis eventually reversed. Ultimately, however, without a resolution across the border in neighboring Darfur, efforts to staunch the bleeding in Chad will remain threatened by the destabilizing policies of the regime in Khartoum.

In most cases, the Chadian government has proven unable or unwilling to protect both its own citizens and the refugees within its borders as deepening violence poses a grave threat to regional stability. However, in an important recent development, Chadian President Idriss Deby has accepted in principle a force for eastern Chad and the half million people that have been uprooted or impacted, and the United Nations and European Union have begun planning to quickly deploy civilian police and peacekeepers.

According to the plan currently under discussion, the United Nations would train and support Chadian police while the EU force would help protect civilians and the U.N. operation. France, a former colonial ruler in Chad and a country with large air and ground assets stationed in country, is spearheading the current effort to get troops deployed in tandem with the prospective hybrid AU./U.N. force in Darfur. As outlined, this force would also assume protection efforts in northeastern CAR, but that discussion lies beyond the scope of this strategy paper.

This movement toward the deployment of a force in eastern Chad is long overdue. Now that the necessity for such a force is broadly understood and accepted, the core issues we focus on in this Strategy Paper are how to maximize the protection of civilian populations in eastern Chad, foster stabilization and reconciliation, and support the safe return of displaced civilians back to their areas of origin. 

In brief, we argue that adequate provisions for the military and non-military components of the EU force will largely dictate whether civilians will indeed be protected and the crisis eventually resolved. The essential military and police elements include:

  •  Rapid U.N. Security Council authorization of a robust Chapter VII operation aimed at protecting vulnerable civilians. This will require a force with the manpower and mobility to protect the two principal target of violence—refugees and the internally displaced in camps and vulnerable Chadian populations in villages and towns.
  • The mandate and resources for the EU force to focus on monitoring the movement of armed groups and reporting to the U.N. Security Council and the EU on major human rights violation and their perpetrators.
  • Support from international police forces to have a round-the-clock presence in the camps and conduct road patrols, as currently envisioned, while working to train the Chadian police force.
  • Efforts to fully coordinate the EU force with the deployment of the A.U./U.N. hybrid force in Darfur.

The non-military component of the mission will require:

  • The deployment of human rights monitors and civil affairs officers to collect information on the sources and targets of violence provide real-time early warnings, document human rights violations, support local-level mediation, and work to restore traditional conflict resolution mechanisms.
  • A concerted diplomatic effort to reinvigorate political talks between the Chadian government, rebel factions, and broader civil society within Chad.
  • A dialogue between Chad and Sudan on bilateral issues, including the right of voluntary return for their respective refugees.
  • Significant investments in development programs and reconstruction initiatives to reintegrate excombatants and ensure the safe return of the displaced to their areas of origin.
  • Substantially increased assistance for humanitarian operations in the region.

Although France and the EU are spearheading current efforts to deploy a force to eastern Chad, the United States has an important role to play. To support current plans, the United States should work closely with France to ensure a robust U.N.SC Chapter VII authorization of the EU force; be prepared to respond to any requests from the European Union for logistical support regarding the mobility and effectiveness of the force; support U.N. police elements as requested; and contribute strategically to the non-military elements of a comprehensive civilian protection plan.

To answer the question of how to most effectively protect civilians, we first have to understand why civilians are being targeted and by whom. Understanding the sources and purpose of the attacks is a fundamental prerequisite to developing a comprehensive strategy to protect those civilians. We will then elaborate these military and non-military elements of a comprehensive civilian protection strategy that will make the most difference.

The mission of ENOUGH, a joint initiative founded by the International Crisis Group and the Center for American Progress, is to end crimes against humanity in Darfur, northern Uganda and eastern Congo, and to prevent future mass atrocities wherever they may occur. For more information, visit www.enoughproject.org

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