Protection and humanitarian space: a case-study of the UN Mission to the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT)
by John Karlsrud and Diana Felix da Costa July 2012

In Chad, government forces, rebels, militias and ethnic groups frequently clash. A number of inter-related factors are in play in the violence, including scarce natural resources such as land, livestock and water, historical grievances and the inequitable distribution of economic resources, the proliferation of arms and weak democratic processes and state institutions. Refugee and IDP camps in eastern Chad have become increasingly militarised; recruitment campaigns including the forced recruitment of children are commonplace among all parties to the conflict, and the camps are allegedly used as rear bases for rest and recuperation by rebel groups of both Chadian and Sudanese origin. In all, an estimated 260,000 refugees from Sudan and 70,600 from the Central African Republic are living in eastern Chad. A further 171,000 Chadians have been displaced. The need for humanitarian assistance has been enormous. Insecurity prevails and violations of basic human rights are frequent and systematic. Meanwhile, although cross-border raids by Sudanese Janjaweed militia and ethnic conflict have become less frequent in recent years, the security environment for the humanitarian community has deteriorated as a result of increased banditry.

The international community responded to the ongoing violence in Chad by authorising the deployment of a UN civilian and police mission, MINURCAT, and a European military force, EUFOR, to protect refugees, IDPs and humanitarian workers and widen humanitarian space. In addition, an 850-strong Chadian police/gendarme force – the Détachment Intégré de Securité (DIS) – has been trained and mentored by MINURCAT.[1] The decision to establish a military force – EUFOR – under separate command was taken when it became clear that Chad would not accept a UN force. While this presented coordination difficulties, on the positive side EUFOR could mobilise, deploy and develop bases much faster than a traditional UN force and provide protection by presence more rapidly. On 15 March 2009, after one year of operation, authority over the military component of the mission was transferred as planned from EUFOR to MINURCAT.

MINURCAT and protection

The protection activities of MINURCAT include regular military patrols and escorts, training and mentoring of the DIS to providing security in refugee and IDP camps, as well as population centres, and deploying human rights, political and civil affairs, gender and other civilian officers to the field to monitor the situation and support intercommunity reconciliation initiatives, all geared towards creating safe and secure conditions for the return of refugees and IDPs.

With the adoption by the UN General Assembly in 2005 of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ principle, the mandate of peacekeeping missions has become more proactive and has gradually expanded to include the protection of civilians, as well as UN personnel and humanitarian workers. MINURCAT is the first UN peacekeeping mission with a comprehensive protection mandate. While this is a laudable development it also poses some new challenges. With this expanded mandate, missions must also reflect more deeply on how they relate to national security institutions, which have the primary responsibility for civilian protection. Chad possesses a plethora of security actors. National forces include the Armée Nationale du Tchad (ANT), the Gendarmes, the Police and the DIS. Ensuring a coordinated and comprehensive security response to the spectrum of threats present in eastern Chad, while maintaining the integrity and neutrality of protection activities, is a significant challenge.

The military force should provide a safe and secure environment in eastern Chad, patrolling main roads and deploying at short notice to protect civilians threatened by Janjaweed and other militias. However, one of the main challenges has been banditry, which EUFOR was initially not calibrated to respond to. This forced a fundamental rethinking of how the military should respond to threats in the area. It became clear that what was needed was a mobile and flexible force more reliant on light vehicles for patrolling and helicopters for rapid deployment. MINURCAT’s concept of operations has been reconfigured accordingly. However, the force is currently at 48% deployment of the mandated 5,200 soldiers, and only three out of 18 military helicopters have been deployed. In the absence of forces and helicopters, MINURCAT has provided military escorts as a temporary measure to ensure continued humanitarian operations, but this is a compromise that both humanitarians and the mission would like to discontinue. Most of the force is scheduled to arrive before the end of the year; Bangladesh has pledged to send another three utility helicopters.

The DIS meanwhile is intended to strengthen security at IDP sites, refugee camps and population centres. The DIS is a new element in the UN peacekeeping context, representing the first time that a national security force has become integrated into and accountable to a UN mission. So far, the DIS has had a positive impact in the east. It is now deployed to all stations and posts in eastern Chad, and feedback from the humanitarian community indicates that it is providing security. The DIS will continue to improve its performance with further training. Although there was a surge in hijackings, assaults and robberies in the first three months of 2009, DIS officers have made a number of arrests, including of military personnel. Some serious disciplinary cases involving the DIS have emerged, but national authorities have been quick and firm in dealing with them.

The DIS is funded to the end of 2009 from the MINURCAT Trust Fund, with contributions totalling €21 million, but funding for 2010 is still not secured. MINURCAT has equipped the DIS with vehicles, uniforms and side-arms, and is building police stations in six major towns and police posts in 12 refugee camps. Despite initial delays, 850 DIS officers have been trained and deployed to eastern Chad. UN Police provide in-service mentoring support at a ratio of one UN officer to every three DIS colleagues. MINURCAT and national authorities have worked to secure the significant participation of women in the DIS, and currently women make up around 10% of both the DIS and the UN Police (81 out of the total of 850), enabling the force to better communicate with women in the camps.

The UN Police and the DIS are part of a comprehensive strategy to tackle impunity. In the judicial sector, MINURCAT, together with UNDP and the European Commission, is working to support the government in an effort to strengthen the judicial and prison system by establishing mobile courts, training judges and prison personnel and supporting the revision of the judicial and penal systems. One challenge has been frequent escapes by prisoners caught by the DIS, underscoring the need for improved prisons and a comprehensive approach to tackle impunity. Prosecutors and judges who have been deployed to the east have received death threats and have in some cases refused to stay, and their security remains a major concern.

MINURCAT has also been tasked to assist authorities in promoting and implementing local-level reconciliation in eastern Chad, aimed at improving inter-community dialogue and restoring traditional protection mechanisms disrupted by the increase of violence. This includes supporting customary conflict management and resolution institutions, which in many rural areas have been the only existing structures for regulating disputes and protecting communities, while also extending the presence of the state into these areas.

UN agencies and NGOs are also undertaking protection activities in Chad. A protection cluster has been established for coordination purposes in the capital, N’Djamena, and in Abéché in eastern Chad. Sub-clusters have also been set up in smaller towns in the east. Human rights and civil affairs officers represent MINURCAT in the protection clusters. MINURCAT liaises with the humanitarian community on a weekly basis through meetings hosted by OCHA. The SRSG, the Force Commander, the Police Commissioner and UN Security are present to ensure that humanitarians’ security concerns are dealt with comprehensively.


Since January 2009, humanitarian organisations have repeatedly been forced to scale down or suspend their operations because of violent incidents. The combination of a wide proliferation of arms, local resentment due to the inequitable distribution of humanitarian aid skewed towards refugees and an ample supply of material resources and money from the international community has created fertile ground for widespread banditry, targeting humanitarians in particular. Coupled with the lack of a programme to rid eastern Chad of arms, this puts the onus on the providers of security. The successful work of the DIS, in cooperation with MINURCAT and national forces, is of paramount importance for the continued operation and presence of humanitarian agencies.

The international community must reflect on the nature of the threats faced in situations such as in Chad, and calibrate their response accordingly, both in terms of security support and funding. Being the central pillar of the mission, the DIS should not have to rely entirely on voluntary contributions from donors. UN member states should revise the rules for assessing UN mission budgets to include interventions such as these. MINURCAT has taken into account some of the lessons learned from the cooperation with EUFOR and deployed a more mobile military force.

The DIS has the potential to be a seed for wider security sector reform (SSR) in Chad. In April 2009, an EU delegation visited Chad to assess opportunities for SSR. This is encouraged by the government of Chad and may create an entry point for other capacity development programmes in the security and governance sectors. Conversely, the UN has only a mentoring and advisory role with regard to the DIS, and no executive authority. This means that the UN cannot guarantee the impartiality of the DIS. Some have argued that this is a significant risk to the impartiality of the UN itself. This will remain one of the main challenges facing the mission.

The deployment of a multidimensional presence also had its advantages and disadvantages. EUFOR could deploy much faster than a traditional UN force and could rapidly establish bases and stabilise the situation in the field. This should form a model for future cooperation between the UN and the European Union. However, there is a need to improve the framework for cooperation between the two entities to enhance coordination and information-sharing mechanisms.

On the civilian side, MINURCAT is intensifying its efforts to promote inter-community dialogue. This is instrumental to the successful implementation of the larger recovery programme recently agreed between the government of Chad and the UN. It also has the potential to create a more community-based movement for peace and political participation in eastern Chad. Only by addressing poverty, developing state capacities, extending basic services and supporting income-generating efforts can a sustainable foundation be built for long-term peace and development. Long-term civilian protection requires a political solution. MINURCAT’s mandate is exclusive to the east of the country. As has been repeatedly emphasised by the UN Secretary-General, the sources of conflict and insecurity in eastern Chad will only be addressed through an inclusive and comprehensive national political process.

John Karlsrud is Special Assistant to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, MINURCAT ( Diana Felix da Costa is a student in the NOHA Masters Programme in International Humanitarian Action, University of Groningen, The Netherlands ( The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the Department of Field Support, the United Nations Development Programme or the United Nations.

[1] The DIS was initially named Police Tchadienne pour la protection humanitaire (PTPH), but was renamed to reflect the composition of the force, of which half are from the Police and half from the Gendarmerie.