Issue 56 - Article 6

Working it out on the ground: coordination between UNAMID Police and humanitarian actors in Darfur

January 9, 2013
Michael Fryer, Major-General, Retired
An Indonesian UNAMID police officer on patrol in Darfur

International police and Formed Police Units (FPUs) are deployed in a range of contexts and by a range of actors, including the UN, the European Union and the African Union (AU). FPUs are mobile police units designed to provide support to UN operations and ensure the safety and security of UN personnel. They are generally deployed in higher-risk operations. See Summary Note, ‘Roundtable on Civil–Military Coordination: The Police, Humanitarians and the Protection of Civilians: Coordinating “Civilian” Contributions’, 1 March 2012, ECHO Headquarters, Brussels,  Their tasks include substituting for national law enforcement actors, empowering or building their capacity and monitoring their performance, as well as joint patrols and co-location with national police forces, crowd control and criminal investigations. These forces have also become increasingly involved in the protection of civilians under threat. This article assesses the experience of the police component of the UN/AU peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID), outlining the challenges it faced in its relations with other actors, including conflict parties and humanitarian agencies.

The context

UNAMID, a UN/AU hybrid mission, assumed operations in El Fashir, Darfur, on 31 December 2007, following the ‘rehatting’ of the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS). Under UN Security Council Resolution 1769/2007, its main functions were to support implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) and to protect its own personnel and the civilian population. Its mandated strength was around 25,000 personnel, mainly military but also including a civilian component of up to 3,700 international police and 19 special police units with up to 2,660 officers. The Police Commissioner and his Deputy were deployed on 21 December 2007.

The security situation was extremely volatile. The DPA had been signed by just two of the many conflict parties, the government of Sudan and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) Minni Minnawi, meaning that there was effectively no peace to keep. There was fighting between armed groups that had signed the DPA and those that had not, as well as tribal conflict, often related to longstanding competition over scarce pasture and water resources. Criminality, including carjacking, murder and robbery, was another significant source of insecurity. The presence of proxy forces backed by neighbouring Chad further complicated the situation. Firearms proliferated.

The UNAMID Police deployment also faced significant internal challenges. Approximately 1,300 AMIS Police were relocated to UNAMID, but most lacked proper predeployment training and did not comply with UN minimum standards. Some contributing countries deployed civilians for financial reasons. In addition, the morale of former AMIS officers was very low. They had not been paid for several months and were unable to undertake crime prevention patrols in the IDP camps because local IDP communities had little confidence in them. Many officers found the harsh living conditions and climate difficult to cope with.

Civilian protection

UNAMID Police were mandated to build the capacity of the national police, implement community policing and patrol the IDP camps. Protection of civilians (POC) was also part of the mandate. In operational terms UNAMID interpreted the three tiers of POC – protection through the political process, protection from physical violence (prevention/ response) and protection through a protective environment (facilitation of humanitarian aid and legal protection) – as meaning protection from imminent threat, preventive measures and the strengthening of host state capacity. UNAMID Police were in daily contact with affected communities, and with international and local NGOs. A healthy working relationship was fostered between UNAMID Police management and its civilian partners. Soon after UNAMID was established, the UNAMID Police Commissioner met with representatives of international NGOs, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and other UN agencies to discuss the relationship and establish ground rules for cooperation. This included agreeing to the timely sharing of information on incidents and trends to support the protection work of the police and humanitarian actors. Senior UNAMID officers also attended a meeting with humanitarian actors in Nyala where they were introduced to the UN Country Team (UNCT) and Humanitarian Country Team (HCT). Lines of communication were established and UNAMID’s daily operational report was shared with the UNAMID Humanitarian Liaison Office and with the civilian and military components of the mission.

The first priority was to re-establish daily patrols in the IDP camps. The strategy was in three phases: first, patrols from 08.00 to 16.00, then patrols from 06.00 to 24.00, and finally, in the third phase, around-the-clock patrols seven days a week. Phase 1 was implemented after negotiations with the IDP leadership and the Sudanese police. Patrols were conducted under military protection because no Formed Police Units were deployed and UNAMID Police were unarmed. As FPUs started to arrive they took responsibility for protection inside the camps, with the military component of UNAMID patrolling the outer perimeter. In areas where FPUs were deployed, UNAMID Police could operate independently of the military. At sites without FPUs UNAMID Police had to rely on the UNAMID military for protection and the difficult and time-consuming process of coordinating movements and negotiating priorities with the military resulted in inconsistent UNAMID Police patrols in these areas. The three-phase strategy was eventually instituted in 13 main IDP camps.

Following consultation with humanitarian actors via the Humanitarian Liaison Office, regular patrols of firewood collection routes, markets and farming areas were established to help prevent attacks on civilians using them. Some patrols were conducted by UNAMID Police and military and some by fully integrated units consisting of police, military and civilian components. Patrols varied in range from 500km to 1,000km, and humanitarian partners were given an open invitation to join long-range patrols.

These patrols eventually helped to establish a safer environment for the affected population, and a good relationship between UNAMID Police and IDPs and their leadership in most of the main IDP camps. Daily interaction with humanitarian agencies also helped UNAMID Police to identify possible risks beforehand and to take the necessary preventive action. Meanwhile, Community Policing Centres (CPCs) were constructed in or near IDP camps. These acted as police posts from where patrols were conducted and complaints could be registered.


The second pillar of the UNAMID Police mandate involved capacity-building of local law enforcement agencies. The government of Sudan had a national police force with its headquarters in Khartoum and regional HQs in Darfur, including in the areas where UNAMID Police were operating (Sector North (El Fashir), Sector South (Nyala) and Sector West (El Geneina)). The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) also had a police component with a capacitybuilding mandate, and so close cooperation, coordination and communication between the two missions and the UNCT was necessary to standardise capacity-building programmes. One of the key challenges for UNAMID Police was how to balance the provision of support to the national police with the requirement to ensure that the police were held to account for violence and abuse. Summary note, ‘Roundtable on Civil-Military Coordination’.

A training needs assessment of Sudanese government police in Darfur was conducted with all relevant stakeholders, including the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Women (UNIFEM). Training curricula were developed and submitted to the government’s police HQ in Khartoum, together with the CVs of the proposed UNAMID Police trainers. Approval was granted after five months and training commenced in all three sectors, in training facilities constructed by UNAMID. The UNAMID Police trainers, from Egypt, Jordan and Yemen, were chosen primarily because they had similar customs, languages and religious backgrounds to their Sudanese counterparts. Topics covered included community policing, human rights and gender-based violence, crime scene management, crime investigation principles, election security and the handling of suspects.

Capacity-building for the SLA Minni Minnawi was also conducted. While the SLM had a rudimentary police structure, officers were former military combatants with no police training or experience. A needs assessment was done in collaboration with the SLM leadership and other stakeholders, including UNDP and UNIFEM, which helped to shape the content and sequence of training modules. IDPs were also included in training and workshops.

Working together

A number of police interventions took place in consultation with and with assistance from the humanitarian community, different sections of UNAMID and the UNCT. In particular, UNAMID Police collaborated with humanitarian agencies on training for local law enforcement actors in human rights, gender-based violence, child protection and community policing. Humanitarian NGOs worked with UNAMID Police to support the establishment of Security Committees in IDP camps; the recruitment and training of community policing volunteers; and community activities such as soccer games and cleaning-up operations. UNAMID Police interacted daily with IDP leaders and communities, including through vehicle and foot patrols. In some instances UNAMID Police had greater engagement with local communities than humanitarian actors did and were therefore able to provide key information on protection risks and threats, and to relay requests for humanitarian assistance. Humanitarian agencies subsequently followed up on these concerns and requests directly with the communities affected, taking care that UNAMID Police understood the importance of not making commitments on behalf of humanitarian actors.

The good relationship and open dialogue between UNAMID Police and humanitarian agencies also enabled them to address major issues, such as the government’s politically motivated plan to return IDPs to their areas of origin, more effectively. When patrolling designated return areas, UNAMID Police were able to investigate and share information and analysis with the humanitarian community on security and other conditions for return. This enabled a shared understanding and analysis and consistent messaging and approaches with the Sudanese government. Summary note, ‘Roundtable on Civil-Military Coordination’.  UNAMID Police were also involved in sensitising IDP communities on controversial issues such as the announcement of indictments of Sudanese government officials by the International Criminal Court and the outcome of Sudanese elections, to minimise the risk of unrest. An open invitation was also issued to the humanitarian community to make use of UNAMID Police convoys from Khartoum/El Obeid to El Fashir/Nyala to facilitate the movement of humanitarian aid into and within Darfur (only ICRC and WFP made use of the convoys).


From the beginning, UNAMID Police tried to establish open and transparent two-way communication with humanitarian actors, helping to reduce suspicion and manage expectations. Developing and maintaining a positive relationship between UNAMID Police and humanitarian agencies was particularly important because the operating environment for both was extremely complicated and difficult and the levels of risk and violence that the civilian population were facing were high. While problems and misunderstandings still arose, and no practical guidelines existed regarding how UNAMID Police should engage with humanitarians, building trust and mutual respect made it possible for both to work together constructively. This in turn ensured good information exchange, which helped humanitarians to do their job better and UNAMID Police to deliver on its mandate.

Mike Fryer was the first Police Commissioner for UNAMID.


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