Sauver Le Darfour dans le monde

Teaching Canadian police tactics in Darfur

Cbc News, 28 Septembre 2006

A young woman winces from the pain of an insect bite. The man next to her wipes his sweaty brow. In all, about 80 African Union police officers swelter in the confines of a large white tent in the Darfuri capital El Fasher in western Sudan.

Even under the shade of the canvas it's more than 50 C, but their attention is unwavering.

In the tent, Bud Snow from Dartmouth, N.S., is delivering a lecture on identifying and responding to crisis situations. It's a lesson the assembled Nigerians, South Africans and others will carry forward when they fan out across Darfur as front-line police officers with an almost impossible mission: To protect the millions of civilians who so often become the victims during three years of fighting.

As all sides in the Darfur conflict — government forces, state-sponsored militia, and an ever-fracturing array of rebel groups — continue to battle, the African Union mission limps along. It has now been extended just until the end of the year.

The 7,000-strong force of soldiers and civilian police is pledged to enforce a faltering peace agreement between the government and one rebel group, but they are badly outnumbered and under-resourced.

That's where Bud Snow comes in. Retired from the Halifax police department and one of four Canadian police officers deployed to Darfur as part of the African Union mission, he and his colleagues are assigned specifically to train the Africans in Canadian ways.

"I think we make a difference," Snow says. "We talk about human rights. Just to make people aware that certain activities aren't allowed, that certain behaviours by males or females aren't acceptable and they don't have to take that. We bring that to the table. And I think we have an impact."

The numbers of this conflict are staggering, but fairly well known. Years of fighting in Darfur have left more than 200,000 dead, and more than 2.5 million seeking refuge in camps, where disease and hunger run rampant.

What's less known are the further horrors that so often follow refugees into the camps — banditry, murder and rape.

The thin blue line
Thirty kilometres from El Fasher are the sprawling refugee camps of Tawilla, home to 30,000 Darfuris and growing each day.

The camps hug a small African Union base where police officer Mary Awuni from Ghana agonizes over what little she can do. She's had training, but fights her battle to bring justice to one small corner of Darfur virtually alone, limited by both support and mandate.

Bomb attacks by the Sudanese air force, rebel raids and other violence have edged closer. As a result, every aid group that was there to deliver medicine, food and other humanitarian support has pulled out.

At the same time, Awuni knows many refugees face an increasingly dangerous situation. She speaks carefully as she recounts the stories of refugee women who leave the camps to collect firewood.

"That's when they get them," she says, "Maybe five people decide to jump on one woman. It's a gang rape. They're happening right now as I'm talking."

For his part, Snow says the task facing the African Union's civilian police "is a very difficult job." He explains how the AU's mandate restricts civilian police to only assisting and advising the local Darfuri police. They can't actually arrest suspects. "Basically their hands are tied when compared to what their normal policing is back home."

Awuni is clearly frustrated. She describes how the local police operate when it comes to rape cases. "If you've been assaulted," she says, they would "rather charge you for adultery." As a result, Awuni says, victims have just stopped reporting rapes.

Still, her training has allowed her to make some inroads. She's been able to hold some women's forums in the refugee camps. A step forward, she believes, even though she and her translators have themselves been chased from the camps.

A camp is not a home
After serving 11 months in Darfur, Awuni will soon be returning home to Ghana. She knows the refugees, on the other hand, have no homes to return to. "It's not easy to live in this camp. For them to get food to eat, to clothe themselves and their children is very difficult."

Snow is proud of the work he's been able to accomplish with the African Union's civilian police. In the past six months, he and his Canadian colleagues have trained hundreds of officers just like Awuni.

They have also managed to streamline the huge amounts of information collected by the thousand or so AU police across Darfur. Before the Canadians arrived, the civilian police mission didn't have computers.

The Canadian officers remedied that, and have built up a database. So now there is an accounting at least of the murders, rapes and robberies taking place in the camps. This is important to help convince Western nations to bring in a large UN peacekeeping force to try to end the long conflict.

Canada is the third-largest contributor to the AU mission in Sudan. Canada has leased planes and helicopters for the mission, provided flak jackets and helmets and loaned AU commanders more than 100 armoured personnel carriers.

But despite this, the future of the Canadian police presence in Darfur isn't clear. Federal funding to continue the policing aspect of Canada's contribution to the AU mission is still awaiting approval. Two of the Canadian officers have already packed up and gone home. Snow and another Canadian will be gone by the end of September.

"We bring a lot, because they're now into the community-based policing, and gender-based violence is a big issue here." But, he laments, "We know once we leave, [our programs] will probably go by the wayside."

But he's optimistic that he will be able to return. "People want to feel safe and secure," he says. "We bring a positive attitude with us and that has an influence on the people we meet."