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Is the EU military operation in Chad appropriate?

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(This article is the second part of a previously published article «Chad: little attention to a worsening situation», which referred to the necessity of considering regional as well as internal causes while dealing with the Chadian conflict. Here, the intention is on analyzing the effectiveness of the currently deployed EUFOR/CHAD/RCA military force).

The EUFOR Chad mission has had a positive impact in improving security conditions for many civilians; therefore, the merit of these European troops, acting in extreme conditions, will not be questioned. However, the operation has proven to be inadequate while leading the country towards a long lasting peace process as will be explored in the following: 1) EUFOR’s mandate is “ill suited” (1); 2) France’s protagonist role has proven to be quite problematic according to humanitarian principles; and 3) the confusion between military and humanitarian workers weakens the mission as a whole. Tackling the culture of impunity and providing an immediate civilian protection is not enough, there is a strong need for finding an inclusive political solution to end the ongoing fighting and reassure a safe long lasting return of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

It is in the climate of humanitarian emergency and breach of humanitarian international law (previously discussed) that the United Nations Security Council finally decided to act by passing on the 25th of September 2007, Resolution 1778 (UNSC S/RES/1778) mandating the deployment of a UN policing force in Chad and the Central African Republic (MINURCAT). The document calls as well for a 12 months “bridging operation” to assist MINURCAT, the EUFOR/Chad/RCA. This stabilizing mission has for aim to “protect civilians in danger”, “facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and the free movement of humanitarian personnel”, and “protect UN personnel, facilities, installations and equipment and to ensure the security and freedom of movement of its staff” (2).

On the ground EUFOR´s mandate has proven to be rather limited. The implementation of the operation was accelerated due to France’s strong participation in convincing the Chadian government to accept an international presence. Nevertheless, negotiation difficulties between member states added to the February attacks delayed the mobilization of the troops on the ground, having a negative effect for the whole mission. According to the International Crisis Group (ICG) September report, the situation since the elaboration of the mandate has changed, the danger no longer comes mainly from armed groups’ attacks but more from bandits acting all over the country. EUFOR’s mandate does not cover all geographical areas and does not have police or judiciary powers, “it cannot conduct police investigations, judge the accused, or punish guilty parties. Nor does EUFOR have jurisdiction over what goes on inside refugee camps and IDPs sites: its personnel can only enter camps unarmed or intervene in extreme circumstances” (3).

The EUFOR/Chad/RCA has been considered the most multinational mission of the EU on the African continent, with 14 member states present on the ground and 21 at the Operations Headquarters, illustrating EU member states’ will to work together on humanitarian issues. However, out of the 3,200 troops present before September, 2,100 were French and many of whom belonged to the French contingent already present at the border with Sudan. Special ties between France and the Chadian government have given rise to polemics. The growing support of France to the Chadian government since the creation of Dispositif Epèrvier in 1986 and a constant backing up of the actual President Idriss Déby has endangered the operation´s impartiality and neutrality. France encouraged the constitutional reforms of 2005, accepted the elections result in 2006 and is said by some sources, to have provided arms to the Chadian army through Libya.

The deployment of a highly French EUFOR mission hides political aims far from being purely humanitarian. The fact that Chad could represent a military strategic platform for France in facing the American and Chinese growing presence in the area was openly recognized in 2006 through a speech done by the French Minister of Defence. He also added that a destabilization of the region could have consequences for the interests of France, the EU and all the international community, especially in terms of immigration (4). In addition, the “Europeanization” of the French presence could be a mean to avoid neo-colonist accusations (5).

Above all, the growing confusion between civilian humanitarian workers and the EUFOR military troops is more than worrying. The use of white vehicles and the European logo by both civilian and military actors has had dramatic consequences, humanitarian workers being targeted as military combatants. The overtaking of civilian tasks on behalf of certain EUFOR contingents such as the Bilateral Civilian Assistance Projects (BILATS) also leads to confusion of mandates. For example the Polish contingent demonstrated its intention to start a school rehabilitation project without a real effort of consultation with other stakeholders. In addition, French/Chadian special relationship has led some rebels to target the EU operation´s staff as allies of the government, and even worse, they have developed in some cases hostility towards the foreign presence as a whole, not distinguishing humanitarian workers from EU soldiers.

The Chadian case illustrates the general difficulties humanitarian action is undergoing at the moment. As mentioned in the first article, the complexity of the internal situation needs not be confused with the Darfur crisis. In addition, the “ill suited” mandate, the problematic adoption of humanitarian principles and the growing confusion between civil and military means in conflict management are jeopardising the EUFOR’s mission effectiveness and legitimacy for future European operations. As mentioned by the ICG, there is a need for finding a global solution which takes the local context in consideration: “A three-track process of dialogue and substantive action is needed.

The first should build on the 2007 agreement by launching new political negotiations with broadened participation, including civil society. A second track should focus on the armed rebellion with the goal of establishing a genuine, permanent ceasefire and integrating rebel forces with the army. Under the supervision of the African Union, a third track should address longstanding disputes between Chad and Sudan, and seek to eliminate a pattern of proxy war and support for each other’s rebels” (6).

(1) Oxfam International (2008): Mission incomplete: why civilians remain at risk in easter Chad, September 2008.
(2) UNSC S/RES/1778(2007).
(3) Oxfam International (2008), op.cit.
(4) Le Monde Diplomatique, June 2006. www.monde-diplomatique.fr
(5) International Crisis Group (2008): “Tchad: Un Nouveau Cadre de Resolution du Conflit”, Rapport Afrique nº144, 24 September.
(6) International Crisis Group (2008), op. cit.

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