UNVs taking the arms out of Darfuri combatants’ hands: Caterina’s contribution
The Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) process is one of the key factors that are at stake during the transition from a period of conflict to peace and development. Being a very complex process, with political, military, security, humanitarian and socio-economic dimensions, DDR is at the core of peacekeeping and therefore is a key for the implementation of any peace operation. And this is precisely what Caterina Violante, a UN Volunteer in UNAMID feels more comfortable doing in her contribution for peace and development.
After six years of humanitarian work in Colombia, where Caterina explored the complex conflict among Colombian government, national guerrillas - Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional (ELN) - and paramilitary factions, she joined UNAMID and became an active member of DDR Unit, as a Public Information Officer. “I have to document and report all activities related to DDR, performing mainly two roles: internally, keeping my team updated with any relevant information regarding security, peace process and DDR activities in Darfur; and writing and helping to implement a communications strategy to spread the word among Darfuri communities about what is DDR and why it is so important for the peace, while attracting future beneficiaries and ensuring continuity of participants and keeping them posted about the benefits they receive,” she explains.
Voluntary removal of weapons from the hands of combatants is no easy task, as this includes taking theses fighters out of military structures and helping them to reintegrate socially and economically into communities to which they once belonged. To do so, Caterina’s team in DDR Section seeks to support all ex-combatants so that they can become active participants in the peace process. Nevertheless, while the main objective of any DDR process is to contribute to security and stability in post-conflict environments so that recovery and development can begin, Darfur’s process have remain a very special one since not all parties involved have signed a peace agreement.
“We are supporting what is called an Interim DDR process, mainly because there isn’t a comprehensive Darfur Peace Agreement yet. In fact, some parties to the conflict have signed while others remain outside of the process or have decided to opt out after signing, or have decided to start a late participation,” explains Caterina portraying the challenges that DDR Section in UNAMID have to face when addressing all parties in the peace process.
“One of our current activities is to explain the purpose of this Section and what can be expected from the work of DDR officers to other substantive units in the Mission as well as to UN agencies. We have been conducting awareness raising workshops to explain and disseminate the meaning of DDR, and emphasizing its implications on gender, child protection and public information,” she noted.
As for how the DDR process is structured and delivered to Darfuris, Caterina explains that “DDR is an activity led by the Sudanese Government and supported by UNAMID with technical advice and logistic support, as well as by other Government partners. The Government also participates in the workshops, explaining its role, while UNAMID explains the concepts behind, and its support for, the DDR programme.”
Notable on Darfur’s conflict is the participation of children. “Due to the nature of the conflict, combatants and child soldiers are never completely away from their families and communities. Some children belong to a group, but still live with their families and might attend school. The common image of child soldiers around the world is of those living in the mountains or hiding with the rest of the rebels, with no education, away from their community, but in Darfur that is different,” Caterina said.
Furthermore, most of these children have no records of personal information, such as birth certificates or school system status, in which case UNICEF assists the Government with their registration.
“Registration has been key to our activities because is the first step of the Government’s DDR programme, by which the children released become beneficiaries of the reintegration programme. The process includes a briefing on sexual and reproductive health and HIV/AIDS. They are then given a medical examination to ensure they are in good health. If not, they receive medical treatment. The DDR Section was also part of the supporting team for the North Sudan DDR’s Commission in implementing the implementing the exercise,” she added.
In overcoming the difficulties that dealing with so many different actors and stakeholders during a DDR process brings along the road of post-conflict intervention, with patience and commitment, Caterina Violante is another of the close to 500 hundred UN Volunteers working for peace and development in Darfur. She is eager to share her professional experience and knowledge to help ex-combatants to re-adjust into society and, ideally, start promoting peace in their communities.