Volunteering to go to Sudan as part of a newly beefed-up Canadian police contingent was how OPP Staff Sgt. Don Eastop quelled his gut reaction when watching or reading news from the region.
“The little voice in my head said, ‘Why doesn’t somebody do something?’ Then it sort of hit me — what am I doing?” he said in an interview from Khartoum.
As part of a UN-led mission, 20 Canadians from the OPP, RCMP, Halifax and Ottawa police are now in southern Sudan to train and mentor the fledgling southern Sudan police force.
Southern Sudan is rebuilding after Africa’s longest-running civil war between north and south Sudan killed two million people and ended with a peace agreement in 2005. Many of the former southern rebel army officers now make up the police force charged with trying to enforce basic laws.
“A lot of them have no policing skills whatsoever. They’re former fighters, basically,” says Wayne Hanniman, who took a leave from the national security section at RCMP headquarters in Ottawa to complete a nine-month stint based in Juba, the capital of south Sudan.
The job of Canadians and others is to teach basic police techniques: How to interview, investigate, take notes and draw up a report so a prosecutor can lay a charge. It is also to encourage the Sudanese police to discipline their fellow officers who fail to respect human rights. But it’s not to lead the investigations or hand out orders.
“We don’t arrest anybody. We’re guests here,” says Eastop, commander of the current Canadian contingent in the region.
The Sudanese police “are absolutely thirsty for any kind of education they can get,” says Eastop.
“I’m not a teacher by any stretch, but I’m teaching basic computer skills after my regular work hours to police officers. They want this, they need it.”
There are huge challenges: Widespread illiteracy among the Sudanese officers, a lack of infrastructure. There’s a dearth of police vehicles and a lack of basic equipment, such as notebooks. Public confidence is low, and for the officers, there’s often a long lag in getting paid.
“Sometimes their paycheque is two to three months late,” says Hanniman. “They’ve got uniforms and a rank structure. Everything else we’re starting from scratch.”
The Canadian contingent, including three female officers, is spread along contested areas between north and south Sudan. The Canadians are among 650 officers from 36 countries that make up the UN police mission. The northern region of Darfur is deemed too unstable for an international policing deployment.