May 2021 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 April 2021
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Expected Council Action

In May, the Security Council is expected to receive a briefing on the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS). The briefing will cover the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on UNITAMS, which includes information about the drawdown and withdrawal of the AU/UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) as an annex, requested in resolutions 2524 and 2559.

The mandate of UNITAMS expires on 3 June in accordance with resolution 2524.

Key Recent Developments

Sudan has made progress in its democratic transition since the Juba Peace Agreement was signed on 3 October 2020. The transitional government has agreed on five national priorities, namely: addressing the socio-economic conditions, implementing the Juba Peace Agreement and resuming negotiations with the two non-signatories, security sector reform and the protection of civilians, international relations, and advancing Sudan’s democratic transition. However, significant political, security, humanitarian and economic challenges exist. Several aspects of the Constitutional Document and the Juba Peace Agreement have yet to be implemented, including the formation of the Transitional Legislative Council, with at least 40 percent female representation.

The security situation in parts of Darfur remains precarious, with intercommunal violence, human rights violations and abuses, violations of international humanitarian law, and large-scale displacement. Intercommunal clashes in El Geneina, West Darfur, in January left 250 people dead and over 100,000 displaced, according to UNHCHR. In early April, violent clashes occurred again in El Geneina, resulting in the reported death of over 80 people. According to OCHA, approximately 40,000 people were displaced as a result. On 5 April, the Security and Defence Council declared a state of emergency, and the Sudanese Attorney General announced that 15 prosecutors had been sent to West Darfur to investigate the violence. According to the International Organization for Migration, close to 237,00 people were displaced by conflict in Darfur in the first four months of 2021, more than four times the 53,000 people who were conflict-displaced in all of 2020, creating a significant increase in new humanitarian needs.

In response to the violence in West Darfur, Special Representative for Sudan and head of UNITAMS Volker Perthes said in a statement on 6 April that the “UN is committed to support the Government of Sudan in fulfilling its responsibility to protect civilians and in addressing the underlying causes of this continuing violence”. Perthes also said that the UN and its humanitarian partners were mobilising additional staff and resources to respond to the displacement and growing humanitarian needs. On 14 April, Security Council members held an informal interactive dialogue (IID) on the situation with the participation of Sudan and Perthes. The UK, the penholder on Sudan, organised the meeting. The situation in Darfur was discussed, as were steps taken by the transitional government to protect civilians and UNITAMS’ role in supporting the government in this regard.

UNAMID’s drawdown and exit is ongoing in accordance with resolution 2559, and it is expected to complete the withdrawal of all uniformed and civilian personnel by 30 June, other than those required for the mission’s liquidation, as requested in resolution 2559. Five of the 15 team sites have been handed over, with all remaining team sites to be handed over by the end of May, with the exception of El Fasher, the Khartoum Liaison Office and Port Sudan.

Tensions continue along the border with Ethiopia, including intermittent clashes with reports of intensifying military operations. The Secretary-General’s March report on UNITAMS expressed concern over the escalation in tensions between the two countries regarding the Fashaqah area along their border. The report also noted that since 9 November 2020, more than 61,000 refugees from the Tigray region of Ethiopia have fled to eastern Sudan.

On 9 March, the Council received a briefing on UNITAMS and UNAMID from Perthes and Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support Atul Khare. Kholood Khair, managing partner of Insight Strategy Partners, briefed as a member of civil society based in Khartoum. Perthes noted that “Sudan is making significant advances in its transition” but that “the remaining challenges are staggering”. He told the Council that the UN is working to support the transitional government to strengthen the protection of civilians, including through technical advice and capacity-building support. He emphasised that “UNITAMS is a small mission with a broad mandate” and referred to the imminent launch of the Sudan Peacemaking, Peacebuilding and Stabilization Programme, which is a framework between UNITAMS and the UN country team to jointly implement resolution 2524, which established UNITAMS.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 9 April, a spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a press briefing, “we are appalled by the latest resurgence of violence…in West Darfur” and that they were “disturbed by the slow progress in ensuring accountability for this and previous violence”. The spokesperson said that “the authorities failed to stop the clashes despite a robust security force presence in the town”. The spokesperson also called on the government of Sudan to accelerate the implementation of the National Plan for the Protection of Civilians and added that “all tribes responsible for violence in Darfur must be disarmed and the state must be able to maintain order and ensure the rule of law, including by preventing armed civilians from taking the law into their own hands”.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue is assessing the role of UNITAMS across the four strategic objectives for the mission contained in resolution 2524: assisting Sudan’s political transition; supporting peace processes and implementing future peace agreements; assisting peacebuilding, civilian protection and rule of law in Darfur and the Two Areas (that is, South Kordofan and Blue Nile); and supporting the mobilisation of economic and development assistance and coordination of humanitarian assistance.

A related issue for the Council is to consider what changes to the mandate, if any, are necessary ahead of its expiration on 3 June. In doing so, Council members will be informed by the findings and recommendations of the upcoming 90-day report of the Secretary-General, expected in mid-May. The report is also expected to include “clear and measurable” benchmarks and indicators, “to track UNITAMS’ progress against its strategic objectives and to enable early planning for a future reconfiguration of the UN presence in Sudan”, as requested in resolution 2524.

A likely option is for the Council to renew the mandate of UNITAMS for one year, maintaining the four strategic objectives of the mission while making some adjustments. In doing so, Council members might consider language to further prioritise the mandated tasks within each of the four areas. In particular this could include highlighting: support for the implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement (signed after the adoption of resolution 2524 establishing UNITAMS), implementation of the government’s National Plan for Civilian Protection (S/2020/429), and advisory and capacity building support for security authorities.

Another key issue that Council members will want to follow closely is the security situation in Darfur, particularly in light of the drawdown and exit of UNAMID currently underway, as set out in resolution 2559. The transition from UNAMID to UNITAMS is a priority for the Council. In future, Council members could hold another IID, should the security situation in Darfur deteriorate, with the participation of Sudan.

Council Dynamics

Council members welcome the political progress in Sudan. However, the dire economic and humanitarian situations are particularly worrisome to many members, and divisions persist in assessing the situation in Darfur. Despite the unanimous adoption of resolution 2524 in June 2020 establishing UNITAMS, there were clear disagreements during the negotiations over references to monitoring and reporting on progress in the implementation of Sudan’s Constitutional Document, the provision of technical assistance in the areas of rule of law and security sector reform, and reporting on the human rights situation. There were also strong differences on the mission’s potential tasks relating to the protection of civilians. While several members believed that the new mission should have a mandate to protect civilians, others (Russia, China and the three African members among them) opposed the inclusion of such tasks in the mandate. (For more, see our What’s In Blue story of 3 June 2020.)

At the 9 March briefing, Council members expressed a variety of views about the role of UNITAMS and its relationship with the Sudanese government. Estonia, France, Ireland, the UK and the US called for Sudan to finalise the status-of-mission agreement to enable the effective operation of UNITAMS. China said UNITAMS should focus on the peace process and mobilising economic assistance, while fully respecting the views of the Sudanese government. Russia expressed its hope that the mission would strengthen Sudan’s capacity around peacebuilding, promoting economic reforms, implementing sustainable security sector reform and maintaining peace and the rule of law. France and Viet Nam underscored their support for the rapid full operationalisation of UNITAMS. The UK maintained that the government should work with UNITAMS, including its integrated country team, to identify priority areas for support from UNITAMS in line with its mandate; Estonia and Ireland emphasised this perspective as well.

Many members also condemned or expressed concern during the briefing over the recent violence in Darfur, including Estonia, France, Ireland, Mexico, the UK, and the US. (Kenya, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Norway did not make statements at the briefing.)

The UK is the penholder on Sudan, and the US is the penholder on Sudan sanctions. Ambassador Sven Jürgenson (Estonia) chairs the 1591 Sudan Sanctions Committee.


Security Council Resolutions
11 February 2021S/RES/2562 This extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1591 Sudan Sanctions Committee until 12 March 2022.
22 December 2020S/RES/2559 This was on the expiration of the mandate of UNAMID on 31 December 2020.
3 June 2020S/RES/2524 This established the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS).
Security Council Meeting Record
11 March 2021S/2021/246 This was a record of the briefing on UNITAMS and UNAMID on 9 March.
Secretary-General’s Report
1 March 2021S/2021/199 This was the 90-day report on UNITMAS.