Expected Council Action
In May, the Security Council will hold a briefing, followed by consultations, on the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), which members are expected to receive by 15 May.
The mandate of UNITAMS expires on 3 June.
Key Recent Developments
Fighting erupted in the morning of 15 April in and around Khartoum between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), headed by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Sudan’s military leader and Chairperson of the Transitional Sovereign Council, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the Deputy Chairman of the Transitional Sovereign Council. According to local media reports, the fighting initially started in the Soba suburb, south of Khartoum, and spread to several strategic areas in the capital, including Sudan’s presidential palace, the headquarters of the state television, Khartoum International Airport, and the military’s headquarters.
On 17 April, Council members met to discuss the situation in Sudan under “any other business”. Special Representative and head of UNITAMS Volker Perthes briefed members on the latest developments in the country and apparently expressed concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation, especially in light of recent attacks targeting humanitarian workers. It seems that Council members were united in calling for de-escalation, a cessation of hostilities, and the restoration of calm in the country. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 17 April.)
On 20 April, the AU Commission held an urgent special ministerial meeting on Sudan, convened via VTC. The meeting was attended by Secretary-General António Guterres, representatives of the Security Council’s permanent five members (P5), the African (A3) members, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the League of Arab States (LAS), and other regional stakeholders.
A communiqué was adopted at the meeting calling for an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire for a week starting from 20 April that could pave the way for “a more permanent ceasefire”. It also called on the SAF and the RSF to establish humanitarian corridors and allow for unhindered humanitarian access and the evacuation of injured civilians. The communiqué further called for the immediate resumption of the political process through dialogue and negotiations, with the aim of establishing a civilian-led government. It requested the Trilateral Mechanism (which is comprised of the AU, IGAD, and UNITAMS), in coordination with the LAS, the EU, the Troika (Norway, the UK, and the US), and other actors, to engage with the SAF and the RSF to ensure the communiqué’s implementation, including by developing an urgent plan for de-escalation. In this regard, the communiqué requested the two parties to designate interlocutors to work with the Trilateral Mechanism, to monitor and verify the humanitarian ceasefire, and to further elaborate permanent ceasefire arrangements, including the withdrawal of forces from urban areas.
At a press stakeout following the 20 April meeting, Guterres called for a ceasefire to mark the Eid al-Fitr celebrations, adding that this must be followed by serious dialogue that will facilitate a transition to a civilian government. He expressed deep concern about the hostilities’ negative effects on civilians and about the prospect of further escalation. He added that humanitarian operations have become virtually impossible, as warehouses, vehicles, and other humanitarian assets have been attacked, looted, and seized. On 21 April, the Permanent Representative of Sudan to the UN, Ambassador Al-Harith Idriss al-Harith Mohamed, sent a letter to the Security Council, informing it that al-Burhan had announced a three-day humanitarian truce starting on the same day. Despite this, fighting reportedly persisted, with a 23 April OCHA flash update noting that clashes had continued throughout the three-day period.
In a 24 April press statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the SAF and the RSF had agreed to implement a 72-hour nationwide ceasefire starting at midnight on 24 April. He urged both parties to immediately and fully uphold the ceasefire. Blinken added that, to support a durable end to the fighting, the US will “coordinate with regional and international partners, and Sudanese civilian stakeholders” to “assist in the creation of a committee to oversee the negotiation, conclusion, and implementation of a permanent cessation of hostilities and humanitarian arrangements in Sudan”.
On 25 April, the Council convened for an open briefing to discuss the situation in Sudan at the request of the UK (the penholder on the file). Guterres, Perthes, Permanent Observer for the AU Fatima Kyari Mohammed and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Joyce Msuya briefed. In his remarks, Guterres indicated that the clashes in Sudan have the potential to spread across borders, cause immense suffering, and push back development for years. He called on the Council members, the wider UN membership, and regional organisations with influence to press the Sudanese leaders to de-escalate tensions. Msuya provided an overview of the increasingly dire humanitarian situation in the country and described the recent efforts of the UN and other actors to deliver humanitarian aid in Sudan. Among other things, Perthes noted that, although the 72-hour ceasefire had been upheld in some parts, both parties accused each other of ceasefire violations with no sign that either side is ready to negotiate; fighting has continued and, in some cases, intensified (including air strikes and heavy shelling); and cases of attempted sexual assaults and prisoners being released from detention centres have been reported.
In light of the continued fighting, deteriorating humanitarian situation and persisting insecurity, media reports indicate that many member states have been evacuating their diplomatic staff and citizens from Sudan. According to the 23 April OCHA flash update, several humanitarian organisations have evacuated or relocated their staff members from locations where operations are not currently feasible.
In a 26 April press briefing, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Farhan Haq noted that the UN is preparing for refugee influxes into countries across the region, including the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Sudan. He added that the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) successfully evacuated 17 UN staff members and aid workers from Darfur into Juba. According to the UNHCR, at the time of writing, nearly 4,000 people have crossed into South Sudan from Sudan, and 20,000 into Chad since the outbreak of fighting on 15 April.
According to the 23 April OCHA flash update, at least 427 people have been killed and over 3,700 injured because of the ongoing fighting. Two humanitarian organisations—the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM)—have suspended their operations. A 22 April IOM Displacement Tracking Matrix noted that displacements have been reported in Khartoum, as well as in Blue Nile, North Kordofan, North Darfur, West Darfur, and South Darfur states.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In an 18 April statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk called for an immediate end to hostilities in Sudan and for the parties to the conflict to return to the negotiating table. He noted that the majority of fighting had been concentrated in heavily populated parts of the capital Khartoum and residential areas of cities elsewhere in the country. Moreover, air strikes and artillery shelling, including the use of explosive weapons, have exposed civilians to the risk of death and injury. He called for “prompt, thorough and independent investigations” into the killings of civilians, including three staff members of the UN’s World Food Programme.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Security Council is how to stop the fighting in Sudan and avert a humanitarian crisis. A related issue is assessing what role UNITAMS can play in bringing a credible, sustainable, and long-term ceasefire. Another issue for the Security Council is to ensure continuous and unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid, and at the same time, secure the safety and security of UN officials and other humanitarian actors. Periodic briefings from Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths or other OCHA officials could help keep the Council informed of the humanitarian situation on the ground.
Another major issue is the difficulty for UNITAMS in carrying out its responsibilities in the midst of the current conflict. According to a 24 April UNITAMS press statement, the UN temporarily relocated its internationally-recruited personnel from Khartoum to Port Sudan for onward evacuation to neighbouring countries. It added that a small number of internationally-recruited personnel, including Perthes, will remain in Sudan and will “continue to work towards a resolution to the current crisis and returning to the UN mandated tasks”. Perthes, in the same statement, said: “our presence on the ground has been adjusted in light of the security situation but […] there is no plan or thinking of the UN leaving Sudan”. At the time of writing, the UN in Sudan has a total of 4,149 staff members, including 877 internationally-recruited staff and 3,272 national staff.
Another significant issue is the mandate renewal of UNITAMS. In light of these circumstances, an option for Council members is to consider a technical rollover of the mission’s mandate for three to six months in anticipation of the situation stabilising sufficiently for the mission to return to Khartoum and resume its work.
The Council could consider holding an informal interactive dialogue (IID) with key stakeholders, including representatives of the Tripartite Mechanism. The IID is a closed format that, unlike consultations, allows for the participation of non-UN officials and briefers.
The Council could consider adopting a presidential statement that:
- condemns the continued military clashes between the SAF and RSF;
- expresses regret over the immense human suffering, including the death of civilians and damage to civilian infrastructure;
- calls upon both parties to adhere to the ceasefire and demands a full cessation of hostilities;
- welcomes the diplomatic efforts by the AU, IGAD, the LAS, UNITAMS, and other regional stakeholders to resolve the crisis;
- stresses the need for full, safe, and unimpeded humanitarian access; and
- demands that the parties commit to the safety, security and protection of civilians, diplomatic missions and personnel, UN, humanitarian and medical personnel.
Most Council members share similar concerns over the political, security, human rights, and humanitarian situations in Sudan and are supportive of the Trilateral Mechanism. But there was apparent disagreement on a draft press statement proposed by the UK following the AU Commission’s ministerial meeting on 20 April. It appears that, among other matters, the draft text condemned the continued military clashes between the SAF and RSF; regretted the death of civilians and damage to civilian infrastructure; welcomed the diplomatic efforts by the AU, IGAD, the LAS, and UNITAMS to resolve the crisis; reiterated the need for full, safe, and unimpeded humanitarian access; and demanded that the parties commit to the safety, security, and protection of civilians, diplomatic missions and personnel, UN, humanitarian and medical personnel, including to ensure the safe departure of foreign nationals from Sudan. Council members were unable to reach consensus, with the A3 apparently opposing the draft press statement and arguing that it could lead to duplicate messaging and create complications at a delicate time. It seems that China and Russia supported the A3 position.
The UK is the penholder on Sudan, and the US is the penholder on Sudan sanctions. Ambassador Harold Adlai Agyeman (Ghana) chairs the 1591 Sudan Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON SUDAN
|Security Council Resolutions|
|3 June 2022S/RES/2636 (2022)||This resolution extended the mandate of UNITAMS for one year.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|15 April 2023SC/15257||This was the press statement expressing concern over the military clashes in Sudan.|