Expected Council Action
In June, the Security Council is due to renew the mandate of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) before its expiration on 3 June in accordance with resolution 2636.
Key Recent Developments
Fighting erupted on the morning of 15 April in and around Khartoum between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), headed by 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. Despite several calls for a ceasefire from regional stakeholders and the broader international community, fighting entered its second month in May, causing a deep humanitarian crisis. According to OCHA’s 21 May flash update, at least 705 people have been killed and over 5,287 injured because of the ongoing fighting.
The Secretary-General’s most recent report on UNITAMS, dated 16 May, noted that since the outbreak of fighting on 15 April, UNITAMS has focused its good offices efforts on urging the parties to cease hostilities, respect international humanitarian law, and return to political negotiations. The report said that UNITAMS—as part of the Trilateral Mechanism that also includes the AU and IGAD—has continued to engage closely with regional organisations and member states in pursuit of a ceasefire, including through the provision of technical expertise on ceasefire monitoring. It further noted that the fighting has posed severe operational challenges for UNITAMS, and the mission has suspended activities such as capacity-building, development assistance, and field visits. Only a small number of the mission’s international personnel remain in Port Sudan to support the good offices efforts of Special Representative and head of UNITAMS Volker Perthes.
On 17 May, Council members met to discuss the situation in Sudan under “any other business” at the request of the UK (the penholder on the file). UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi briefed Council members on the influx of refugees into Sudan’s neighbouring countries and presented an overview of their potential impact on regional stability. Among other matters, Grandi highlighted UNHCR’s efforts and expressed concern about the situation of refugees.
On 22 May, the Council convened for a briefing on UNITAMS. Perthes, AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security Bankole Adeoye and Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Workneh Gebeyehu briefed. In his remarks, Perthes provided an overview of the increasingly dire humanitarian situation in the country and described the recent efforts of the UN and other actors to resolve the ongoing crisis. He expressed deep concern about the reports of rampant looting, intimidation, harassment, and disappearances. He added that fighting between the warring parties has sharpened intercommunal tensions across various parts of the country, including El Geneina, South Kordofan, and the Blue Nile. Among other things, he said that the mission remained committed toward achieving a stable ceasefire with a monitoring mechanism, preventing the ethnicisation of the conflict, protection of civilians and provision of humanitarian relief and preparation for a renewed inclusive political process.
On 6 May, Saudi-US facilitated talks between representatives of the warring parties began in Jeddah. The two sides signed a “Declaration of Commitment to Protect the Civilians of Sudan” on 11 May. Among other things, the parties agreed to allow safe passage for civilians to leave areas of active hostilities, take all feasible precautions to avoid and minimise civilian harm, allow principal humanitarian operations to resume and protect humanitarian personnel and assets, adopt simple and expedited procedures for all logistical and administrative arrangements necessary for humanitarian relief operations, and commit to scheduling subsequent expanded discussions to achieve a permanent cessation of hostilities.
On 20 May, the SAF and RSF signed “Short-Term Ceasefire and Humanitarian Arrangements” as part of the US-Saudi facilitated talks in Jeddah. The agreement stipulated a seven-day ceasefire, starting 22 May, to allow for the delivery of emergency humanitarian assistance and restoration of essential services. Among other matters, the parties further agreed to guarantee civilians’ freedom of movement throughout the country and to protect civilians from violence, harassment, recruitment, or other abuse; refrain from targeting civilian infrastructure or population centres and acquiring, fortifying defences, resupplying, or distributing arms or military supplies, including from foreign sources; and ensure that all forces under their command and control observe the agreement in full.
The 20 May agreement established a monitoring and coordination committee, which comprises three representatives from each of the two facilitating countries and three representatives from each of the warring parties, to monitor the ceasefire compliance and adherence with the agreement. Among its tasks, the committee is mandated to help coordinate relevant humanitarian actors, including OCHA and the ICRC, in making arrangements for immediate, full, and unhindered humanitarian access and delivery of assistance and repair of essential civilian infrastructure and services.
On 29 May, the Sudanese warring parties agreed to extend the 20 May ceasefire agreement for five days. In a joint statement released following the agreement, the facilitators noted that the SAF and RSF affirmed their intention to use this extended period to implement the provisions of the 20 May agreement that were not fully implemented, including the delivery of humanitarian assistance, facilitation of the repair of essential services, and the evacuation of armed actors from hospitals. The statement added that the warring parties agreed to discuss a long-term ceasefire that could encompass provisions for the withdrawal of forces from urban areas, removal of impediments to the free movement of civilians and humanitarian assistance and allowing public servants to resume their regular duties.
On 7 March, the New York Times reported that the SAF withdrew from the US-Saudi facilitated talks, citing the RSF’s failure to implement any of the provisions of the ceasefire agreement. On the other hand, the RSF released a statement on the same day, noting that it was unconditionally backing the US-Saudi initiative.
Council members last met to discuss the situation in Sudan on 31 May, when Secretary-General António Guterres requested to brief members in closed consultations. (For more information, see our 31 May What’s in Blue story.)
Sudan’s humanitarian needs are significant and have been evolving rapidly. On 17 May, OCHA released a revised 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for Sudan in light of the ongoing conflict. According to the plan, the estimated number of people in need has increased from 15.8 million in November 2022 to 24.7 million in May. The plan calls for $817 million in additional funding, bringing the requirements for 2023 to $2.56 billion. At the time of writing, the HRP for Sudan was 12.4 percent funded.
Also on 17 May, UNHCR launched the Refugee Response Plan (RRP), which appeals for an estimated $470.4 million for an initial period from May to October. The RRP projected that the number of refugees, including Sudanese refugees, individuals from third countries, refugee returnees and migrant returnees, will reach approximately 1.1 million during this initial period. The plan outlines a multi-partner, multi-sector response strategy and financial requirements of 140 partner agencies supporting the host governments of the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Sudan to provide protection services and urgent humanitarian assistance to refugees from Sudan.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 11 May, the Human Rights Council (HRC) convened a special session on the human rights impact of the ongoing conflict in Sudan. In his statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk strongly condemned the ongoing violence and noted that both warring parties have violated the principles of international law, especially those concerning distinction, proportionality, and precaution. He said that damage to water, electricity and communications infrastructure has obliterated years of development efforts. Türk added that extensive looting of the offices, businesses and properties of the UN and international non-governmental organisations has also obstructed humanitarian operations. He further noted that “in parts of Darfur, as well as the Blue Nile and Kordofan regions, the violence between military groups has triggered inter-ethnic clashes”. Türk urged all member states with influence in the region to encourage, by all possible means, the resolution of this crisis.
During the special session, the HRC adopted a resolution expressing grave concern about the outbreak of the conflict in Sudan and the escalation of violence between the SAF and RSF. The resolution added additional reporting requirements in the mandate of the designated expert of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights—monitoring, documenting, and reporting to the HRC of all allegations of human rights violations and abuses since 25 October 2021, including those arising directly from the current conflict. The resolution was adopted with 18 votes in favour, 15 against, and 14 abstentions. Council members France, the UK, and the US voted in favour, whereas Gabon abstained, and China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) voted against.
Key Issues and Options
An immediate issue for the Council is to renew the mandate of UNITAMS and consider what changes to the mission’s mandate, if any, are necessary considering the ongoing developments in Sudan.
A likely option for the Council is to renew the mandate of UNITAMS for a period of six months. Council members may wish to include language in the resolution reflecting recent developments, such as:
- expressing concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country;
- recognising and welcoming the efforts of regional stakeholders and the international community in bringing an end to the conflict;
- calling on the Sudanese warring parties to immediately cease hostilities and agree to permanent ceasefire arrangements; and
- facilitating full, rapid, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access for the personnel of UN humanitarian agencies and other humanitarian actors and providers of basic services.
Most Council members share similar concerns about the political, security, human rights, and humanitarian situations in Sudan. Members are supportive of the trilateral cooperation mechanism composed of the AU, UN, and IGAD.
At the 22 May briefing, several Council members expressed support for UNITAMS, including France, Japan, the UK, the US, and the UAE. In its statement, Japan said that the Council must “support the mission as it seeks to revive the political process while also maintaining the other three pillars of its mandate”. (The four pillars of the mission are assisting the political transition; supporting peace processes and implementation of future peace agreements; assisting peacebuilding, civilian protection, and rule of law; and supporting the mobilisation of economic and development assistance.) It added that Japan will contribute to the discussions on adapting the mission’s strategic objectives and operations to the rapidly changing circumstance.
China emphasised that, in light of the ongoing developments, “UNITAMS will face considerable challenges in its future work” and encouraged the penholder to fully respect the views of Sudan. In its statement, Russia expressed support for a “technical rollover” of the mission’s mandate and for assigning credible roles to the national and regional efforts. It added that “once the acute phase has passed, we could revisit the mandate”.
At the time of writing, it appears that the negotiations on the UNITAMS renewal may be complicated. Apparently, the Council members have divergent views on how to describe the current situation in Sudan and reflect the views of the host government.
In response to the recent escalation of violence in Sudan, it appears that Council members have diverging views on whether a Security Council product is needed. Apparently, the A3 members of the Council (Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique), with the support of Russia and China, have argued that adopting a Council product could lead to duplicate messaging and create complications at a delicate time. It appears that the A3 members, in opposing the adoption of Council products, have been following Sudan’s national position. In a 12 May press statement, Sudan’s Permanent Representative of the UN, Al-Harith Idriss al-Harith Mohamed, noted that “we do not prefer an involvement of [the] Security Council in terms of any products”. He added that the Council’s engagement on the ongoing situation in Sudan may undermine the AU’s efforts to positively engage with the situation.
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.|
|16 May 2023S/2023/355||This was the 90-day report on UNITAMS.|