Consultations on Expulsion of UN Officials in Sudan
The Council is scheduled to hold consultations tomorrow morning (30 December) to discuss Sudan’s recent decision to expel two high-level UN officials from the country, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Ali al-Zaatari (Jordan) and UN Development Programme (UNDP) Country Director Yvonne Helle (Netherlands). Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson is expected to brief. The meeting was requested by the UK, with support from the US.
Sudan has a history of turbulent relations with high level UN officials. In October 2006, Special Representative of the Secretary-General Jan Pronk (Netherlands) was expelled from Sudan reportedly due to his comments on the government’s military setbacks in Darfur. In April 2014, Sudan expelled Pamela Delargy (US), head of the UN Population Fund in the country, alleging that she had interfered in the country’s domestic affairs.
Sudan announced the expulsions of Helle and al-Zaatari on 24 and 25 December, respectively. On 24 December, Helle was given 72 hours to depart Sudan, which claimed that she was “arrogant” and had not properly consulted with the government prior to halting “financial and technical support to a number of programs and strategic projects with developmental, political and economic yield to Sudan…”. In ordering Al-Zaatari’s expulsion, the government alleged that he had insulted President Omar al-Bashir and the Sudanese people in an interview given to a Norwegian newspaper, Bistandsaktuelt, in early December. Al-Zaatari strongly denied the allegation.
On 25 December, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement calling on Sudan to reverse immediately its decision to expel both officials, which he described as “unacceptable.” On 28 December, Sudan’s Foreign Minister, Ali Ahmed Karti, said that his government’s decision would stand.
Council members will likely expect to hear from Eliasson any further details regarding why Sudan has decided to expel Helle and al-Zaatari. Likewise, members may also inquire whether the Secretariat has had any contact with Sudan in recent days over the matter, and if so, what the content of the interaction has been.
Some Council members are questioning whether the expulsions of officials from UNDP and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) require holding a Council meeting, arguing that this is not a matter of international peace and security, and therefore, should not be under the Council’s purview. (Helle is a UNDP official, while al-Zaatari is an OCHA official).
On the other hand, a number of Council members view the expulsions as only the latest example of antagonistic behavior on the part of Sudan towards the UN presence in the country in recent months and may raise this during the discussion tomorrow. One issue has been the allegations that Sudan’s armed forces committed a mass rape of 200 girls and women in the Darfur village of Thabit on 30 and 31 October. In a number of meetings over the past two months, several Council members have expressed concern that Sudan has not permitted the AU/UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) unhindered access to Thabit to investigate the rape allegations. A second issue has been the calls by Sudan for UNAMID to leave Darfur, culminating in a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon from Sudanese Foreign Minister Karti on 16 December stating that there is “an urgent need for UNAMID to prepare, in cooperation with the Government of Sudan, an exit strategy…” (S/2014/910). Also an issue of concern to some members was Sudan’s 23 November 2014 request that UNAMID shut down its Khartoum-based Human Rights Office.
It is also possible that tomorrow’s meeting may have been called to signal to Sudan that the situation in the country is being followed closely by the Council, even during the holiday period. In this sense, the expulsion of two high-level UN officials is viewed through the prism of the ongoing security, humanitarian and human rights tragedy affecting Sudan and the lack of cooperation by Sudan with the UN to address these challenges.
While some Council members emphasise Sudan’s sovereignty and tend to be sympathetic to the government, several Council members have been increasingly distressed by Sudan’s actions and pronouncements in the context of a number of specific recent events.