AU/UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur: Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow (17 April), the Security Council will be briefed on the Secretary-General’s latest 90-day report (S/2019/305) on the AU/UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) by Joint Special Representative and head of UNAMID Jeremiah Mamabolo (via video-teleconference from Khartoum). Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller is also expected to brief. The briefing will be followed by consultations.
The discussion is likely to be coloured by the significant political developments that are currently unfolding in Sudan and their impact on the situation in Darfur and the work of UNAMID. The briefing takes place less than one week after the ousting of President Omar al-Bashir on 11 April by the Sudanese military following ongoing protests in many parts of the country calling for al-Bashir, who has ruled Sudan for nearly three decades, to step down. The protests, which began in December 2018, were sparked by food and fuel shortages and intensified on 6 April, when thousands of protesters gathered outside al-Bashir’s residence in Khartoum. On 11 April, Sudan’s Defence Minister, General Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf, said to be an al-Bashir ally, appeared on state television and announced the military’s detention of al-Bashir, the suspension of the constitution, and the start of a two-year transitional period to be overseen by the military and followed by elections. A three-month state of emergency was also declared.
Protests continued, notwithstanding the removal of al-Bashir, and on the following day Lt. General Abdel-Fattah Burhan assumed power after Ibn Auf stepped down. The military has announced that it does not intend to extradite al-Bashir, despite the ICC arrest warrants issued against him in 2009 and 2010 for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide, allegedly committed between 2003 and 2008 in Darfur.
Several UN and other international actors have responded to these events. On 11 April, a spokesperson said that the Secretary-General “continues to follow the developments in Sudan very closely and reiterates his call for calm and utmost restraint by all…[and] recalls his previous encouragement and expectation that the democratic aspirations of the Sudanese people will be realized through an appropriate and inclusive transition process.” Also on 11 April, the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, released a statement expressing the AU’s “conviction that the military take-over is not the appropriate response to the challenges facing Sudan and the aspirations of its people.” On 12 April, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet released a statement saying that “the crisis in Sudan has its roots in human rights grievances”, and called on the government to ensure the protection of human rights and to “address the people’s demands”. She also stressed the need for investigations into the excessive use of force against protestors since December 2018. On 15 April, the AU Peace and Security Council adopted a communiqué that endorsed Faki’s statement and strongly condemned the “coup d’État”. It “rejects the seizure of power by the Sudanese military and its plan to lead the transition for two (2) years” and “demands that the Sudanese military step aside and hand over power to a transitional civilian-led political authority, in accordance with the will of the people and constitutional order, within a maximum period of fifteen (15) days from the date of the adoption of the present communiqué, failing which, [the PSC] will automatically apply Article 7(g) of its Protocol, in particular the suspension of the participation of the Sudan in all AU’s activities until the restoration of constitutional order”.
While the Council has yet to pronounce itself formally on the recent events, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa Bintou Keita briefed its members on 12 April under “any other business” at the request of Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, the UK and the US. Ahead of the meeting, Ambassador Karen Pierce (UK) said at a media stakeout that it is “very important there’s no violence, but it is also important that a path back to democratic civilian rule is found as quickly as possible”. At a media stakeout following the meeting, Ambassador Christoph Heusgen (on behalf of the EU members on the Council) called for all parties to exercise restraint and emphasised the need for a peaceful solution to the conflict that “reflects the will of the people”. He also stressed the importance of observing human rights and the right of assembly as well as the need for “a credible and inclusive political process that will lead to transition”.
During tomorrow’s briefing, Council members are likely to be interested in hearing Mamabolo’s assessment of the impact of these recent events on the situation in Darfur and on UNAMID’s operations, in particular in the context of the mission’s reconfiguration and drawdown, as set out in resolution 2429, which referred to the exit of the mission in June 2020 “provided that there is no significant change in the security situation in Darfur”. Media reports have indicated that 14 protestors were killed by “gunmen” on 14 April at the Kalma camp for internally displaced persons outside of Nyala in southern Darfur. While it may be too early to gauge the potential medium and longer-term effects of the political turmoil in Sudan, any assessment may be valuable, given that the Secretary-General’s most recent report covers 4 January to 3 April.
Mamabolo may also highlight that the Darfur peace process has again stalled, in the context of recent events. The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)/Gibril Ibrahim faction and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA)/Minni Minawi faction revoked their December 2018 agreement to resume talks with the Sudanese government in January. On 20 March, the Sudanese opposition alliance Sudan Call announced its decision to withdraw from the AU High-Level Implementation Panel’s Roadmap Agreement for Ending the Conflicts in Sudan, signed with the government in 2016. Given that the Secretary-General’s report states “the problems in Darfur can only be solved through a peaceful and inclusive political process”, Council members may be particularly interested in hearing an assessment of the impact of al-Bashir’s removal on the Darfur peace process.
Mamabolo is expected to update the Council on the implementation of the troop reduction and reconfiguration of UNAMID in accordance with resolution 2429, through which the Council decided to reduce the troop ceiling from 8,735 to 4,050 military personnel over the course of the mandate period), while maintaining authorised police personnel at 2,500. According to the Secretary-General’s report, UNAMID’s reconfiguration is proceeding as scheduled with the mission and the UN country team continuing to implement the mission’s transition strategy. While the report only covers the situation in Darfur through 3 April (that is, prior to al-Bashir’s ouster), it observes that “ongoing political and economic uncertainty pose a number of challenges for a responsible exit of the peacekeeping mission and a transition to peacebuilding, including the question of interlocutors at the national and local levels of the government for joint planning and oversight, which will be critical for the national ownership and sustainability of the process…[as will] the mobilization of resources for a seamless transition”. The role and future configuration of UNAMID are likely to be areas of discussion during tomorrow’s briefing and in consultations, given the current situation in Sudan and the expiration of UNAMID’s mandate on 30 June.
In addition to discussing the possible impact of the events of the last week on Darfur and UNAMID, Mamabolo is likely to give an overview of the security, political, humanitarian and human rights situations in Darfur, as outlined in the Secretary-General’s report. According to the report, the overall security situation in Darfur remained relatively stable except for intermittent clashes between government forces and the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid in the Jebel Marra area. While intercommunal clashes remained low, despite a slight increase since the last reporting period, “[o]ngoing human rights violations, in particular sexual and gender-based violence, including those violations reportedly perpetrated by Government security personnel, continue to be of grave concern and an obstacle to lasting peace”, the report said. As well, more than 1.6 million internally displaced persons are still living in camps throughout Darfur.
The longstanding differences amongst Council members in assessing the situation in Darfur were again apparent during the discussion following the last briefing on UNAMID on 25 February (S/PV.8468). Several members – including Belgium, France, Germany, the US and the UK – raised concerns over the ongoing protests in Sudan and the national state of emergency declared on 22 February. In its statement, the UK said that “political instability in the Sudan and the declaration of a state of emergency naturally affect the situation in Darfur…[and] call into question the Government’s commitment to delivering progress on human rights, the rule of law and security sector reform”. Germany expressed the view that these events made it “necessary to look even more closely at the benchmarks for a withdrawal of [UNAMID], in particular the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms”, while France said the withdrawal of UNAMID must be “adapted to the situation on the ground” and should be “gradual and cautious”. However, Russia expressed the view that these events “have nothing to do with” the Council’s consideration of the situation in Darfur and UNAMID, saying that “it is important to continue the process of drawing down UNAMID’s military component”. In addition, China, Indonesia, Kuwait and South Africa, along with Russia, highlighted the improved situation in Darfur and did not refer to the ongoing protests. At this stage, it is still unclear what effect the removal of al-Bashir will have on existing Council dynamics.
Looking ahead, Council members will receive a strategic review of the mission by the Secretary-General and the Chairperson of the African Commission by 1 May, as requested in resolution 2429, which is expected to further inform the Council’s thinking ahead of the expiration of UNAMID’s mandate.