What's In Blue

Posted Thu 22 Jun 2023

Sudan: Consultations

Tomorrow afternoon (23 June) Security Council members are expected to hold closed consultations on Sudan. It seems that the inter-communal violence in Darfur will be a key focus of the meeting. The UK, the penholder on Sudan, requested the meeting. Edem Wosornu, the Director of OCHA’s Operations and Advocacy Division, is expected to brief.

Sudan has been grappling with the devastating consequences of fighting that erupted on 15 April 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. A 13 June Humanitarian Update estimated that at least 866 people had been killed and 6,000 injured in Darfur since the outbreak of hostilities. However, casualty rates may be much higher at this point, with some reports indicating that 1,100 people have died in the West Darfur capital of El Geneina alone since April. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) indicates that approximately 1.965 million people have been displaced within Sudan and over 531,566 people have fled the country since 15 April.

The escalating violence in Darfur has been marked by inter-communal fighting, with Arab militias supporting the RSF and targeting non-Arab groups in Darfur. The inter-ethnic component of the fighting has raised alarm among several Council members. Some members appear to be concerned about the potential for inter-communal fighting to spin out of control, recalling the conflict in Darfur in the 2000s that claimed the lives of over 300,000 people.

Since mid-April, the fighting has been particularly severe in West Darfur, leading to high levels of insecurity and grim humanitarian effects. In addition to high casualty rates, more than 280,000 people have been displaced in West Darfur, with roughly 150,000 crossing the border into Chad to escape the violence. Civilians have reportedly been targeted as they make their way to the Chadian border.  Media reports have indicated that the SAF has not protected civilians targeted by the RSF and allied militias. OCHA reported in its 13 June update that hospitals and electrical stations are not functional in El Geneina. Amidst the spiking inter-communal fighting, West Darfur governor Khamis Abakkar was abducted and killed on 14 June, shortly after accusing the RSF and affiliated militia of atrocities in El Geneina during a television interview.  It has been reported that the RSF was responsible for the assassination, although it has denied the allegation.

Several UN officials have continued to speak out against the violence. On 13 June, Special Representative and head of UNITAMS Volker Perthes released a statement in which he expressed his alarm at the situation in El Geneina, referring to an “emerging pattern of large-scale attacks against civilians based on their ethnic identities, allegedly committed by Arab militias and some armed men in Rapid Support Forces (RSF)’s uniform”. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths released a statement on 15 June in which he observed, “Darfur is spiraling into a humanitarian calamity.”  Remarking on the inter-communal violence in the region, he added that the world could not allow a repeat of “the ethnic tensions that stoked the deadly conflict there 20 years ago”. On 19 June, Secretary-General António Guterres called the situations in Darfur and Khartoum “catastrophic”, underscoring his concern about reports of gender-based and sexual violence and asserting that “[t]argeted attacks against civilians based on their ethnic identities could amount to crimes against humanity”.

In tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to condemn the violence in Sudan and emphasise the need for a ceasefire and for unfettered humanitarian access. Some members may raise concerns about reports of sexual violence in the conflict. There may also be questions about command-and-control issues in relation to RSF operations in Darfur; in this regard, members may be interested in knowing the degree to which Arab militias are operating on their own initiative as opposed to fighting in coordination with the RSF.  Members may also be interested in OCHA’s perspective on allegations that the SAF is failing to protect civilians in Darfur.  Another concern that may be raised is the regional implications of the fighting in Sudan; regarding the fighting in West Darfur, members may want to learn more about the humanitarian and security effects of the influx of refugees from West Darfur into Chad.

Some Council members may also express concerns about how the UN can most effectively manage the significant operational challenges facing the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), and the difficult relations between the Sudanese government and Special Representative Volker Perthes. When Perthes briefed the Council on 23 May, he announced that “the hostilities compelled us to temporarily relocate many of our staff to Port Sudan and outside Sudan”.  On 8 June, the government of Sudan declared Perthes “persona non grata”, which prompted UN Secretary-General António Guterres to recall, through his spokesman, that “the doctrine of persona non grata is not applicable to or in respect of United Nations personnel and its invocation is contrary to the obligations of states under the Charter of the United Nations”.

While the meeting will focus largely on the humanitarian situation, some members may emphasise the need to exert the leverage on the parties to find a resolution to the conflict.  Various mediation initiatives have failed to gain meaningful traction, including those led by the AU, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and Saudi Arabia and US. The Sudanese military has been critical of both the AU and IGAD processes. In a BBC radio interview on 4 June, Malik Agar, the deputy chairman of Sudan’s Sovereign Council, declared that “Sudan is not part of the African Union’s initiative”, noting its suspension from the AU, which occurred following the October 2021 coup. Regarding the IGAD initiative, the Sudanese government issued a statement on 15 June rejecting the sub-regional body’s decision to appoint Kenya to succeed South Sudan in leading the mediation, accusing Kenya of adopting “the positions of the rebel Rapid Support Forces”.  Although the Saudi-US facilitated talks have resulted in several short-term humanitarian ceasefires, these have by and large failed to hold.

Council members have been following the deteriorating situation in Sudan closely since the outbreak of fighting in mid-April, although difficult dynamics continue to hamper the Council’s approach to Sudan. When the Council renewed the mandate of UNITAMS in early June, it did not include references to the recent developments in the country, as some members—including China, Russia, and the A3 (Gabon, Ghana and Mozambique)—apparently opposed adding new language to the draft resolution concerning the humanitarian, political, or security situations in Sudan. In lieu of including such language in the resolution, Council members issued a press statement that condemned the looting of humanitarian aid and attacks on civilians, while emphasising the need for a permanent ceasefire and a resumption of the process towards democracy in Sudan. While the penholder had originally proposed a presidential statement, it was converted to a press statement—an informal outcome with less political clout—after some members expressed reservations about the format of the outcome.

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