Sudan: Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow morning (13 September), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS). Special Representative and head of UNITAMS Volker Perthes is expected to brief on the Secretary-General’s latest 90-day report, dated 31 August, which covers developments from 7 May to 20 August. Director of OCHA’s Operations and Advocacy Division Edem Wosornu and a woman civil society representative are also expected to brief. In an 8 September letter to the Security Council (S/2023/659), Sudan expressed its objection to having Perthes brief at the meeting, citing its 8 June decision to declare Perthes persona non grata. It appears that while most Council members have expressed support for having the special representative brief at tomorrow’s meeting, Russia has backed Sudan’s position. At the time of writing, the special representative is still scheduled to brief.
Council members which have signed on to the Shared Commitments on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS)—Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, France, Gabon, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the UK, and the US—are expected to read a joint statement on Sudan ahead of the meeting.
Prior to the meeting on UNITAMS, the Council will receive the quarterly briefing by the chair of the 1591 Sudan Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Harold Adlai Agyeman (Ghana), on the committee’s work. (For information on sanctions-related developments, see our September Forecast Brief and 8 March What’s in Blue story.)
Sudan remains in the throes of the devastating 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 (known as Hemeti). In a 15 August statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk noted that preliminary estimates suggest that more than 4,000 people have been killed, including hundreds of civilians—of whom 435 were children and 28 were humanitarian and health workers. He added that the actual number of casualties is believed to be much higher.
Council members last met to discuss the situation in Sudan on 9 August in an open briefing at the request of the UK, the penholder on the file. Wosornu and Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations (DPPA-DPO) Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee briefed. In her remarks, Pobee noted that clashes have continued across various parts of the country, including in the capital (Khartoum), Bahri, Omdurman, and Darfur. She added that eastern Sudan, which has been relatively calm, has witnessed active mobilisation efforts in support of the SAF, which “risks plunging the east into conflict along ethnic lines, further highlighting the fragility of the region”. (For background, see our 8 August What’s in Blue story.)
During the period covered by the Secretary-General’s 31 August report, the RSF controlled most of the capital and Darfur, except for parts of the cities of El Fasher and Nyala, while the SAF has remained in control of the northern and eastern parts of the country. The report notes that clashes between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North Abdelaziz al-Hilu faction (SPLM-N al-Hilu) and the SAF in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states have further destabilised the country. It also highlights that “[t]he growing ethnic mobilization and the increase in ethnically motivated attacks could spark a full-blown civil war, with potentially an even more devastating impact on the Sudanese people, the region and beyond”.
The report states that UNITAMS has established a temporary office in Nairobi in light of the continued fighting in the country and the security risks in Khartoum and other mission locations. While Perthes continues to operate from Nairobi, the mission’s presence in Sudan is led by Deputy Special Representative for Sudan and UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Clementine Nkweta-Salami, who is based in Port Sudan and is supported by a limited number of personnel. The report further notes that UNITAMS has continued to use its good offices in support of efforts to end the conflict and prepare for an eventual return to an inclusive political transition process. It says that the mission has maintained contact with the warring parties, urging them to cease fighting and ensure unhindered humanitarian access. The mission has also been engaging with representatives of Sudanese civilian-led initiatives aimed at ending the war, armed movements, and regional authorities in Darfur, among others.
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 the high incidence of conflict-related sexual violence. During the period covered by the Secretary-General’s report, the UN Joint Human Rights Office in Sudan received 32 credible reports of conflict-related sexual violence involving at least 73 victims. The report also notes that due to the ongoing conflict, the number of people in need of gender-based violence prevention and response services stands at 4.2 million, an increase in 2023 of more than one million. According to the report, UNITAMS has strengthened its capacity to monitor and document human rights violations and abuses and has engaged with other UN entities as well as local and international partners to compile evidence for possible criminal prosecutions.
Wosornu is expected to describe humanitarian relief efforts by the UN and other actors in the country. In a 10 September tweet, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths stated that he had spoken with Hemeti and emphasised the need to enhance humanitarian access. Griffiths said that current responses to the ongoing conflict are unable to meet the rising needs, adding that he hopes to “bring together the heads of all of the parties” with the aim of expanding humanitarian access. Tomorrow, the briefers and several Council members might call for enhanced funding from the international community to support the humanitarian response in Sudan. At the time of writing, Sudan’s 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan, requiring $2.57 billion, was 26.7 percent funded.
Several Council members are likely to express concern about the deteriorating humanitarian conditions, rising food insecurity, attacks against civilian infrastructure (including schools and hospitals), and the worsening health situation in the country. Attacks on humanitarian personnel are also a matter of concern. According to OCHA’s 7 September humanitarian update, since 15 April, 901 incidents affecting humanitarian operations have been reported, 70 percent of which occurred due to active conflict or violence against humanitarian personnel and assets.
Another issue of concern to Council members is the internal displacement of civilians and the influx of refugees into Sudan’s neighbouring countries. According to data provided by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), since 15 April, approximately four million people have been displaced internally across Sudan’s 18 states. Moreover, roughly one million individuals have sought refuge in the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Sudan. On 4 September, UNHCR appealed for $1 billion to provide essential aid and protection to an estimated 1.8 million people who are expected to arrive in Sudan’s neighbouring countries by the end of 2023.
Since the outbreak of conflict in April, several regional and international stakeholders have led mediation efforts aimed at resolving the crisis but these have failed to gain traction. At tomorrow’s meeting, some Council members may call for coordination of and cooperation among the different diplomatic initiatives.
On 6 September, members of the IGAD Quartet (Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Sudan) held their second meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, at the level of heads of state and government. In a communiqué adopted following the meeting, IGAD Quartet members called for a “structured approach towards peace talks between the warring parties and all-inclusive consultations with civilian actors”. In this regard, the members called on international stakeholders to support a “single, all-inclusive IGAD-AU led platform”. The communiqué mandated the AU and IGAD to “accelerate the consultations to map the agenda, venue and identify participants and other relevant matters in support of a political dialogue”. It also cautioned about potential regional spillover of the Sudanese conflict owing to the “participation of other armed movements, in addition to the rapid proliferation of small arms and light weapons”. In a press release issued the following day, Sudan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected Kenya’s leadership of the Quartet, accusing Kenya of bias. The statement added that failure to respond to Sudan’s request for changing the Quartet’s leadership will cause Sudan to reconsider its membership in IGAD. (For more information, see our 8 August What’s in Blue story and September Forecast Brief.)
Amid the escalating violence in the country, al-Burhan undertook a one-day visit to Egypt on 29 August. This was his first visit abroad since the outbreak of conflict in April. Over the following days, al-Burhan continued his diplomatic outreach by visiting South Sudan, Qatar, and Eritrea.
The Sudanese government continues to oppose Perthes serving as the special representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan and participating in Council meetings. In a press stakeout following the 9 August Council meeting, Sudan’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Al-Harith Idriss Al-Harith Mohamed, said that the government opposes any “working relationship” with the special representative. In his 8 September letter to the Security Council, Mohamed said that Sudan will distance itself and will not take part in tomorrow’s meeting if Perthes briefs. The letter added that “[a]s Sudan considers [Perthes’] participation in the meeting as deliberate provocation and an insult to its sovereignty, Sudan would review its position regarding UNITAMS and would regret that it is the only last resort option left to redress the unprecedented and unfair situation which is prevalent at present”.