Sudan: Briefing and Consultations*
Tomorrow afternoon (16 November), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS). Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations (DPPA-DPO) Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee is expected to brief on the Secretary-General’s latest 90-day report (S/2023/861), which was circulated to Council members on 10 November and covers developments from 21 August to 31 October. Director of OCHA’s Operations and Advocacy Division Edem Wosornu is likely to brief Council members in the closed consultations. The UK, the penholder on Sudan, is expected to propose press elements in connection with OCHA’s briefing.
This is likely to be the Council’s last meeting on Sudan before the expiry of UNITAMS’ mandate on 3 December. Council members are currently negotiating a UK-authored draft resolution renewing the mission’s mandate.
In a 6 November letter addressed to the president of the Security Council, the Secretary-General announced his decision to initiate an independent strategic review of UNITAMS. The letter said that the strategic review seeks to provide the Council with recommendations to ensure that the UN is best positioned to support peacemaking and peacebuilding efforts in Sudan over the next 12 to 18 months. It further noted that the findings and recommendations of the strategic review will be shared with Council members in January 2024.
The decision to initiate the strategic review comes against the backdrop of 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). Despite several calls for a ceasefire from regional stakeholders and the broader international community, fighting has persisted over the past seven months, resulting in dire political, security, and humanitarian consequences.
During the period covered by the Secretary-General’s 10 November report, fighting continued in the cities of Khartoum, Omdurman, Bahri, as well as in Darfur and Kordofan states, and expanded to new areas, such as White Nile and Gezira states. In recent weeks, the fighting has intensified across several parts of the country, particularly in Darfur. According to the Secretary-General’s report, following heavy fighting on 26 October, the RSF gained full control over the SAF base in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state. Moreover, following a 30 October RSF attack on the SAF base in Zalingei, Central Darfur state, the warring parties reached a settlement resulting in the withdrawal of SAF forces and the RSF gaining de facto control over Zalingei and its main roads.
In a 14 November statement, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide Alice Wairimu Nderitu expressed alarm about the renewed escalation of fighting in Nyala, Geneina, and Zalingei. The statement said that “[t]he latest reports from the Darfur region depict a deeply disturbing picture of continued systematic and indiscriminate attacks against civilians, including along ethnic lines”, adding that “the risks of genocide and related atrocity crimes in the region remain grimly high”. It further voiced concern about “serious allegations of mass killings in an area housing a camp for displaced families in Ardamata, Geneina, where more than 800 people were reportedly killed and 8,000 others fled to neighbouring Chad”.
The Secretary-General’s report notes that UNITAMS has continued to exercise its good offices in support of efforts to end the conflict and prepare for an eventual return to a political transition. During the reporting period, the mission carried out field-based and remote monitoring and reporting on human rights violations and abuses, while maintaining strategic engagement and advocacy with key stakeholders. The report further notes that UNITAMS continues to face several operational challenges, including communication disruptions, security conditions, and access limitations. The mission is currently operating inside Sudan, and also has temporary presences in Nairobi and Addis Ababa.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Pobee is expected to update members on developments regarding the ongoing regional and international efforts aimed at resolving the crisis. The Saudi-US facilitated talks between the Sudanese warring parties in Jeddah resumed on 26 October with the participation of a joint representative of the AU and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). (The talks, which began on 6 May, had been suspended following the SAF’s withdrawal on 31 May.)
On 7 November, the co-facilitators of the Jeddah talks announced that the Sudanese warring parties had committed to participating in a joint humanitarian forum led by OCHA to resolve impediments to humanitarian access and delivery of assistance. They further agreed to implement confidence-building measures relating to, among other matters, the establishment of communication channels between the warring parties and arrest of prison escapees and fugitives.
The first meeting of the humanitarian forum was convened on 13 November by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths and Deputy Special Representative for Sudan and UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Clementine Nkweta-Salami. The meeting was attended by SAF and RSF representatives, along with the co-facilitators of the Jeddah talks. In his remarks at the meeting, Griffiths said that more than 10,000 people have reportedly been killed since the start of the conflict and that 25 million people in Sudan remain in need of aid. He emphasised the need for safe and unhindered humanitarian access and called on parties to the conflict to ensure protection of civilians in areas under their control. He added that he was “appalled by the horrific reports of extreme violence against civilians, including ethnic-based attacks and sexual violence”. At tomorrow’s meeting, some Council member may welcome the convening of the humanitarian forum and call on the warring parties to adhere to their obligations, while stressing the need for ensuring unfettered humanitarian access.
Amid the escalating violence in the country, on 13 November, al-Burhan visited Nairobi to meet Kenyan President William Ruto. According to a joint statement released following the meeting, the leaders agreed to work towards convening an urgent IGAD summit to find ways to accelerate the talks in Jeddah towards cessation of hostilities in Sudan. The statement added that the IGAD summit “will also agree on a framework for an all-inclusive Sudanese dialogue”. (Kenya is currently chairing the IGAD-led mediation process for Sudan, comprising Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Sudan.) Tomorrow, some Council members may call for coordination of, and cooperation among, the different diplomatic initiatives aimed at resolving the conflict.
Council members are likely to condemn the violence in Sudan and emphasise the need for a ceasefire. Some members may raise concerns about the high incidence of conflict-related sexual violence and are likely to continue stressing the need to ensure accountability and justice. According to the Secretary-General’s 10 November report, since the onset of conflict, the Joint Human Rights Office has received credible reports of 53 incidents of conflict-related sexual violence involving at least 106 victims, primarily in Khartoum, Darfur, and Kordofan states.
Another important issue raised by the Secretary-General’s 10 November report concerns increasing incidents of violence against children in Sudan. During the period covered by the Secretary-General’s report, the UN country task force on monitoring and reporting on grave violations against children in armed conflict (CTFMR) verified 314 grave violations against 303 children. (The six grave violations are child recruitment and use; killing and maiming; abductions; rape and other forms of sexual violence; attacks on schools and hospitals; and the denial of humanitarian access.)
Several Council members are expected 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. According to a 25 October OCHA press release, 70 percent of hospitals in conflict-affected states are not functional, while facilities in states not affected by the conflict have been overwhelmed by an influx of people displaced by the fighting.
According to data presented by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), approximately 4.63 million people have been displaced internally across Sudan’s 18 states since the conflict began. At the same time, more than 1.17 million people have sought refuge in Sudan’s neighbouring countries, including the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Sudan.
At tomorrow’s meeting, 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 33.4 percent funded.
Post-script (17 November): During the Security Council’s 16 November meeting on Sudan, Sudan’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Al-Harith Idriss Al-Harith Mohamed, sent a letter to the Secretary-General conveying the Sudanese government’s decision to terminate the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) with immediate effect. The letter said that, in the context of the current situation in the country, the mission no longer meets the aspirations of the Sudanese people and government. The letter further stated that Sudan is willing to engage with the Council and the UN Secretariat on a “new, appropriate and agreed upon formula”. In this regard, the letter added that General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the chairperson of Sudan’s Transitional Sovereign Council and the head of the Sudanese Armed Forces, has appointed an envoy to lead a high-level delegation to engage on the matter with the members of the Security Council and the UN Secretariat.