Sudan: Vote on Resolution Ending the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan*
This afternoon (1 December), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution that terminates the mandate of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) as of 3 December.
The draft resolution in blue requests the mission to immediately start, on 4 December, the cessation of its operations and the process of transfer of its tasks, where appropriate and to the extent feasible, to UN agencies, funds, and programmes, with the objective of completing this process by 29 February 2024. The draft resolution further decides that the liquidation of UNITAMS will commence from 1 March 2024. It also calls on the mission to establish financial arrangements, as appropriate, with the UN Country Team to enable the UN to oversee the residual activities of programmatic cooperation previously initiated by UNITAMS.
Today’s vote comes against the backdrop of a severe escalation of violence in Sudan. The country has been grappling with the devastating political, security, and humanitarian consequences of fighting that erupted on 15 April in and around Khartoum 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). The fighting, which was initially centred around Khartoum, has steadily engulfed several parts of the country, including Darfur, White Nile, Gezira, and Kordofan states. According to OCHA, as at 13 November, more than 10,000 people had reportedly been killed since the start of the conflict and 25 million people in Sudan are in need of aid. (For background and more information, see the brief on Sudan in our November 2023 Monthly Forecast and 15 November What’s in Blue story.)
The relationship between UNITAMS and Sudan has been strained since 15 April. In a 26 May letter addressed to the Secretary-General, al-Burhan requested him to nominate a representative to replace former Special Representative and head of UNITAMS Volker Perthes, and subsequently declared him “persona non grata” on 8 June. Amidst continuing worsening relations, Perthes resigned from his role in September. Since then, the mission’s presence in Sudan has been led by Deputy Special Representative for Sudan and UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Clementine Nkweta-Salami, who is based in Port Sudan. (For more information, see our 31 May, 22 June, 8 August, and 12 September What’s in Blue stories.)
In light of the continued challenges the fighting has posed to the mission’s operational capabilities, in a 6 November letter to the Security Council the Secretary-General announced his decision to initiate an independent strategic review of UNITAMS. The letter notes that the strategic review’s objective would be 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.
During the Security Council’s 16 November meeting on Sudan, however, Sudan’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Al-Harith Idriss Al-Harith Mohamed, transmitted the contents of a letter from Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali Elsadig Ali to the Council the Sudanese government’s decision to terminate 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, al-Burhan appointed Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, a former Permanent Representative of Sudan to the UN, as his envoy to lead a four-member high-level delegation, which engaged on the matter with Council members and the UN Secretariat in the ensuing days.
On 21 November, Secretary-General António Guterres announced his decision to appoint Ramtane Lamamra as his Personal Envoy for Sudan. In a press briefing the following day (22 November), Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Farhan Haq said that Lamamra is charged with leading the good offices of the UN in Sudan in support of peace efforts. He added that Lamamra will work in close cooperation with key stakeholders, including the AU and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), to reinforce regional and international efforts. Haq further noted that Lamamra will not be based in Sudan but will travel as necessary.
Negotiations on the Draft Resolution
The UK, the penholder on Sudan, circulated the initial draft of the resolution on Monday (27 November) and convened one round of negotiations on the following day (28 November). After Council members submitted comments, the penholder circulated a first revised draft on Wednesday (29 November) and placed it under silence procedure until 5 pm on the same day. The silence procedure was broken by the A3 members (Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique), China, and Russia. Yesterday (30 November), the UN Secretariat briefed Council members informally on the transition’s envisioned timeline and technical requirements, at the request of some Council members. Later the same day, the penholder put a revised draft directly in blue.
The draft resolution in blue underlines the need for an orderly UNITAMS transition and liquidation in order to ensure the safety of UN personnel and the effective functioning of all UN operations, including humanitarian and development assistance. The draft resolution authorises, during UNITAMS’ transition and liquidation, “the retention of necessary security personnel from within existing footprint in Sudan to protect UNITAMS’ personnel, facilities and assets”. The text further calls on all relevant Sudanese parties to fully cooperate with the UN during UNITAMS’ transition and liquidation, and requests that the Secretary-General keep the Security Council regularly informed about the transition and liquidation.
One of the contentious issues during the negotiations concerned the timeline for UNITAMS’ transfer of tasks and the commencement of the liquidation period. The initial draft apparently requested the mission to complete the transfer of its tasks by 31 January 2024 and provided for the liquidation to start from 1 February 2024. It seems that several Council members—including Albania, France, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, and the US—supported the penholder’s approach, stressing the importance of safe and orderly withdrawal of the mission and transfer of tasks to the UN Country Team. Some other Council members—including the A3, China, and Russia—called for incorporating a shorter timeline.
It appears, however, that during Council members’ informal meeting with the UN Secretariat yesterday (30 November), the officials stressed the importance of a three-month time period for the transfer of tasks. Apparently, this necessitated a revision of the timeline reflected in the draft resolution in blue, which now calls on the mission to transfer its tasks by 29 February 2024 and liquidation to commence from 1 March 2024.
The draft resolution in blue welcomes Lamamra’s appointment as the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Sudan “to use his good offices with the parties and the neighbouring states, complementing regional peace efforts, including those of the AU and the IGAD”. The draft text further calls on all parties to extend their cooperation in furtherance of his tasks.
It seems that the initial draft text also requested the Secretary-General to make necessary administrative and financial arrangements to support the Personal Envoy’s work. This language was opposed by some Council members, however, including China and Russia, and was subsequently removed from the draft.
A major disagreement during the negotiations related to a reporting requirement proposed by the penholder. The initial draft text requested the Secretary-General or his Personal Envoy to Sudan to report to the Security Council every 90 days on the situation in Sudan. It appears that several Council members—including the penholder, Albania, France, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, and the US—supported mandating a regular reporting requirement regarding the situation in the country. Some other members—including the A3, China, and Russia—opposed including this language in the draft resolution. These members apparently argued that while the Council remains actively seized on the matter, it can receive briefings from the respective officials when it deems appropriate.
In an apparent compromise, the draft resolution in blue requests the Secretary-General to provide a written report within 90 days from the date of the resolution’s adoption and then brief the Council every 120 days about the UN’s efforts to support Sudan on its path towards peace and stability.
Before Sudan called for UNITAMS’ termination, Council members had started negotiations on renewing the mission’s mandate, which expires on 3 December. The UK had prepared a text that proposed a six-month technical rollover of the mission’s mandate. Several members supported this approach, and apparently Sudan’s Permanent Mission to the UN was also engaging with Council members on the draft text proposed by the penholder.
The Sudanese government’s 16 November letter appeared to take most Council members as well as the UN Secretariat by surprise and limited the Council’s options regarding the strategic review of the mission as well as the extension of its mandate. Some members would have preferred a short technical rollover that could have given the Council sufficient time to consider the options presented by the strategic review.
It appears that, in parallel to the negotiations on the resolution terminating UNITAMS’ mandate, Council members were also negotiating a UK-proposed draft press statement highlighting the humanitarian and security situation in the country, among other issues. In light of the continued disagreements about several elements contained in the proposed statement, the penholder suggested including some of the language in the preambular section of the draft resolution in blue. Among other things, the draft text in blue:
- expresses alarm at the continued violence and the humanitarian situation in Sudan, particularly regarding violations of international humanitarian law and grave human rights violations and abuses;
- welcomes diplomatic efforts by IGAD and the AU and the commitment of neighbouring countries to support civilians who have fled Sudan;
- encourages international and regional organisations and member states to respond swiftly to the growing humanitarian needs in Sudan and its neighbours;
- reaffirms that the Juba Peace Agreement signed on 3 October 2020 remains binding for all its signatories, in particular its provisions on a permanent ceasefire in Darfur; and
- calls on all parties to the conflict to immediately cease hostilities, facilitate humanitarian access, including by fulfilling their Jeddah commitments, and seek a negotiated solution to the conflict.
*Post-script (1 December 5:45 pm EST): On 1 December, the Security Council adopted resolution 2715, terminating the mandate of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) as of 3 December. The resolution requests the mission to immediately start, on 4 December, the cessation of its operations and the process of transfer of its tasks, where appropriate and to the extent feasible, to UN agencies, funds, and programmes, with the objective of completing this process by 29 February 2024. The draft resolution further decides that the liquidation of UNITAMS will commence from 1 March 2024. The resolution was adopted with 14 votes in favour and one abstention (Russia).