What's In Blue

Posted Thu 23 May 2024

Sudan: Private Meeting

Tomorrow morning (24 May), the Security Council will convene for a private meeting to discuss the situation in Sudan. Mozambique, May’s Council president, scheduled the meeting following bilateral consultations with Council members and the parties concerned. Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations (DPPA-DPO) Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths are expected to brief.

Tomorrow’s meeting comes against the backdrop of a severe escalation of violence across multiple frontlines in Sudan, particularly in the city of El-Fasher, the capital city of North Darfur state. One year into the conflict that erupted on 15 April 2023 between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Sudan’s military leader, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (also known as Hemeti), the fighting continues to have catastrophic consequences for civilians. As at 17 May, more than 16,650 people had reportedly been killed since the onset of the conflict, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a non-governmental organisation that collects conflict-related data. Over 8.8 million people have been displaced since the conflict began, 1.8 million of whom have sought refuge in neighbouring countries—the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Sudan—according to data provided by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The fighting has intensified in the past month, despite numerous calls for a ceasefire by regional stakeholders and the broader international community, including through Security Council resolution 2724 of 8 March. El-Fasher, which is the only capital city in the Darfur region outside the RSF’s control, has been one of the main areas of contention and strife between the warring parties, marked by inter-communal fighting. A truce brokered by local authorities in El-Fasher in the early days of the conflict last year had allowed the SAF and the RSF to maintain positions on the west and east sides of the city, respectively, with a central area designated as a buffer zone under the control of the joint force of the armed movements. In April, however, the joint force reportedly renounced its neutrality in the conflict and pledged support to the SAF, apparently citing the RSF’s provocations, including attacks on its positions and threats to block humanitarian aid, as the reasons for its decision. (For background and more information, see our 19 and 28 April What’s in Blue stories.)

Since early April, several UN officials have been warning about the potential outbreak of full-scale fighting in El-Fasher and the resulting humanitarian consequences, including fragmentation of Darfur along ethnic lines. Speaking at the 19 April Council meeting on Sudan, Director of OCHA’s Operations and Advocacy Division Edem Wosornu said that continuing violence poses an “extreme and immediate danger” to the 800,000 civilians in the city and risks triggering further violence in other parts of Darfur—where more than nine million people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. At the same meeting, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo said that fighting in El-Fasher “could unleash bloody intercommunal strife throughout Darfur…[and] would also further impede the delivery of humanitarian assistance in an area already on the brink of famine”.

According to a 12 May OCHA flash update, clashes escalated between the SAF, supported by the joint force, and the RSF in El-Fasher on 10 May. The update said that the attacks included airstrikes and use of heavy weapons and extended into the centre of the town, the outskirts of the main market, and into civilian neighbourhoods. The most recent flash update on the situation in El-Fasher released by OCHA today (23 May) noted that continuing fighting in the northern and eastern parts of the city, along with attacks on villages in the west, has pushed civilians to take shelter in “extremely overcrowded” gathering sites throughout the southern neighbourhoods. It added that the expansion of the clashes towards southeastern neighbourhoods as well as direct shelling of the western and central parts of the town indicate a significant broadening of the direct impact of the conflict on the civilian population remaining in the city.

On 21 May, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported that since 10 May, 707 casualties have arrived at El-Fasher South Hospital—the only working hospital in the state, according to OCHA—and 85 have been killed as a result of the fighting. The number of casualties is likely to increase as civilians remain trapped in the city due to the intensity of the fighting, the statement added. In the past few weeks, several media outlets have accused the warring parties of indiscriminately killing civilians and damaging civilian infrastructure, including through the shelling of the Abu Shouk camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in El-Fasher by both sides and the RSF’s artillery shelling that hit the Saudi Women’s and Maternity Hospital in the city.

At tomorrow’s meeting, the briefers and several Council members are expected to condemn the violence and reiterate their call on the warring parties to immediately cease hostilities and re-commit to negotiations. Some members are likely to stress the need to ensure accountability and justice for victims of violence and call on the parties to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law.

Griffiths is expected to express concern about the lack of humanitarian access due to disruptions in cross-line (that is, across conflict lines within Sudan) and cross-border (across Sudan’s borders with some of the neighbouring countries) humanitarian movements. The 23 May OCHA flash update said that approximately 1,500 metric tonnes of non-food items (NFIs) have been waiting for approval for onward movement for the last three weeks at the Tine border crossing from Chad. It added that 13 trucks carrying health, nutrition, and NFI supplies for more than 121,000 people dispatched from Port Sudan on 3 April have been unable to enter El-Fasher due to persisting insecurity and delays in obtaining clearances at checkpoints.

Griffiths may also brief Council members about the 28 April-2 May mission of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Emergency Directors Group (EDG) to Port Sudan, which included 11 representatives from UN agencies and partners. (The IASC is the UN’s high-level humanitarian coordination platform.) The aim of the mission was to engage with the humanitarian community and local authorities to assess the needs to sustain operations and to identify strategies to overcome access constraints and bureaucratic impediments.

Council members and the briefers are likely to express concern about the deteriorating food insecurity situation in the country. In a 15 May press release, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned that at least five million people in Sudan remain on the brink of starvation. A preliminary assessment conducted by the WFP has identified 41 hunger hotspots that are at high risk of slipping into famine in the coming month, most of them in access-constrained areas, including in Darfur and Kordofan regions and Khartoum. Griffiths is likely to call for scaling up the international humanitarian response to the Sudanese crisis, including through enhanced funding.

Pobee is expected to provide an update on ongoing efforts aimed at resolving the crisis. Since the onset of the conflict, several regional and international stakeholders have initiated mediation efforts, but these efforts have yet to achieve any breakthrough. Members might be interested in hearing about the engagement of Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Sudan Ramtane Lamamra with the warring parties as well as key regional and international interlocutors and his efforts to coordinate the different peace initiatives. They may wish to have a frank exchange about the way forward, including the prospects for de-escalation and dialogue.

The last several weeks have witnessed efforts to resume the Saudi-US facilitated talks in Jeddah. On 15 April, US Special Envoy for Sudan Tom Perriello announced that the talks would recommence “within three weeks”. In a testimony before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 1 May, Perriello said that the new round of talks would include key African and Arab regional leaders and focus on “aligning external political will”. However, media outlets reported on 8 May that al-Burhan said that he would not participate in peace talks until the RSF is decisively defeated.

At tomorrow’s meeting, some members may reiterate the call in Council members’ 27 April press statement for all member states to “refrain from external interference”. Several media outlets have attributed the SAF’s recent advances in the counteroffensive to the extensive use of combat drones, reportedly supplied by Iran. At the same time, the Sudanese authorities, most recently in their 6 May letter to the Council, have alleged that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been providing support to the RSF, including “financial aid, military equipment, logistics and strategic guidance…contributing thereby to increased instability and violence against the Sudanese people”. Sudan requested in its letters to the Council dated 26 April and 6 May that the Council hold a meeting to discuss the matter. In a 21 April letter to the Council, the UAE said that “[a]ll allegations of the United Arab Emirates’ involvement in any form of aggression or destabilization in Sudan, or its provision of any military, logistical, financial or political support to any faction in Sudan, are spurious, unfounded, and lack any credible evidence to support them”.

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