Cautiously Welcoming Power-Sharing Agreement in Sudan, Special Representative Tells Security Council Constitutional Declaration Must Be Respected
Describing Sudan’s political transition as “undergoing its greatest crisis to date” in the wake of a coup d’état, the United Nations top official for that country today cautiously welcomed the recent power-sharing agreement jointly announced by the nation’s military leader and the reinstated Prime Minister.
“The agreement is far from perfect but can help to avoid further bloodshed and provide a step towards comprehensive dialogue and a return to constitutional order,” said Volker Perthes, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), referring to the 21 November political accord between Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
The Special Representative said the agreement was reached after weeks of domestic and international efforts to find a way out of the crisis but faces significant opposition from a large segment of Sudanese stakeholders, including civil society organizations and women’s groups. Many of them expressed their feelings that they were betrayed by the coup, rejecting any negotiations or partnership with the military.
Forthcoming decisions on Government formation, high-level appointments and the establishment of transitional institutions will test the will and ability of the stakeholders to seek a common way out of the crisis, he said, adding that unilateral decisions against the Constitutional Declaration in the aftermath of the coup must be reversed.
For the immediate term, all political detainees must be released, and arbitrary arrests must cease, he said, calling for the protection of the right to peaceful protest and assembly. Accountability for human rights violations perpetrated since 25 October will therefore be a critical indicator for progress.
Over the next few months, the restoration of political space can serve as the main indicator for a return to a democratic transition path, he said. Authorities will need to ensure a conducive atmosphere for credible elections and indicators include an independent electoral commission, an inclusive political parties’ law, the freedom of political parties and movements to freely organize, campaign, and enjoy access to the media, and the guarantee of human rights.
The United Nations in Sudan stands ready to support a credible and inclusive constitutional process and elections once a road map for these processes is agreed, he pledged, stressing that the Sudanese men and women’s unwavering commitment to realize civilian-led democratic governance cannot be overlooked.
In the ensuing discussion, Council members exchanged their views on the 21 November power-sharing agreement and the way forward. They also condemned the military coup of 25 October and expressed broad support for UNITAMS, which is mandated to assist Sudan’s political transition, peace processes and the implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement among other objectives. Several members emphasized the need for timely investigations into the deaths of more than 40 protesters by security forces.
Mexico’s representative said the re-establishment of a transitional government should reflect the plurality of voices in Sudan, including women, and the partnership between the civilian and military arms must be considered a temporary source of stability until the peaceful transfer of power is ensured, as a result of democratic elections.
Ireland’s delegate said that the 21 November agreement does not reverse the steps taken since 25 October to dismantle the transitional framework and institutions. In the short term, the state of emergency must be lifted, and human rights should be protected. The Prime Minister should be allowed to freely exercise his powers. In the long term, she said, Sudan needs to see decisive security sector reform, a framework for effective transitional justice, and the holding of inclusive and democratic elections.
Tunisia’s representative, speaking also on behalf of Kenya, Niger, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, welcomed the recent political agreement. Succeeding in the political transition and responding to the Sudanese peoples’ aspiration for democracy, freedom and justice remain the only viable way to preserve and consolidate the unity of the country.
Viet Nam’s delegate said partnerships remain key in promoting dialogue among Sudanese parties, highlighting the African Union’s initiative. Calling for greater efforts by Sudan and regional countries to foster friendly relations, he called for the lifting of current sanctions against Sudan.
China’s representative called for greater international support for Khartoum but cautioned against imposing a democratic path from outside, saying that such action is merely using democracy as a banner that deprives the country of true democracy.
Sudan’s representative reaffirmed that the crisis is mostly political, requiring wisdom and national ownership, as the two signatory partners have pledged to work towards democracy and prevent any relapse towards the unknown. He noted practical steps taken to implement the political agreement, including the release of detainees, and appointment of a chief justice and attorney general.
Also speaking today were the representatives of United Kingdom, Estonia, Norway, India, Russian Federation, France and the United States.
The meeting began at 10:13 a.m. and ended at 11:48 a.m.
VOLKER PERTHES, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), prevented an overview of the Organization’s related report (document S/2021/1008), describing the country’s political transition over the past six weeks as “undergoing its greatest crisis to date”. The 25 October military takeover and the arrest of Sudan Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, senior officials and political activists, triggered widespread protests and condemnation. At least 44 people were killed, and hundreds have been injured by excessive use of force by security forces. This has deepened the crisis and led to regular mass demonstrations. Against that backdrop, he cautiously welcomed the 21 November political agreement between the Prime Minister and General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, which was reached after weeks of domestic and international efforts to find a way out of the crisis.
“The agreement is far from perfect but can help to avoid further bloodshed and provide a step towards comprehensive dialogue and a return to constitutional order,” he said, adding however that the pact faces significant opposition from a large segment of Sudanese stakeholders, including parties and associations within the Forces of Freedom and Change, Resistance Committees, civil society organizations and women’s groups. In meetings with these and other stakeholders, many expressed their feelings that they were betrayed by the coup, and now reject any negotiations or partnership with the military. The Resistance Committees are determined to continue their protests to reclaim the revolution and push for civilian rule. While most protesters remain peaceful, small groups are using violence. To say the least, the military takeover exposed and deepened the mistrust between the military and civilian components and within the civilian components itself. The 21 November agreement has not led to a rebuilding of lost trust. Forthcoming decisions on Government formation, high-level appointments and the establishment of transitional institutions, will test the will and ability of the stakeholders to seek a common way out of the crisis. Unilateral decisions against the Constitutional Declaration in the aftermath of the coup must be reversed.
UNITAMS is prepared to facilitate an inclusive dialogue, both to address unresolved issues for the transitional period and to deal with broader constitutional questions as part of the constitution making process, he continued. Sudan’s military and political leaders must rebuild trust with their own domestic public, particularly with the young generation. Immediate confidence-building measures and a visible commitment to bring the country back on a democratic transition path will be key. Similarly, Sudanese authorities will need to take demonstrable steps to regain financial, economic and political support from the international community. Progress in this respect can be measured against a small number of clear and generally acceptable short- and mid-term indicators.
For the immediate term, the main indicator has been the release of all political detainees, cease of arbitrary arrests, and the guarantee of the right to peaceful protest and assembly, he said. Almost all civilians arrested since the coup have been released, which is a welcome step. Temporary arbitrary arrests are reportedly continuing during ongoing demonstrations. Accountability for human rights violations perpetrated since 25 October will therefore be a critical indicator for progress and could help to rebuild confidence. Three important short-term indicators would help enable the Prime Minister to freely form his technocratic Cabinet.
Over the next few months, the restoration of political space is the main indicator for a return to a democratic transition path, he said. Authorities will need to ensure a conducive atmosphere for credible elections which the United Nations and other international actors can then support. Indicators will include an independent electoral commission, an inclusive political parties’ law, the freedom of political parties and movements to freely organize, campaign, and enjoy access to the media, and the guarantee of human rights. Noting that the Transitional Legislative Council with 40 per cent women, as stipulated in the Constitutional Declaration, has yet to be formed, he called upon the Sudanese authorities to guarantee the meaningful participation of women in the political process, yet-to-be-formed Government and other efforts.
The security situation remains fragile outside of Khartoum, including the resurgence of intercommunal conflicts and banditry in Darfur, Blue Nile and the Kordofan, he reported. Citing reports of a significant rise in the killing of civilians, destruction of property and displacements, as well as sexual violence against women and girls, he said that in Darfur, about eight times more people have been displaced in 2021 compared to 2020. The persistent insecurity in Darfur underscores the need to prioritize the protection of civilians and swiftly implement the provisions of the Juba Peace Agreement. The formation and deployment of the Joint Security Keeping Forces and operationalization of the national plan for protection of civilians should be undertaken without delay. The situation in the east will also remain unstable if a political solution is not found soon. It is important for Sudanese authorities to fulfil their primary responsibility to protect civilians.
The decision by donors to pause international development assistance following the coup is having a significant impact on the livelihoods of the Sudanese people and risks rolling back the hard-won achievements of the past two years, he noted. United Nations development activities remain heavily impacted, including the cash transfers programme for over 11 million vulnerable Sudanese. He then urged the Council and the broader international community to take a balanced approach and not to pause aid for too long and consider the speedy resumption of funding in some areas, particularly support to health services and livelihoods. The United Nations in Sudan stands ready to support a credible and inclusive constitutional process and elections once a road map for these processes is agreed, he pledged, stressing that the Sudanese men and women’s unwavering commitment to realize civilian-led democratic governance cannot be overlooked.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) condemned the military coup of 25 October, which jeopardized hard-won progress by the civilian-led Government since the 2019 revolution. Recognizing the 21 November political agreement as an important first step in restoring democratic transition, he urged all parties to take an inclusive approach in delivering it, encouraging prompt formation of a cabinet, transitional legislative council and other governance institutions. He also reiterated the call for the immediate release of all those detained since 25 October, calling it vital to rebuilding trust and confidence with the Sudanese people and international community. Commending efforts by UNITAMS to support the transition process, he noted the deterioration of the human rights situation since the coup. Deploring the loss of over 43 lives, he welcomed the Sudanese authorities’ commitment to investigate the deaths of protestors since 25 October, and the United Nations Human Rights Council’s appointment of Adama Dieng as the Expert on Human Rights in Sudan, as well as the establishment of the Joint High Military Committee for Security Arrangements, and the Permanent Ceasefire Committee in Darfur — important steps towards implementing the security provisions of the Juba Peace Agreement. He urged all parties to engage in inclusive dialogue to rebuild trust among members of the eastern Sudan track and non-signatory armed groups. Also expressing concern over resurgent intercommunal violence and loss of life in Darfur and other parts of the country, he stressed the need for the underlying causes of such violence to be addressed, and called for swift implementation of the national plan for civilian protection.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) condemned in the strongest terms the military coup of 25 October, which seriously threatens the democratic, peace and economic gains that Sudan has made since 2019, underlining the importance of restoring the democratic transition without delay. “It is important to win back the trust of Sudanese people,” he stressed, adding that the signing of the 21 November political agreement was a step in the right direction; however, more needs to be done. He called on stakeholders to fully implement the agreement, continue to engage in meaningful and inclusive dialogue, and put an end to the use of excessive force against peaceful protestors. Estonia calls for the release of all those who have been arbitrarily arrested for political reasons since 25 October. As well, a civilian cabinet must be formed, and the Transitional Legislative Council and other transitional governance and oversight institutions must remain a priority. On Darfur, he expressed concern about political instability, and called for efforts to be redoubled to ensure the safety of civilians, including women and children. The national action plan for civilian protection must be operationalized swiftly.
TAREK LADEB (Tunisia), speaking also on behalf of Kenya, Niger, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, welcomed the recent political agreement. Succeeding in the political transition and responding to the Sudanese peoples’ aspiration for democracy, freedom and justice remain the only viable way to preserve and consolidate the unity of the country. Welcoming the release of political detainees and the commitment to investigate deaths and injuries among protestors during the incidents since 25 October, he also recognized the many challenges ahead, expressing concern about sporadic intercommunal violence. Welcoming the Sudanese Government’s efforts to provide protection to civilians, he encouraged all parties to ensure gender equality in decision-making and the rightful participation of women in mediation efforts to resolve the current political crisis.
On the economic front, Khartoum faces a huge challenge in mitigating the impact of economic reforms and the burden of external debt, he noted, calling on the international community to renew its commitment in solidarity with Sudan and not shy away from commitments made during the May 2021 Paris conference. Economic recovery remains a key component of the transition process, he added. He also called on States to show responsibility and solidarity with Sudan as it continues to host hundreds of thousands of refugees, as the difficult situation affects more than 10 million people, which is also compounded by the economic crisis, food insecurity, rising cases of COVID‑19, low vaccination rate, climate change and intercommunal violence among other matters.
MONA JUUL (Norway) expressed deep concern about the events that have occurred since 25 October, when military leaders set aside the constitutional declaration, introduced a state of emergency and dissolved the civilian component of the transitional government, followed by the arbitrary arrests and detentions of political opposition leaders, civil society, lawyers, journalists and peaceful protesters. Unlawful detentions of people for their political beliefs and hindering access to hospitals are unacceptable. She reiterated her call for the release of all political detainees, and for deaths and injuries to be independently investigated. Further, she called for more direct participation of Sudanese women and youth in political talks, which UNITAMS can help facilitate. A new Government must be swiftly appointed, she said, underlining the need for unfettered humanitarian access, and the protection of civilians. In this regard, the national plan for civilian protection must be updated to reflect the realities faced by the population. Noting that the instability in the country is adding to the already unstable situation in the Horn of Africa, she expressed concern about reports of renewed clashes in the border between Sudan and Ethiopia, and encouraged both countries to show the utmost restraint. She welcomed the United Nations work in facilitating dialogue, and encouraged the African Union and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to step up efforts to support a process that can bring Sudan’s transition back on track.
T. S. TIRUMURTI (India) expressed hope that Sudan’s leadership will consolidate positive gains and advance towards the holding of elections by July 2023, noting any efforts to undermine the transition — such as the action of 25 October — will jeopardize progress made on political and socioeconomic fronts. Underscoring the importance of comprehensive implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement, he welcomed establishment of the Joint High Military Committee and Permanent Ceasefire Committee in Darfur. Also citing the Transitional Legislative Council, Supreme Judicial Council and the Supreme Council of the Public Prosecution, he encouraged Sudan’s leadership to expeditiously resolve issues concerning them. Recent economic developments have forced the international community to revisit the positive decisions taken to support recovery in Sudan, he noted, but with the transition process back on track, the international community and partners of the country may be able reconsider those decisions. He further pointed to efforts made to provide physical protection in Darfur through deployment of joint Government forces to de-escalate violence, citing noteworthy steps to improve child protection legislation. Urging all parties to remain focused on fighting the scourge of terrorism in Sudan as well as the Horn of Africa, he stressed the support of UNITAMS — in close partnership with the African Union and IGAD — will be critical in the coming months, particularly in assisting the political transition, implementation of the Juba Agreement and peacebuilding efforts.
JUAN MANUEL GÓMEZ ROBLEDO (Mexico) said the Sudanese people’s response to the October coup was “unequivocal”; they support a civilian-led Government, and a democratic transition which ensures the promotion and the protection of the rights of all people. While the political agreement is a first step towards restoring constitutional order, it must be guided by the constitutional document and the Juba Peace Agreement. The Council must regularly follow up on the full implementation of the 21 November agreement, he said, adding that the Constitutional Conference to discuss constitutional amendments must be a transparent, peaceful and democratic process, ensuring the full and meaningful participation of women. Moreover, the re-establishment of a transitional government should reflect the plurality of voices in Sudan, including women. The partnership between the civilian and military arms must be seen as a temporary source of stability until the peaceful transfer of power is ensured, as a result of democratic elections. He called for the release of all political prisoners, including those detained after 25 October. Further, investigations must be undertaken into cases of disproportionate use of force and alleged human rights violations. On the International Criminal Court, he emphasized that there are four cases in which the handover the accused is still pending, and called for the handover to take place in line with Sudan’s commitment to cooperate with the Court. He expressed concern about the deplorable events taking place in Darfur, where as many as 10,000 people have been displaced, and where villages have been burned, and cases of sexual violence have taken place. Tensions must be tamped down to prevent the resurgence of violence, he said.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) noted that since her last briefing, there has been a welcome step back from the brink following the 21 November agreement between Prime Minister Hamdok and General al-Burhan. Most civilian leaders have been released, and the Prime Minister has been reinstalled. The reality, however, is that the agreement does not reverse the steps taken since 25 October to dismantle the transitional framework and institutions. In the short term, several steps must be taken, including the lifting of the state of emergency. The Prime Minister should be allowed to freely exercise his powers. All political detainees must be released, and the campaign of arrests must end. Human rights should be respected, and the right to freedom of assembly and peaceful protest must be protected. Violence against civilians must stop and accountability is needed. Attacks by security forces on hospitals, the wounded and on doctors must cease. In the long term, there is a need to see decisive security sector reform, a framework for effective transitional justice, and the holding of inclusive and democratic elections. Turning to recent reports of renewed border clashes in Al-Fashaga and their potential impacts on regional stability, she said “the last thing we need is for an intensification of Ethiopia-Sudan tensions”.
HAI ANH PHAM (Viet Nam), welcoming recent efforts to foster stability, said the situation in Darfur has faced many challenges, from instability to the COVID‑19 pandemic. Going forward, all Sudanese parties must continue to exercise restraint to avoid escalating tensions and jeopardizing the safety of civilians. Urging parties to promote dialogue and national reconciliation, he said such activities must be in line with the Juba Peace Agreement and include women and youth. Calling on relevant authorities to protect civilians, he said stability and security in Darfur must be maintained alongside the full implementation of agreements, including addressing the root causes of conflict among various groups. Turning to socioeconomic challenges — from food insecurity to recent flooding — he expressed hope that the international community would provide continued support to authorities. Partnerships remain key in promoting dialogue among Sudanese parties, he said, highlighting the African Union’s initiative and other efforts. Calling for more efforts by Sudan and regional countries to foster friendly relations, he said current sanctions should be lifted, as warranted.
ANNA EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) said existing disagreements in Sudanese society should be resolved exclusively through dialogue to ensure security and national reconciliation. Welcoming the 12 November political agreement, she took a positive view of the statement by the Chair of the Sovereign Council on the intention to hold general elections in July 2023, and awaited negotiations for establishment of a technocratic cabinet, taking into account the interests of the provinces. Calling on UNITAMS to address settlement in Darfur, economic reforms, and maintain peace, law and order, she stressed it is more important than ever to depoliticize communication between all parties without blatant external interference. She expressed regret over the use of incorrect terminology in the Secretary-General’s report, noting her delegation cannot agree with the imposition of political pressure and economic blackmail measures on Sudan, which may further destabilize the country, as dubious socioeconomic schemes and politicization of financial assistance have already led to divisions in the society. She also noted the initiative by Western States for a special session on 5 November was inopportune, and opposed establishment of a special rapporteur mandate. The sanctions regime must be periodically reviewed and adapted to realities on the ground, she said, expressing hope they will be lifted, as the people of Sudan should resolve their issues independently.
NATHALIE BROADHURST (France) called for institutions to be re-established and strengthened to advance Sudan’s transition, adding that international support for the country depends on its transition to civilian governance in line with its peoples’ democratic aspirations. However, the military coup undermined progress in this regard. Therefore, efforts must resume to ensure the swift formation of a civilian Government, including the implementation of the Constitutional Document of August 2019 and the preparation for free and fair elections, she said. She called for the release of all political prisoners arrested since 25 October, and for a rigorous and independent investigation into the incidents taking place after the protests, as provided for in the 21 November political agreement. Further, efforts must resume to implement the Juba Peace Agreement. She recognized progress made, including in the establishment of the Joint Hight Military Committee for Security Arrangements, and called for further progress to be made, including in operationalizing independent commissions on corruption and transitional justice, and in appointments to vacant judicial posts. She went on to express concern about the intercommunal conflict in Darfur in recent weeks, calling for the protection of civilians to be prioritized, and for unimpeded humanitarian access to be ensured. The United Nations and international partners must continue to support Sudan’s transition, she said, adding that UNITAMS’ deployment in Darfur must be sped up.
DAI BING (China) said the international community must respect Sudan’s sovereignty and its needs. Progress in the political sector demonstrates that the parties are putting the people of Sudan first, he said, calling on them to maintain a good momentum for a smooth transition and avoid resorting to violence. The international community must adopt a neutral stance involving negotiations, he cautioned, adding that democracy can be realized in a number of ways, and the chosen road to democracy should be developed by the State itself. Imposing a democratic path from outside is merely using democracy as a banner that deprives the country of true democracy, he said, stressing that this is not democracy. However, the current overall socioeconomic situation is unsatisfactory, with rampant inflation and public dissatisfaction. At the same time, suspension of financial aid has worsened the plight of the Sudanese people, he said, encouraging the international community to help Sudan overcome these difficulties. For its part, China will provide 1 billion COVID‑19 vaccine dozes and continues to work with African States to implement such programmes as health, poverty reduction, trade and investment. Sudan’s capacity-building must be strengthened to, among other things, better implement its civilian protection plan. The Council must closely examine sanctions on Sudan, he said, expressing hope that benchmarks set to have been established in September will be imminently introduced.
RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States) expressed his delegation’s full support for UNITAMS in carrying its mandated activities, including assistance for Sudan’s democratic transition laid out in the Constitutional Declaration and implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement. Welcoming the recent agreement that resulted in the reinstatement of the Prime Minister, he said this is only first step forward and urged a renewed focus on completing the country’s transition to democracy. Creating the enabling political space is key, he said, urging the military to release all detainees, lift the state of emergency and stop violence against peaceful protestors. Expressing concern over intercommunal violence in Darfur, he stressed the need to consolidate peace in Sudan. Turning to efforts to establish benchmarks for reviewing sanctions, he said the Council failed to reach an agreement by a self-imposed deadline, adding that the United States will not give up on such tasks.
MOHAMED IBRAHIM MOHAMED ELBAHI (Sudan) said his country’s political arena is witnessing developments linked not only to the path of transition to democracy, but to shaping the future of a nation that maintains its statehood and guarantees the governance expressed during the December revolution. Actors from the military and civilian domains must play their roles in operationalizing the methods and mechanisms of the Joint Peace Agreement, in addition to political tools against reversing gains made by the men and women who sacrificed life and limb for the future. He noted challenges linked to the country’s heavy political legacy since independence, as well as the civilian-military partnership, and security issues in Darfur, and the eastern and southern regions. On 25 November, Sudanese political actors issued the political declaration signed by the Sovereign Council and Prime Minister, strengthening conviction in the transition, and affirming the need to guarantee its success leading up to free and fair elections. Citing the letter of 30 September 2021 from the Sudanese Chargé d’affaires to the President of the Security Council (S/2021/832), he expressed a commitment to protecting transition until elections are held, with leaders opposing any hindrance and promoting democratic change until that point, establishing peace with Sudan itself and with its neighbours.
Facing the aforementioned challenges, the Prime Minister has called for a comprehensive national initiative: addressing the economy, justice and security sector reform, as well as dismantling the remnants of the al-Bashir regime and establishing national sovereignty, he continued. The crisis is mostly political, he affirmed, requiring wisdom and national ownership, as the two signatory partners have pledged to work towards democracy and prevent any relapse towards the unknown. He noted practical steps taken to implement the political agreement, including the release of detainees, and appointment of a chief justice and attorney general. Khartoum requires positive engagement from financial institutions to alleviate the impact of economic reforms and its external debt burden, and humanitarian assistance from the international community for the hundreds of thousands of refugees from countries in the region now inside Sudan. He called on the international community to support Sudan, during this critical moment, as the region does not need any more conflicts, and to strengthen UNITAMS. He echoed the Secretary-General’s call for the need for common sense to prevail, as solutions should not be based on ideals. He further noted the Government has deployed forces to end unfortunate tribal violence around Darfur.