Despite Improved Political Situation in Sudan, Greater Support Needed to Help Country with Its Domestic Challenges, Mission Head Tells Security Council
Support is needed to help Sudan navigate domestic challenges following the signing of an agreement designed to facilitate the nation’s political transition, the top United Nations official in that country told the Security Council today, as the organ’s members discussed how the international community can best assist Sudan during this fragile time.
Volker Perthes, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), said that the signing of the political framework agreement by the country’s military and civilian actors in 2022 was a watershed moment. “Today, we are the closest we have been to a solution, although challenges remain,” he observed. Outlining a number of contentious issues, he highlighted the dismantling of the old regime; the implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement; and security sector reform, among others.
Drawing Council members’ attention to increased participation by women and other stakeholders in the political process, including those who had earlier publicly rejected it, he outlined many emerging areas of consensus and important breakthroughs. Against this backdrop, he urged States to support the Government in tackling major issues that remain.
In the ensuing debate, delegates expressed concern over the dire humanitarian situation in the country and increased intercommunal violence, while underscoring the need for financial assistance. Some countries opposed the excessive use of force on protestors and urged Sudan’s authorities to ensure such individuals’ right to peaceful assembly. Other States warned against artificially pushing forward the current political process and attaching political strings to humanitarian aid.
The representative of Mozambique, Council President for March, also speaking for Gabon and Ghana, welcomed signing of the framework agreement and described it as a breakthrough. Stressing the importance of women’s participation in the political process, he called on the international community to work in concert with UNITAMS and to pay particular attention to the socioeconomic situation in the country, which has been exacerbated by rising food and energy prices.
On that point, the representative of the United Arab Emirates welcomed recent efforts to expand the range of parties involved in the political process, but stressed that ongoing efforts in the political sphere must be accompanied by decisive economic support, as both tracks are complementary and mutually reinforcing. Noting that Sudan’s economy tipped into recession in 2022, she said the country requires international support to develop its own capacity to respond to emergencies and channel critical resources to achieve long-term stability.
The representative of China, also welcoming the improvement in Sudan’s political situation following the signing of the framework agreement, urged against attaching economic assistance and humanitarian aid to the country’s political process as this interferes with sovereignty. More so, he expressed reservations against the Council’s continued imposition of sanctions, which limits the Government’s ability to maintain stability, protect civilians and combat crime.
The representative of Switzerland, while also commending constructive engagement on Sudan’s peace process, stressed that “now is the time for this progress to be translated into a political agreement”. Underscoring the importance of women’s participation, she encouraged the parties to ensure that at least 40 per cent representation for that group in future transitional institutions is achieved.
The representative of Sudan, meanwhile, said the framework agreement will be followed by a definitive agreement for a transition period led by an entirely civilian Government. Detailing his Government’s efforts to enhance the political process, he stressed that “peace remains the key and is the outstanding priority of the country”. Urging the international community to guarantee financial support to complete the implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement, he said “UNITAMS has a role to play in this domain, a role that it has to play better than we are seeing today”.
Also speaking were representatives of the United Kingdom, Albania, Ecuador, United States, France, Japan, Brazil, Russian Federation and Malta.
The meeting began at 12:25 p.m. and ended at 1:59 p.m.
VOLKER PERTHES, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan and Head of the Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), recalling the political framework agreement signed by the Sudanese military and civilian actors in 2022, said it was a watershed moment that would lead to a new transitional period. “Today, we are the closest we have been to a solution, although challenges remain,” he said. Noting that the signatories to the framework agreement recently began broad consultative workshops with the facilitation of the Trilateral Mechanism — consisting of the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the United Nations — he outlined a number of contentious issues, including the dismantling of the old regime; the implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement; issues in the east of the country; transitional justice; and security sector reform.
He noted that the consultations gathered hundreds of Sudanese women and men, representing a broad social, professional and political spectrum — including those who had earlier publicly rejected the political process — and created space for public and transparent discussions. Recognizing that the representation of Sudanese women fell short of the parties’ previous commitment, he nonetheless underlined their active participation. He pointed to many emerging areas of consensus and some important breakthroughs, including the holding of a national conference on transitional justice, and pointed out that military and civilian leaders recently signed a joint paper on the language of security sector reform. Meanwhile, a workshop is planned on the integration of the Rapid Support Forces and armed movements into one national professional army.
Turning to the discussions of the military and civilian signatories with the Trilateral Mechanism, the European Union and the QUAD for Sudan — namely, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the United States and the United Kingdom — he said a preparatory meeting was convened at the Republican Palace to begin drafting of the final political agreement and a transitional constitution. A committee was established to reach out to non-signatory parties and movements and discuss a timeline, he said, pointing out that the formation a civilian Government might begin before mid-April. Expressing concerns about the rising tensions between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces in recent weeks, he said civilian parties will have to finalize discussions on mechanisms to select a Prime Minister and form a Government.
Outlining dire humanitarian needs, including local conflicts, he said over 16,000 people were displaced between December 2022 and February 2023. Humanitarian access and bureaucratic and administrative impediments are of critical concern, he said, noting that the Trilateral Group continues its dialogue with the authorities to address those issues. “Slower responses entail […] less timely support for the people of Sudan,” he added. Welcoming the release of 300 men who were detained without charges on the orders of the Governors of North and West Darfur in 2021 and 2022, he spotlighted that 122 children associated with armed groups were released over the last two months. In addition, he underlined the importance of collective efforts to help Sudan navigate its hurdles, urging Council members to support the Government in tackling the major issues that have lain dormant.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom), encouraging the remaining workshop on security sector reform to be held as soon as possible, stressed the need to consolidate progress. The time is now for all parties to seize the momentum, accelerate their engagement and reach a final agreement within the coming weeks. For its part, the United Kingdom is working with partners to ensure an early and coordinated offer of support to a civilian-led transitional Government; supports the role of UNITAMS, the African Union and IGAD in facilitating the political process; and encourages non-signatories to join discussions and contribute to a final agreement. He also echoed the Secretary-General’s call for authorities to create conducive conditions; welcomed the release of hundreds of Darfuri civilians from arbitrary detentions; and condemned the excessive use of force against protestors. As his country remains deeply concerned by the ongoing intercommunal conflict, his Government calls on authorities to accelerate the implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement and the national plan to protect civilian while also deploying the joint security keeping force to Darfur. He then called on the authorities to remove all bureaucratic impediments, including by processing visas urgently and lifting movement restrictions for the Organization’s personnel.
ARIAN SPASSE (Albania) said that the signing of the Framework Agreement has renewed hope for a civilian-led transition that meets the aspirations of the Sudanese people, including the holding of elections. He commended the civilian and military signatories for the progress made so far, such as the launching of the final phase of the political process facilitated by the Trilateral Mechanism. He urged non-signatories to join the process and engage in meaningful talks to resolve remaining differences. Furthermore, the political process must be comprehensive and have a widespread backing to be sustainable. Expressing concern about numerous reports of the excessive use of force on protestors, he urged Sudanese authorities to investigate impartially any allegation of unlawful use of force by members of the security forces. Demonstrators must have the right to peaceful assembly, he added. Despite progress on the political front, he drew attention to record levels of humanitarian needs: 18 million Sudanese will be under acute food insecurity conditions in 2023, with 11.7 million — almost a quarter of the population — facing hunger. Against this backdrop, he called on Sudanese authorities to provide unhindered humanitarian access to all affected areas. Grave violations of human rights and the socioeconomic situation in the country require immediate attention, he emphasized, sounding alarm over sexual violence against women, especially in camps for internally displaced persons in Darfur.
ANDRÉS EFREN MONTALVO SOSA (Ecuador), voicing his solidarity with the people of Sudan, joined other speakers in welcoming the signing of the framework agreement in December 2022 — which provides hope for an inclusive political solution and a new civilian Government, through a credible, inclusive and transparent election process. The participation of women in that process is critical. Calling on the Council to encourage non-signatory groups of the Juba Peace Agreement to also join the process, he echoed expressions of concern over instances of violence in parts of the country, including Blue Nile, Kordofan and Darfur states. Against that backdrop, he urged the Sudanese authorities to redouble their efforts to protect civilians, adding that the implementation of the National Plan for Civilian Protection remains vital in that regard. Meanwhile, early warning mechanisms need to be improved and accountability guaranteed, which is essential for the promotion of trust. In addition, he voiced concern over bureaucratic and security impediments that limit the ability of the international community to provide humanitarian aid to those in most need, in a country where a third of the population requires support.
ROBERT A. WOOD (United States) said that reaching a final political agreement on a new, civilian-led transitional Government is essential for ending Sudan’s political crisis and addressing its urgent political, economic, security and humanitarian challenges. Acknowledging that military leaders have reiterated their willingness to withdraw the military from politics, he called on all parties to reach a political agreement that realizes the Sudanese people’s calls for freedom, peace and justice. To support this, the United States will promote accountability for spoilers who attempt to undermine or delay democratic progress in Sudan. He also urged all parties to engage in good-faith dialogue while ensuring that women, youth, displaced persons and representatives from all over Sudan have the opportunity to participate in shaping their country’s future. For this process to succeed, the parties must foster an environment conducive to participation by all stakeholders, which must provide for free expression of views without fear of retribution. On Darfur, he said that the volatile security situation underlines the need for full implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement.
ALEXANDRE OLMEDO (France), stressing that the restoration of a democratic transition remains the priority, called on all Sudanese political forces to follow the spirit of compromise that made the 5 December framework agreement possible. Stressing the importance of ensuring the effective participation of women in the political process, he recalled the Secretary-General’s report which outlines the challenges that the civilian Government will face once it is in place. Welcoming efforts by UNITAMS to prepare for this, he reaffirmed commitment to assisting in this process. The status quo is precarious and affects the Sudanese population severely, especially “those in the suburbs”, he said, spotlighting the humanitarian situation and the high levels of intercommunal violence, the causes of which are deep-seated and persistent. Noting that the Juba Peace Agreement set out a framework and timetable for the reintegration of the signatory armed groups and the creation of a joint force, he called on the authorities to cooperate with UNITAMS and commended the Mission for carrying out its mandated activities despite the difficult context.
SHINO MITSUKO (Japan), spotlighting the four pillars in UNITAMS’ mandate, each of which has seen significant developments, welcomed recent positive political changes - especially the signing of the political framework agreement and the work of the trilateral mechanism — and urged the Council to encourage non-signatories of the agreement to join the process. The global community should further support the peace process and implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement, as well as future peace agreements, she said, noting that the slow implementation of the National Plan for Civilian Protection is of serious concern. She expressed her continued concern by the excessive use of force against peaceful protestors and called upon the authorities to take appropriate measures to stop those acts against non-violent demonstrators. She also voiced concern over worsening conditions for ordinary Sudanese civilians, stressing the need to bring back a civilian-led transitional Government able to ensure that the country receives sufficient humanitarian assistance from the international community.
ADRIAN DOMINIK HAURI (Switzerland), welcoming constructive engagement on Sudan’s peace process in recent weeks, called on the signatories to continue their dialogue and on the political forces that remain outside the framework agreement to join. “Now is the time for this progress to be translated into a political agreement,” he stressed, pointing out that a political solution at the national level is essential to improve Sudan’s humanitarian, economic and security situations. Voicing deep concern about the continuing violence in Darfur, Kordofan and Blue Nile states, he also called on all parties to respect international humanitarian law and urged more efforts to tackle insecurity. With the imminent return of civilian leadership, the international community should invest in strengthening an inclusive transition, backed by broad public support. Women remain under-represented throughout the process, which must change, he stressed, encouraging the parties to keep their promises to ensure at least 40 per cent representation of women in future transitional institutions. In addition, those responsible for human rights violations and abuses must be held accountable, he said.
LUÍS GUILHERME PARGA CINTRA (Brazil), praising Sudan’s political developments, encouraged the signatories of the framework agreements to advance the implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement; debate how transitional justice can become integral to public policy all over Sudan; and take steps towards security sector reform. Underscoring the importance of local community leaders’ participation, he expressed appreciation that community representatives, civil society, women and youth leaders, and even resistance committees have participated in the pertinent conferences. The principle of Sudanese ownership remains crucial, he said, while commending the trilateral mechanism of the United Nations, African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in supporting the civilian-led transition. Spotlighting the steps taken to engage Sudanese stakeholders, who have not yet signed the framework agreement, he encouraged political actors to join the process and participate in formal proceedings. Noting that protecting civilians has become an exclusive responsibility of Sudanese authorities since UNAMID concluded its withdrawal, he welcomed the authorities’ support for peacebuilding efforts. He further encouraged the Government to prioritize progress on security sector reform.
DAI BING (China) highlighted recent progress in the political situation in Sudan after the signing of the framework agreement. The final phase of the political process was launched, with four special meetings facilitated by the tripartite mechanism to resolve outstanding issues. Nevertheless, he voiced concern about the worrying humanitarian situation in the country. In 2023, one third of Sudan’s population needs humanitarian assistance, he noted, calling on relevant countries and international financial institutions to resume their economic assistance. However, some countries attach political strings and link aid to Sudan’s political process, he pointed out, adding that such an approach not only interferes with Sudan’s sovereignty but also disregards the basic human rights of the Sudanese people, such as the right to development. He observed that while intercommunal clashes still occur, the number of security incidents is declining. Moreover, he commended the commitment of the Sudanese Government to hold perpetrators to account. However, he also expressed reservations against the Council’s continued imposition of sanctions on the Darfur region, which limits the Sudanese Government’s efforts to maintain stability, protect civilians and combat crime on the ground.
ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) said the political landscape in Sudan remains volatile, and prospects for lasting peace remain “open-ended”. However, the country’s authorities have shown that they are ready to engage constructively with a range of stakeholders and discussions continue. Noting that the framework agreement was not signed by several significant players — who continue to reject its terms — she warned against artificially pushing forward the current political process. It is counterproductive and unacceptable to exert any external pressure on Sudan, which should resolve its internal issues on its own. Outlining the serious humanitarian challenges still facing the country, she called on the global community to honour its commitments to Sudan and said it is hypocritical to link humanitarian aid to the country’s political transition. UNITAMS’ work has so far not met expectations, and annual reports on its work remain unbalanced, she said, welcoming efforts by the Sudanese leadership to stabilize the situation in the country. In addition, she voiced support for Khartoum’s request to review and lift outdated sanctions, a view which is also supported by many regional groups.
LANA ZAKI NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates) urged the Council, along with the international community, to support Sudan by helping to address the challenges it faces, including the lack of financial resources needed to implement the Juba Peace Agreement. Noting that the completion of Sudan’s transitional period remains contingent on broad political consensus, she welcomed recent efforts to expand the range of parties involved in the political process. She stressed, however, that ongoing efforts in the political sphere must be accompanied by decisive economic support, as both tracks are complementary and mutually reinforcing. Sudan’s economy tipped into recession in 2022, inflation remains in triple digits and approximately 15.8 million people — a third of the population — will need humanitarian assistance in 2023. Sudan requires international support to develop its own capacity to respond to emergencies and channel critical resources to achieve long-term stability. Also expressing concern over increased intercommunal violence, she welcomed both efforts made by local and religious leaders to diffuse tensions and community-level dialogues facilitated by UNITAMS. These efforts, she added, remain an essential pillar for consolidating peaceful coexistence in Sudan.
FRANCESCA MARIA GATT (Malta), expressing her support for a civilian-led transition in Sudan, said the inclusion of all stakeholders — including women, youth and civil society — is critical. She called upon signatories to uphold their commitment to include a minimum 40 per cent women’s representation in legislative, executive and sovereign bodies. Praising the courage of Sudanese women and the key role they play, despite being subject to high rates of sexual and gender-based violence, she reiterated calls for accountability and justice for victims, as well as for timely and impartial investigations of any allegations of unlawful use of force on protesters. While welcoming the release of Darfuri detainees, she nevertheless voiced concern over renewed intercommunal violence, including in Darfur, and strongly condemned the killing of a peacebuilding adviser in Blue Nile State. She also expressed Malta’s deep concern over Sudan’s record-level humanitarian needs, which are driven in part by climate-induced shocks, and voiced support for the work of UNITAMS, whose work must continue unimpeded.
PEDRO COMISSÁRIO AFONSO (Mozambique), Council President for March, speaking for his country and also for Gabon and Ghana, noted that Sudan is at an important crossroad. Expressing support for ongoing initiatives to promote national reconciliation, restore constitutional rule and ensure stability, he said the international community must maintain its support and work in concert with UNITAMS to facilitate the peace process. Welcoming the signing of the framework agreement which provides for a two-year transition period under a “fully democratic civilian authority”, he described it as a real breakthrough and urged the non-signatory political parties to join the new dynamic driven by such positive developments. He also echoed the call made by the Chairperson of the African Union Commission encouraging all parties to work together and noted the recent Conference on the Juba Peace Agreement and the Completion of Peace, while stressing the importance of women’s participation in the political process.
Turning to the security front, he expressed concern about the persistence of intercommunal clashes, particularly in Blue Nile, West Kordofan, Southern Kordofan, Central Darfur, North Darfur and South Darfur. It is regrettable that civilian populations are targeted, including women and children, he said, condemning such actions and encouraging UNITAMS to continue to support Sudan through political process facilitation, peacebuilding and capacity-development. Also expressing support for the Sudanese authorities’ efforts to create an environment conducive to the reconstruction of the country, he highlighted the release of detainees from Darfur, Khartoum and Port Sudan, as well as the decision to end the use of force against demonstrators. Reiterating the appeal for sustained support for the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan for Sudan, he called on the international community to pay particular attention to the socioeconomic situation in the country, exacerbated by rising food and energy prices.
AL-HARITH IDRISS AL-HARITH MOHAMED (Sudan), recalling that the framework agreement was signed with the Forces of Freedom and Change, the Central Council and other professional entities, said it will be followed by a definitive agreement for a transition period led by an entirely civilian Government. Noting that civilian signatories have begun implementing a plan to achieve national consensus and prepare it for final signature, he said the plan lays out the establishment of consultations, including conferences and workshops. Further, he said that a meeting of the President and Vice-President of the Sovereignty Council, civilian signatories, the Trilateral Mechanism and other regional stakeholders, focusing on the political process, took place last week. The meeting resulted in the conclusion of discussions on transitional justice; security and military reforms; and the establishment of a trilateral mechanism and meeting of signatories and non-signatories to establish a draft final agreement. Recalling that the transition Government signed a timetable for the implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement, he said it led to an updated implementation matrix supported by the Government and partners of the peace process. Moreover, the matrix was signed by the President of the Sovereignty Council and the President of South Sudan. “Peace remains the key and is the outstanding priority to the country,” he added.
Reiterating the commitment to protecting civilians, he said the Government, through its scarce resources, managed to provide the joint forces for protection of civilians with 200 new vehicles. Highlighting the improvement of the situation in Darfur, he said refugees and displaced people started returning to the region and the tribal tensions in the Blue Nile were going back to normality. Urging the international community to guarantee financial support to complete the implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement, he said “UNITAMS has role to play in this domain, a role that it has to play better than we are seeing today.” Turning to the “administrative obstacles” mentioned in the Secretary-General’s report, including the “lack of issuance of visas and restrictions of the freedom of movement”, he said those allegations are not correct. Noting that delivery of visas and travel authorizations required by the Mission have been certified in line with the administrative hierarchy, he stressed that the Sudanese authorities have not opposed or banned travel of staff members.