Sudan’s Worsening Violence, Humanitarian Crisis Could Foreshadow Civil War, Senior Officials Warn Security Council, Calling for Urgent Action to End Conflict
Worsening violence in Sudan could foreshadow a civil war alongside a humanitarian situation that will, in turn, dramatically deteriorate the possibility of needed and urgent action, senior United Nations officials warned the Security Council today, as speakers spotlighted the importance of regional engagement, dialogue and humanitarian relief to ameliorating the suffering of the Sudanese people.
Volker Perthes, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan and Head of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in the Sudan (UNITAMS), noted that almost five months have passed since the deadly conflict erupted between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces. Detailing worsening violence, cross-border mobilization and displacement, he observed: “What started as a conflict between two military formations could be morphing into a full-scale civil war.”
Recounting how that war is destroying lives and leaving a tragic legacy of human rights abuses, he underscored that the warring parties — who chose to settle their conflict through fighting — have a duty to the Sudanese people to end it. He also observed that indiscriminate aerial bombing is being conducted by the Sudanese Armed Forces, and most of the sexual violence, looting and killing is happening in areas controlled by the Rapid Support Forces. Underlining the need to impress on the warring parties that they cannot operate with impunity, he urged: “Sudan cannot — and must not — endure the costs of this war indefinitely.”
He also announced that he has requested to be relieved of duty in his role as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan. “I have come to know Sudan as a country of tremendous potential, indomitable spirit, cultural richness and diversity,” he said, underscoring that they need the world’s support and solidarity more than ever to pressure the military leadership to end the war and empower civilians for a transition towards democratic governance.
Edem Wosornu, Director of Operations and Advocacy in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, then detailed such costs, which include about 1 million newly displaced people every month, distressing levels of sexual violence, a complete breakdown of the health system and more than 6 million people now one step away from famine. With these enormous challenges, the humanitarian community is struggling to scale-up operations and meet growing needs.
Urging all actors to fully respect international humanitarian law and protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, she also underlined the need for the warring parties to recommit to regular, direct humanitarian dialogue at a senior level. “The situation can, and will, get immeasurably worse unless urgent action is taken,” she said, calling on the international community to spare no effort in seeking a negotiated solution to end the war.
Also briefing the Council was Mayada Adil, a civil society speaker representing Sudanese women and girls, who said that condemning the war is not enough for “those who were raped, sexually assaulted and exploited as sex slaves”. Detailing accounts from survivors, she pointed out that the predators behind these crimes are walking freely, without accountability, treating women’s bodies as their personal battlefields.
She pointed out that Sudanese women are peace advocates, recalling that it was Sudanese women who were the ones on the front lines of the 2019 peaceful civilian revolution. However, women’s political space in Sudan has diminished since the war erupted. They have not only been forbidden from any demonstrations, but have also been excluded from all regional and international discussions on ending the war, she said, urging the Council to prioritize women’s participation in decision-making processes.
In the ensuing debate, many Council members expressed concern over the conflict’s myriad impacts on civilians and urged the warring parties to negotiate towards a cessation of hostilities. Some also underlined the need for Khartoum to facilitate humanitarian access, along with the importance of holding accountable those responsible for the conflict and associated atrocities. Others spotlighted the importance of regional engagement.
On that, Ghana’s representative — also speaking for Gabon and Mozambique — welcomed the African Union’s efforts to establish a credible civilian dialogue. He noted, however, that different processes by different actors — if not coordinated — can frustrate the desired result of peace in Sudan, calling for coherent action to abate arms proliferation in the country. Reiterating that there is no military solution to the conflict, he called on the parties to “silence the guns and resort to dialogue”.
The representative of China similarly expressed support for regional countries’ engagement in diplomacy, mediation and communication. Noting that China has delivered multiple shipments of life-sustaining goods and medical supplies — and that “more are to follow” — he nevertheless expressed concern over the shortfall in humanitarian funding. The Council, therefore, should encourage the sides to “rebuild mutual trust and prevent things from getting worse”, he said.
Ecuador’s representative, meanwhile, underscored that the Council “cannot remain silent” amidst conflict-related sexual violence, indiscriminate attacks against civilians, forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, campaigns of fear, ethnic killings, burning of villages and arms trafficking. Urging the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces to end the bloodshed and suffering, he also called on Sudanese authorities to facilitate humanitarian access.
The representative of Albania, Council President for September, speaking in his national capacity, built on that stance by urging Khartoum to expedite visa issuance for UN staff and humanitarian workers, emphasizing: “These people are not going for vacation.” He also drew attention to a strong appeal for the protection of civilians and accountability for gender-based violence issued by 11 Council members before today’s meeting. The international community cannot fail the people of Sudan — because their leaders have let them down — he said, adding that regional initiatives are “the only way to end the nightmare”.
REPORTS OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL ON THE SUDAN AND SOUTH SUDAN
VOLKER PERTHES, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan and Head of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in the Sudan (UNITAMS), noted that almost five months have passed since the deadly conflict erupted between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces. “The fighting shows no sign of abating, while neither side appears close to a decisive military victory,” he observed. Reporting that at least 5,000 people have been killed since the start of the conflict — and that over 12,000 have been injured — he said that the actual number is likely much higher. In Darfur, violence has worsened dramatically and the warring parties have demonstrated blatant disregard for human rights. In the west, the cross-border mobilization of Arab tribes is further fuelling the conflict and impacting regional stability. As well, in the South Kordofan and Blue Nile States, fighting has left many displaced and has caused civilian casualties. “What started as a conflict between two military formations could be morphing into a full-scale civil war,” he emphasized.
Underscoring that the descent into fighting on 15 April could have been avoided if the warring parties had heeded multiple calls for de-escalation and continued with dialogue, he highlighted the facilitated consultations by the African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the United Nations. While those consultations proceeded, however, the Sudanese Armed Forces and Rapid Support Forces were irresponsibly building up their forces in the capital while assuring the international community and the Sudanese of their commitment to peace.
“Let me be clear, for the benefit of history, that — regardless of who fired the first shot — both sides were clearly setting the stage for war,” he stated. The warring parties chose to settle their conflict through fighting, and it is their duty to the Sudanese people to end it. Emphasizing that the military leaders of both sides are needed to negotiate and implement a cessation of hostilities, he nevertheless emphasized: “But, military leaders should not continue to rule the country.”
A durable cessation of hostilities requires political will, robust monitoring measures and the ability to hold the parties responsible for non-compliance, he continued. International and regional actors also need to coordinate the ways and means of influencing the parties to accept a sustainable cessation of hostilities, and he urged Member States to stem the flow of weapons into Sudan and agree to refrain from resupplying either side. Noting that each side is still waiting for the other to be weakened into surrender, he underscored: “This wait is futile.” The war is destroying the lives of Sudanese people and leaving a tragic legacy of human rights abuses. On that, he spotlighted indiscriminate attacks against civilians, the murder of Massalit leaders, mass graves, widespread sexual violence and other forms of violence against women.
“The United Nations will never stay neutral when it comes to war and human rights abuses,” he declared, adding: “We are on the side of the Sudanese civilians, women and the vulnerable populations who bear the brunt of the conflict.” There is little doubt who is responsible for what — often indiscriminate aerial bombing is conducted by those with an air force, which is the Sudanese Armed Forces, and most of the sexual violence, looting and killing happen in areas controlled by the Rapid Support Forces. Further, both sides are arbitrarily arresting, detaining and torturing civilians; there are also reports of extrajudicial killings. He therefore underlined the need to impress on the warring parties that they cannot operate with impunity, noting that UNITAMS continues to maintain contact with all sides. “Sudan cannot — and must not — endure the costs of this war indefinitely,” he urged.
Noting that he has served as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan for more than two and a half years, he announced that he was requesting to be relieved of his duty and that this briefing would be his last in this function. “I have come to know Sudan as a country of tremendous potential, indomitable spirit, cultural richness and diversity.” The Sudanese people inspire the whole world when they bravely upended three decades of dictatorial rule, he said, underscoring that they need the world’s support and solidarity more than ever to pressure the military leadership to end the war and empower civilians for a transition towards democratic governance.
EDEM WOSORNU, Director of Operations and Advocacy, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that, after five months of brutal and merciless war, “Sudan and its people are facing a crisis of epic and tragic proportions”. Fierce and relentless fighting is trapping civilians in Khartoum and other epicentres, including Nyala in South Darfur. About 1 million people are newly displaced every month, with 4.1 million within Sudan and more than 1 million fleeing to neighbouring countries, including the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Sudan. This displacement and insecurity have driven cases of sexual violence to distressing levels. Civilians are also dying due to an almost complete breakdown of the health system, and more than 6 million people are now just one step away from famine.
With these enormous challenges, the humanitarian community is struggling to scale up operations and meet the growing needs, she continued. Although more than 3.2 million people have received some form of assistance in the last four months — 300,000 more people since her last briefing — this is only about 18 per cent of the 18 million people in need. Following intensive negotiation with armed groups, some progress has been made in restoring the flow of humanitarian supplies to the Darfur states, including four cross-border aid deliveries from Chad to West Darfur. Rampant insecurity is a significant obstacle. More than 900 access incidents, or six per day, have been reported since mid-April. More than 30 per cent, or some 288 cases, have been recorded in and around Khartoum, where humanitarian access continues to deteriorate.
Urging all actors to show full respect for international humanitarian law and protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, she said that, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), more than 103 civilians have been killed in the past week during military operations by both parties in Khartoum and Omdurman. She also underlined the need for the warring parties to recommit to regular direct humanitarian dialogue at a senior level. Noting that the Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator and the Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan are actively reaching out to the leaders of the fighting armed forces to put the UN Humanitarian Forum into action, she urged Member States to support efforts to secure these commitments.
It takes two to six weeks or 16 to 42 days to move supplies from Port Sudan to Darfur states, she reported, calling on the Sudanese authorities to redouble their efforts to facilitate humanitarian operations by fast-tracking visa processes, easing travel restrictions and expediting customs clearances. However, even if these internal access obstacles are removed, a lack of humanitarian funding will leave millions without the assistance they need. The $2.6 billion revised Humanitarian Response Plan for this year is only 26 per cent funded, she noted, highlighting the 20 September ministerial event, “The Cost of Inaction in Sudan”, during the UN General Assembly high-level week as an important opportunity to show support for the people of Sudan. “The situation can, and will, get immeasurably worse unless urgent action is taken,” she said, warning that the longer this conflict continues, the more this catastrophe will deepen, the more lives will be lost and destroyed. The international community should spare no effort in seeking a negotiated solution to end the war, she added.
MAYADA ADIL, civil society representative, representing Sudanese women and girls from all the regions of Sudan, underscored that “the war must end now”. However, condemning the war is not enough for “those who were raped, sexually assaulted and exploited as sex slaves”, she stated. She echoed the words a 24-year-old victim of rape: “I have been raped in front of my family members, and they couldn’t save me from the fell of the war criminals who viciously forced himself on me.” Another victim of sexual assault in one of the refugee camps in Darfur recalled her experience as follows: “I’ve been raped multiple times by a man dressed in a formal attire, and he threatened me, if I bring it to the ear of other women, […] he will rape them, too.” The predators behind these crimes are walking freely, without accountability, treating women’s bodies as their personal battlefields.
Stressing that sexual violence used as a weapon of war is considered a direct threat to international peace and security, she demanded a team of experts to work with grass-roots organizations in Sudan to provide mechanisms to investigate, prosecute and hold individuals accountable for their involvement in criminal activities in the country and take the cases to the International Criminal Court. Further, she demanded international lawyers to defend victims of sexual violence with their legal assistance under the principle of extraterritorial jurisdiction that allows Member States’ courts to prosecute individuals for crimes committed outside the country’s borders, including acts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
As well, support must be provided to women’s rights organizations and women’s rights defenders, she stressed, adding: “Preserving Sudanese women’s dignity and rights must be prioritized today more than ever.” More so, Sudanese women are making peace and are peace advocates, she pointed out, recalling that it was Sudanese women who were the ones on the front lines of the 2019 peaceful civilian revolution, with their resilience and outstanding efforts to reinforce stability and peace. However, since the war erupted, women’s political space in Sudan has been diminished. They have not only been forbidden from any demonstrations, but they have also been excluded from all regional and international discussions and all the institutions taking initiatives to end the war.
Accordingly, she urged the Council to prioritize the participation of women in decision-making processes. The injustice and humanitarian crisis faced by the Sudanese people have been neglected as the global humanitarian financial system continues to focus their aid on countries in the Global North, she observed, calling on the Council to provide humanitarian relief, including health-saving assistance.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) underscored that, as the conflict enters its sixth month, “neither the Sudanese Armed Forces nor the Rapid Support Forces have acted in the interests of the Sudanese people”. Expressing concern over the situation of civilians, as well as reports of widespread sexual violence, ethnically motivated killings, forced recruitment of child soldiers and the burning of villages, he stressed that “the bloodshed needs to end”. He therefore called on the parties to the conflict to negotiate in good faith and for the international community to take collective action, including ensuring humanitarian access and establishing a credible political process. Expressing support for regional actors to take lead, he pointed out that the diverse Sudanese civilian groups can play a key role. He also reiterated the United Kingdom’s commitment to the Sudanese people and ensuring that those responsible for the conflict are held to account.
FRANCESCA MARIA GATT (Malta) urged both parties to the conflict to cease hostilities without preconditions and work towards negotiating a credible, lasting and inclusive ceasefire that brings Sudan back to the path of security and stability. She called for coherence across ongoing mediation efforts to unlock the deadlock and provide a unified platform to de-escalate, cease hostilities and return Sudanese actors to the transitional drawing board. Further, women’s groups and consideration of their rights should be included in the ceasefire negotiations, mediation efforts and any future dialogue. Noting that 80 per cent of medical infrastructure across Sudan is no longer functional, she called for the scale-up of medical and psychosocial support and monitoring. Spotlighting the almost 10-fold increase in grave violations against children, she reiterated support for the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s investigations in Darfur. “Blaming UN officials and scapegoating the UN will not bring us closer to reaching a just and lasting peace,” she added.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana), also speaking for Gabon and Mozambique, pointed to worsening security and humanitarian situation impacting Chad, the Central African Republic and — to a lesser extent — South Sudan. With no decisive victory in sight and the reality of a protracted and widespread national conflict, he appealed to the leaders of Sudanese Armed Forces and Rapid Support Forces to give peace a chance. Echoing the call of the IGAD Quartet Group, he called on the parties to halt hostilities, stating: “Silence the guns, and resort to dialogue.” Reiterating that there is no military solution to the conflict, he expressed dismay over the fighting intensification in El-Genina and the deliberate targeting of camps for internally displaced people.
He also voiced concern over the situation in Kadugli, South Kordofan, while reporting that roads connecting Khartoum, Kordofan and Darfur are blocked, limiting movement of goods and supplies. Expressing support for the implementation of the IGAD road map, he welcomed the African Union’s efforts to establish a credible civilian dialogue. In this context, he urged that organization to facilitate a structured, unified and coherent approach towards peace and all-inclusive consultations with civilian stakeholders. Noting that different processes by different actors, if not coordinated, can frustrate the desired results for peace in Sudan, he called for coordination and action to abate the arms proliferation. In addition, he encouraged UNITAMS to remain engaged by providing assistance to the Sudanese people.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States), noting that Khartoum warned it would end the United Nations presence in Sudan if the Special Representative participated in today’s briefing, said that such a threat is “unacceptable”. Turning to her recent trip to Chad, she said that visiting a refugee camp near Sudan’s border “was one of the saddest days of my life” as she recalled stories of loss. She also recounted the pervasive silence in a hospital where doctors were treating hundreds of malnourished children, too weak to speak or even cry. While these refugees were able to escape the conflict, millions remain trapped and desperate in Sudan, running out of basic resources and hope. Calling on the Sudanese authorities to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid, she said her country will provide an additional $163 million in assistance. Further, the United States has recently announced sanctions on certain individuals involved in the fighting, and she underscored the need to condemn ongoing atrocities in Sudan and hold the perpetrators accountable.
ALEXANDRE OLMEDO (France) said that, five months into the conflict, no military success is at hand, with the spiral of violence stoking interethnic tensions, which run the risk of sliding into civil war, fragmenting the country and destabilizing the region. Condemning all violence committed, particularly in Darfur, he said that the perpetrators must be brought to justice. The priority is to cease hostilities and initiate the process towards conflict-settlement. Ongoing diplomatic efforts should converge on three areas: the cessation of hostilities, the guarantee of safe and unhindered humanitarian access, and the participation of civilians in a political process to enable lasting peace and a return to civilian Government. “The future chapter of Sudan’s history cannot be written without civilian political forces,” he said. The 2019 revolution placed the legitimacy of power in the hands of civil society. There needs to be an ambitious vision of democratic transition to move beyond the current deadlock, he said, urging Sudanese civil society to unite to make their voices heard.
PASCALE CHRISTINE BAERISWYL (Switzerland) called on the parties to the conflict to renounce the pursuit of a military victory and adhere to international humanitarian and human rights law. Highlighting the violence against civilians, increase in breach of children’s rights and destruction of infrastructure, she stressed: “This is nightmarish déjá vu for the people of Sudan.” To break the cycle of violence, those responsible must be brought to justice. Urging the parties to agree on measures to facilitate safe, rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access, she welcomed that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has been allowed to enter North and South Darfur. Nevertheless, the only viable solution to the conflict is an inclusive political process, she emphasized, calling for coordinated and complementary diplomatic efforts that include women. To this end, Switzerland remains determined to work alongside the United Nations and the people of Sudan, she stated.
ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation), expressing regret about the non-participation of Sudanese representatives in today’s quarterly briefing, warned that the situation in the country remains extremely tense. Since 15 April, fighting has spread across a large section of Sudan, leading to numerous casualties and widespread destruction of infrastructure. “The country is on the brink a humanitarian catastrophe,” she said, adding that, in a number of regions, including Darfur, outbreaks of interethnic violence and serious crimes against civilians are being recorded. The total number of refugees and internally displaced persons already exceeds 5 million people. Citing as “unacceptable” foreign interference in the sovereign affairs of Sudan with the aim of imposing supposedly universal “democratizing” schemes, she underscored that it was external pressure exerted on the Sudanese leadership by well-known Western States demanding untimely and unprepared reforms that contributed to the worsening of the internal political crisis in the country. The Council should respect the sovereign decisions made by Khartoum, she emphasized, opposing illegitimate unilateral restrictions used by Western countries as a form of punishment.
DAI BING (China), spotlighting his country’s friendship and partnership with Sudan, expressed hope that the parties will resolve their differences through dialogue and negotiations. Pointing to peace initiatives — proposed by the African Union and IGAD — as well as the efforts of Egypt and Saudi Arabia to that end, he expressed support for the regional countries’ engagement in diplomacy, mediation and communication. External pressure and interference are sources of instability in the country, he stressed, also calling for humanitarian assistance to be stepped up. He reported that China has delivered to Sudan multiple shipments of life-sustaining goods and medical supplies, adding: “More are to follow.” Expressing concern about a shortfall of humanitarian funding, he urged donors to resume their assistance, while also calling for the lifting of unilateral sanctions. UNITAMS needs to maintain cooperation and coordination with the Sudanese authorities, he stressed, urging the Council to encourage the sides to “rebuild mutual trust and prevent things from getting worse”.
AMEIRAH OBAID MOHAMED OBAID ALHEFEITI (United Arab Emirates) said the international community must focus on urgently responding to the humanitarian situation in Sudan. “We look forward to the outcomes of the meeting to mobilize support and strengthen the humanitarian response to the Sudan and the region, under the leadership of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Arab Republic of Egypt, the State of Qatar, along with other regional and international partners, and which is set to be held on the side lines of the seventy-eighth session of the General Assembly,” she added. Voicing her appreciation for UNITAMS and the broader UN system in Sudan, she encouraged them to continue providing and coordinating assistance. A lasting and immediate ceasefire is essential to protect civilians and humanitarian workers and to mitigate the humanitarian crisis. She also expressed support for the regional efforts being made to end this crisis, including those by the African Union through its road map, underscoring her country’s solidarity with the Sudanese people during this difficult time.
HERNÁN PÉREZ LOOSE (Ecuador) underscored that the Council “cannot remain silent” amidst conflict-related sexual violence, indiscriminate attacks against civilians, forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, campaigns of fear, ethnic killings, burning of villages and arms trafficking. The perpetrators — including those committing crimes against humanity — must be investigated and brought to justice, and he expressed support for the International Criminal Court to act under its mandate to ensure that these atrocities are not repeated. “There can be no impunity,” he underscored. He also expressed concern over the 24 million who need humanitarian assistance, adding that the lack of access to basic services evidences a “bleak situation” and deepening conflict. Civilians must be protected, and he spotlighted Chad for hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees. Urging the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces to end the bloodshed and suffering, he also called on Sudanese authorities to facilitate humanitarian access.
SÉRGIO FRANÇA DANESE (Brazil) urged the parties to the conflict to immediately withdraw forces from civilian areas, cease hostilities and engage in good-faith negotiations. All parties must face their responsibilities to the Sudanese population and begin the complex task of building a political transition. He also called on the Council to fulfil its responsibilities and step up efforts to find a solution to the current crisis. Stressing the importance of coordinating among peace initiatives, he expressed support for the continued engagement of IGAD, the League of Arab States and Sudan’s neighbouring States to solve the conflict peacefully. Noting that women and girls continue to endure horrific sexual abuse and aggression, he urged that those responsible for violations of human rights and international humanitarian law be held accountable and brought to justice. The only pathway to a peaceful transition is a political solution to the conflict that fully respects Sudan’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, he emphasized.
YUKIYA HAMAMOTO (Japan), noting the efforts of the United Nations in Sudan, expressed his concern that both parties of the conflict continue to pursue military victory by scaling up their mobilization. He called on both parties to stop fighting, allow unhindered humanitarian access, return to a peaceful and inclusive political process, and uphold international humanitarian law and ensure the safety of civilians. Spotlighting the United Nations’ coordination of mediation efforts, he urged both parties to commit to these initiatives. Reiterating his full support to UNITAMS, he pledged to actively contribute to the upcoming discussions on how best the Mission can adapt to the changing situation.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania), Council President for September, speaking in his national capacity, expressed his appreciation to the Special Representative for his tireless efforts for peace in Sudan and for “calling a spade a spade”. The prolonged deadly conflict has brought out a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. This avoidable conflict, caused by power struggles at the top, could now turn into a full-scale civil war, he warned, stressing that there can be no military solution. Pointing out that civilians are being deprived of food and women are being raped, he drew attention to a strong appeal issued by 11 Council members before today’s meeting for the protection of civilians and accountability for gender-based violence. He went on to urge Sudan’s Government to expedite visa issuance for UN staff and humanitarian workers, emphasizing: “These people are not going for vacation, but they are rushing to go and assist the needed and save lives.” The international community can not fail the people of Sudan because their leaders have let them down. Commending regional initiatives, such as by the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, he said: “This is the only way to end the nightmare and get out of the quagmire.”