Humanitarian Calamity, Human Rights Crisis Looming Large in Sudan as Fighting Intensifies, Security Council Warned
‘High Time’ for Warring Sides to Dialogue and De-escalate, Briefer Says
Sudan is facing a humanitarian and human rights disaster as warring sides intensify fighting in the country, and there is a need for a sustained international commitment to resolving the crisis, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council today.
Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa, Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, said that “Sudan is facing a convergence of a worsening humanitarian calamity and a catastrophic human rights crisis,” with more than 2,000 civilians killed since fighting erupted in April between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces.
“It is high time that the warring sides recognize the futility of continued fighting and prioritize dialogue and de-escalation,” she said. “It is also important that the situation in Sudan does not fall off the international radar, but rather, that the international community renews its commitment to revitalise collective and coordinated peace efforts under the leadership of the region.
Sudan now is the world’s largest displacement crisis, with 7.1 million people forced from their homes. The health situation is extremely worrying, while 4.1 million people have received life-saving assistance since April. Sexual and gender-based violence continue, with the Rapid Support Forces accused of sexual violence and the Sudanese Armed Forces personnel implicated in rape and sexual harassment.
People fleeing to Chad from West Darfur have reported a new surge of ethnically driven violence directed towards the Masalit community, she continued. Credible reports say Arab militias affiliated with the Rapid Support Forces committed serious human rights abuses between 4 and 6 November, particularly in El Geneina. The United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in the Sudan (UNITAMS) is working to verify both this and reports that a Masalit militia targeted violence against the Arab community in El Geneina, “risking cyclical bouts of violence.”
She welcomed the resumption of talks between the warring parties in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in October, but despite their declared readiness to negotiate a ceasefire, actions on the ground suggest otherwise. Turning to the role of UNITAMS amid dramatically changed circumstances, she requested that the Security Council provide the Secretary-General’s strategic review of the Mission with sufficient time to ensure that it is as thorough as possible and reflects a wide range of views.
The Council today had before it the Secretary-General’s latest report titled “Situation in the Sudan and the activities of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in the Sudan” (document S/2023/861). UNITAMS’ current mandate expires on 3 December.
The United Kingdom’s delegate, during the ensuing debate, said that the conflict requires urgent diplomatic action. The resumption of Jeddah talks and the establishment of the Sudan Humanitarian Forum is encouraging, but the warring parties must act on their commitment to improve humanitarian access. They must also recognize that a transfer of power to a civilian administration in Sudan is the only way forward, he said, urging them to work constructively towards meaningful peace talks.
The United Arab Emirates’ representative said that a successful outcome to the Jeddah talks will require strong regional and international backing. She also emphasized the need for international solidarity, given the funding shortfalls, and called for the coordination of mediation efforts by Egypt, the African Union and League of Arab States.
The United States’ representative described Sudan as a living hell in which rape is rampant and many women and girls abducted, chained and held against their will in Rapid Support Forces-controlled areas in Darfur. This is a stain on humanity and the perpetrators must be held to account. All Member States should provide more humanitarian funding, she said, adding that in the wake of the Jeddah talks, the world is closely watching to see if the warring parties uphold their commitments.
Ghana’s delegate, speaking also on behalf of Gabon and Mozambique, calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, welcomed the efforts of the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to help end the violence. There can be no military solution to the crisis in Sudan, he said, also welcoming the African Union’s commitment to establish a Sudanese-owned and Sudanese-led civil and political dialogue. He also emphasized the need for an accelerated humanitarian response and proper management of the flow of refugees and displaced people, and of the circulation of weapons, to limit any regional destabilization.
Sudan’s representative, taking the floor at the end of the meeting, said that since 18 April, his country’s Government has been cooperating with all regional and international forces to bring an end to the war and the suffering of the Sudanese people. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court must take note of the crimes of the Rapid Support Forces, he said, adding that the militias are continuing with the forced expulsion of citizens, ethnic cleansing and other international crimes, despite the commitments they made during the Jeddah talks. On humanitarian assistance, he said that the Government is cooperating with the United Nations, especially to assist vulnerable groups such as women. He went on to say that a strategic review of UNITAMS is essential, as the Mission’s functioning is not commensurate with expectations.
REPORTS OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL ON THE SUDAN AND SOUTH SUDAN
MARTHA AMA AKYAA POBEE, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa, Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, said the conflict in Sudan has been raging for more than seven months with no sign of de-escalation. “On the contrary hostilities have intensified in recent weeks”. Both warring parties have declared a readiness to negotiate a ceasefire but actions on the ground suggest otherwise. In Darfur, the Rapid Support Forces have made significant gains in recent weeks and now appears poised to advance on El Fasher in North Darfur, where an attack could result in a high number of fatalities due to the large number of internally displaced people there. People fleeing to Chad from West Darfur have meanwhile reported a new surge of ethnically driven violence directed towards the Masalit community, she continued. Credible reports say Arab militias affiliated with the Rapid Support Forces committed serious human rights abuses between 4 and 6 November, particularly in El Geneina. The United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in the Sudan (UNITAMS) is working to verify both this and reports that a Masalit militia targeted violence against the Arab community in El Geneina. Deadly clashes have meanwhile continued in Khartoum, Omdurman and Bahri. Tensions between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) faction persist in South Kordofan, she added, while hostilities have also spilled over to new areas, such as Gezira, White Nile and West Kordofan states.
“Sudan is facing a convergence of a worsening humanitarian calamity and a catastrophic human rights crisis,” she continued, with more than 2,000 civilians killed since April. Sudan is now the world’s largest displacement crisis, with 7.1 million people displaced. The health situation is extremely worrying, she added. Some 4.1 million people have received life-saving assistance since April, but this is only 22 per cent of the people that humanitarian organisations aimed to access in 2023. Sexual and gender-based violence continues, with accusations of sexual violence by Rapid Support Forces personnel, and rape and sexual harassment implicating the Sudanese Armed Forces.
She welcomed the resumption of talks in Jeddah in October, adding that coordinated regional and international leverage will be essential to strengthen the talks and the likelihood of further progress. Hopefully, the Sudan Humanitarian Forum launched on 13 November will facilitate the implementation of humanitarian commitments made in Jeddah. She regretted that no ceasefire was agreed in the latest Jeddah talks. There can be no durable solution without engagement with civilians in a political process, she said, welcoming initiatives by civilian actors to coalesce around a peace programme, including a meeting in Addis Ababa in October. Moreover, no political process will succeed if women are not adequately present at the table. A joined-up mediation approach will be essential to increase pressure on parties and harmonise ceasefire and civilian tracks. Diplomatic efforts should include regional States that can put tangible leverage on parties to end the war.
Turning to the role of UNITAMS amid dramatically changed circumstances, she requested that the Security Council provide the Secretary-General’s strategic review of the Mission — led by Ian Martin — with sufficient time to ensure that it is as thorough as possible and reflects a wide range of views. She concluded: “It is high time that the warring sides recognize the futility of continued fighting and prioritize dialogue and de-escalation. It is also important that the situation in Sudan does not fall off the international radar, but rather, that the international community renews its commitment to revitalise collective and coordinated peace efforts under the leadership of the region.”
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) said that the conflict in Sudan requires urgent diplomatic action. The resumption of Jeddah talks and the subsequent establishment of the Sudan Humanitarian Forum is encouraging and both warring parties must act on their commitment to improve humanitarian access through concrete actions. The meeting in Addis Ababa of Sudanese civilian stakeholders is an important step towards establishment of a representative pro-democracy civilian front and that process must be made even more inclusive, he added. The warring parties must recognize that a transfer of power to a civilian administration is the only way forward, he said, urging them to work constructively towards meaningful peace talks. Further coordinated action under African leadership, along with other international partners, remains vital. “Irrespective of developments over the coming months, there is a clear need for a continued UN role in Sudan, working in concert with the African Union and IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development],” he said, adding that his delegation looks forward to the Secretary-General's recommendations following the strategic review of UNITAMS.
HERNÁN PÉREZ LOOSE (Ecuador) condemned armed violence and clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces and Rapid Support Forces, saying that these have claimed the lives of thousands of people and left a devastating panorama in their wake. Five million have been displaced, he said, adding that the fighting has also led to the outbreak of numerous diseases which were previously under control. Also expressing concern about the heartbreaking reports of gender-based violence and enslavement of women and girls, he reiterated support for the investigative work of the International Criminal Court, adding that the recently adopted Human Rights Council resolution will enable the compiling of evidence in that regard. Noting that 25 million people — over half the Sudanese population — need humanitarian assistance, he welcomed the efforts of Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs as well as the exemplary role of civil society, particularly women and young people. The United Nations must continue to support such efforts, he said, adding that international, regional and multilateral partners must join forces in a single and concerted peace process.
TAKAYUKI IRIYA (Japan) said that the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces must stop fighting immediately, allow unhindered humanitarian access, return to a peaceful and inclusive political process and uphold international humanitarian law, including by ensuring the safety of civilians. “We are seriously concerned by warnings of the potential for the expansion of current clashes into a full-blown civil war.” Japan is deeply disturbed by the dire humanitarian situation in Sudan, he added, stating that reports of ethnically motivated attacks and sexual and gender-based violence are alarming. He also expressed concern about the outbreak of infectious diseases, given the dysfunctional health-care system and lack of humanitarian access. He welcomed the resumption of the Jeddah talks, saying the parties must ensure safe, sustained and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in need. He also called on the Security Council to work more closely with international and regional actors for coherent efforts for a ceasefire.
PASCALE CHRISTINE BAERISWYL (Switzerland), stressing the importance of protecting civilians, called on the Sudanese Armed Forces and Rapid Support Forces to seize every opportunity to commit to a ceasefire. Confidence-building measures adopted in Jeddah are a step in this direction, she said, expressing concern about the alarming reports of ethnic massacres committed by the Rapid Support Forces and allied militias, mainly against the Masalit community. Underscoring the importance of improving the humanitarian situation, she said that the parties must keep the promises made in Jeddah. She also thanked countries in the region for welcoming people fleeing the conflict. Turning to efforts to find a negotiated and lasting solution to the conflict, she said that no military solution will be accepted by the Sudanese people. Reiterating the call for a return to a credible and inclusive political process, she welcomed the efforts being made by civilian actors to bring together diverse voices against the war.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana), speaking also on behalf of Gabon and Mozambique, expressed deep concern at the persistent fighting between the Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese Armed Forces. He condemned once again in the strongest terms the ongoing violence against civilians, including sexual violence and violence against children. He welcomed that, since the start of the crisis, regional bodies, such as the African Union and IGAD, have strongly mobilized their capacities to help end the violence in Sudan, and reiterated their call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. There can be no military solution to the crisis in Sudan, he said, urging both parties to engage in dialogue and negotiations to find a lasting solution to the conflict. He also welcomed the African Union’s commitment to establish a credible Sudanese-owned and Sudanese-led civil and political dialogue, as well as the preparatory meeting of Sudanese civil and political actors which took place in Addis Ababa on 23 to 26 October under the aegis of the African Union and IGAD.
He voiced concern, however, about the multiplicity of initiatives as they could weaken mediation efforts and have so far failed to put an end to the clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces and Rapid Support Forces. The role of regional and subregional organizations in resolving this crisis is crucial and inclusive mediation action must be concerted and coordinated to achieve lasting peace, he added. Pointing to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the conflict, he emphasized the need for an accelerated humanitarian response as well as the proper management of the flow of refugees and displaced people, and of the circulation of weapons, to limit any destabilizing impact on other countries of the region. The humanitarian and security response requires a coordinated approach, particularly at the borders of refugee-hosting countries. He appealed once again to donors and the international community to mobilize funds for the Humanitarian Response Plan. “The demand for a lasting ceasefire must remain a priority and should continue to be at the centre of all discussions,” he said.
GHASAQ YOUSIF ABDALLA SHAHEEN (United Arab Emirates), calling on all parties to commit to an immediate ceasefire, said that is essential to ensure humanitarian assistance reaches those in need. A successful outcome to the talks in Jeddah will require strong regional and international backing, she said, highlighting the crucial role of the African Union and IGAD as co-facilitators. Reports of looting of humanitarian supplies speaks to the dire situation in which the Sudanese people find themselves, she added, calling for protection of humanitarian workers. Commending the efforts of civilian groups to actively aid the delivery of humanitarian assistance across the country, she emphasized the need for international solidarity, given the funding shortfalls. The United Arab Emirates has provided $100 million worth of aid, including 8,800 tons of food and relief items. Given the regional nature of the crisis, regional leadership is crucial. Welcoming initiatives by Egypt, the African Union and League of Arab States, she called for coordination between these mediation efforts.
ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation), warning that Sudan is facing a humanitarian catastrophe, urged the warring parties to bring about a ceasefire. It does not bode well that mediation initiatives have failed to bear significant fruit, especially as the region is in a vulnerable situation. It is unacceptable for mediation initiatives to lead to a worsening of disputes and a lack of trust, but this has been seen in several cases — suggesting that external players are acting for their own reasons and not for the Sudanese people. The Sudanese should not have any mediators with colonial mindsets, who supposedly know best, she said, adding that the top priority is to restore stability and to draw lessons from unsuccessful previous attempts to find a solution.
ANDRIS STASTOLI (Albania) said that the situation in Sudan calls for an urgent humanitarian response, as violence is causing a rapid and massive displacement. He welcomed the resumption of the Jeddah talks and voiced hope for a rapid and unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid and an immediate ceasefire. He commended all international and regional diplomatic initiatives, including those led by the African Union, IGAD and the League of Arab States, aiming to build towards a permanent cessation of hostilities through inclusive political talks. He expressed regret about the decision of the signatories of the Juba Peace Agreement to end their neutrality. Voicing concern about the ethnic-based violence and widespread atrocities against civilians, he once again called on parties to the conflict to safeguard civilians, particularly women and children. He commended UNITAMS for its dedicated efforts despite significant challenges and welcomed the strategic review initiated by the Secretary-General.
NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France), emphasizing that there is no military solution to this crisis, said that the past seven months of fighting have only exacerbated the humanitarian situation and undermined the unity of the region. Expressing regret that the parties were unable to bring about a ceasefire, she said that they must implement the commitments made regarding protection of civilians and return to the negotiating table quickly. The reports of the atrocities committed against people in Darfur on the basis of ethnicity might constitute crimes against humanity, she said, welcoming the efforts of UNITAMS and the International Criminal Court to investigate these cases. She called on regional countries to maintain their neutrality and welcomed the Secretary-General’s announcement of a review of UNITAMS. She went on to note the humanitarian assistance provided by France and the European Union and commended all civil society initiatives.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) said that today, Sudan has turned into a living hell. The warring parties have engaged in “a brutal struggle for power with total disregard for the lives of the Sudanese people”. She called for an end to attacks in and around El Fasher and for the parties to abide by international humanitarian law. Rape has been rampant, with many women and girls abducted, chained and held against their will in Rapid Support Forces-controlled areas in Darfur. This is a stain on humanity and the perpetrators must be held to account. All Member States should provide more funding to address the crisis, she said, emphasizing that the world is closely watching the parties’ next steps after the Jeddah talks to see if they uphold their commitments. There is no military solution to this conflict and the immediate focus must be on protecting civilians, providing humanitarian assistance and negotiating an end to the conflict, she said.
NORBERTO MORETTI (Brazil) said that the agreement reached at the Jeddah talks in encouraging. The warring parties’ commitment to improving humanitarian access and implementing confidence-building measures are crucial first steps that will help ease the suffering of the Sudanese people. “But they are far from enough,” he said, calling for an urgent ceasefire and for inclusive peace talks. The expansion of the conflict to new areas and the recent military escalation in Darfur have had an enormous impact on civilians, he added, expressing alarm and concern at heightened intercommunal tensions, the high incidence of conflict-related sexual violence and continued attacks on civilians, including along ethnic lines. The voices of Sudanese women are crucial to ending the conflict and paving the way for a peaceful political transition, he said, emphasizing the need for inclusive peace initiatives.
FRANCESCA MARIA GATT (Malta) strongly condemned the ongoing violence in Sudan and called on both parties to immediately cease hostilities. She also voiced concern over Sudan’s integrity, particularly the increasing risks of a territorial fragmentation along military and tribal lines. She also expressed deep concern over appalling reports of captured women being subjected to sexual slavery and exploitation in Darfur, as well as the stark increase in grave violations against children, particularly killing and maiming, sexual violence and children being used as combatants. With almost half of the population requiring humanitarian assistance, she noted that the European Union has pledged €500 million to the Humanitarian Response Plan and €256.4 million for humanitarian and development assistance. UNITAMS has facilitated and empowered the voice of Sudanese civilian groups in the political process, especially women’s rights groups and youth, she noted.
DAI BING (China), Council President for November, speaking in his national capacity, noted that the two parties to the conflict have returned to negotiations in Jeddah and welcomed their reaffirmation to their humanitarian commitments. He voiced support for the participation of the African Union and IGAD in the mediation process and welcomed the efforts of regional countries, including Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Egypt and Chad. Noting the worsening humanitarian situation and the shortage in humanitarian funding, he urged the international community, especially traditional donors, to maintain their assistance to prevent the crisis from worsening. Hopefully, the proposed independent strategic review of UNITAMS will seek and take on board the views of the Sudanese authorities and regional organizations. The independent review should be conducive to cooperation between the United Nations and Sudan, while avoiding imposing solutions from the outside, he added.
AL-HARITH IDRISS AL-HARITH MOHAMED (Sudan) said that since 18 April, his country’s Government has been cooperating with all regional and international forces to bring an end to the war and the suffering of the Sudanese people. Its efforts are fully supported by all components of Sudanese society. The people of Sudan have rejected the Rapid Support Forces because they have seen the systematic crimes it carried out in Khartoum and Darfur. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court must take note of these crimes, he said, adding that the militias are continuing with the forced expulsion of citizens, ethnic cleansing and other international crimes, in spite of the commitments they made during the Jeddah talks to protect civilians and provide humanitarian assistance. Highlighting the expulsions of Masalits, he said that the killers targeted local leaders and their families and tortured residents as part of a strategy to empty their governorate of its inhabitants and establish non-Sudanese elements therein.
He drew attention to arbitrary shootings in residential areas, the looting and destruction of infrastructure and the many instances of sexual violence and slavery. Welcoming the work of the Human Rights Council and other partners, he said the international community must hold the perpetrators accountable. On humanitarian assistance, he said that the Government is cooperating with the United Nations, especially to assist vulnerable groups such as women. Further, Sudan has committed to completing customs clearance processes within a week and will issue multiple-entry visas to representatives of humanitarian organizations. Also noting efforts to facilitate the entry of humanitarian assistance trucks and ensure their security, he called for financing to support such efforts. He went on to say that a strategic review of UNITAMS is essential, as the Mission’s functioning is not commensurate with expectations.