Sudan

Amid Sudan’s Transition Process, Intercommunal Conflict, Violence against Women, Presenting Threat to Nation’s Stability, Mission Head Tells Security Council

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Despite progress Sudan has made towards peaceful transition, delays in establishing key representative bodies, continued intercommunal conflict and unanswered violence against women and girls threaten the country’s stability and civilian population during its transition process, the Head of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in the Sudan (UNITAMS) told the Security Council during a videoconference meeting today.

Volker Perthes, Special Representative to the Secretary-General for Sudan and Head of UNITAMS, presented the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in the country and the Mission’s activities (document S/2021/470) and detailed his recent return from an international conference on Sudan in Paris. He said that this event “clearly demonstrated continued international support for Sudan’s return to the international community” and a vision for a new Sudan replete with freedom, justice and economic opportunity. Recalling his recent meeting with Abdelaziz al-Hilu — Chairperson of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army — the Government of Sudan and the South Sudanese mediation team to discuss preparations for the upcoming peace talks, he said that UNITAMS will act as a facilitator thereof and will work to ensure the meaningful participation of women in that process. He added that the Government’s continued efforts to advance the political transition have taken important steps, such as the adoption of legislation establishing the Peace Commission, the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Transitional Justice Commission.

“There are also delays,” he said, most important of which is that the formation of an inclusive, representative Transitional Legislative Council comprised of at least 40 per cent women has yet to be realized. Two killings during the recent commemoration of the violent suppression of anti-regime protests in 2019 underscore growing frustration with unfulfilled expectations for political transition and the quest for justice and accountability. Further, critical aspects of the Juba Peace Agreement also remain unimplemented, notably security arrangements and the establishment of ceasefire and security committees. He stressed that delays in establishing a joint protection force, along with the absence of integrated, united security forces, directly affect stability and the protection of civilians in Sudan.

Turning to recent intercommunal clashes in Darfur that left 144 dead, 232 injured and an estimated 65,000 newly displaced, he said the Government response was to implement eight critical measures to enhance security, including the establishment and deployment of joint security forces, operationalizing transitional security arrangements and related ceasefire committees, weapons management and humanitarian relief. While armed movements have named representatives to the ceasefire committees and identified personnel for joint security forces, deployments have yet to commence. He said that, without the rapid establishment of such forces and the implementation of Sudan’s National Plan for Civilian Protection, incidents similar to the recent violence in El Geneina may occur.

He stated that, for its part, UNITAMS is ready to assist with Government implementation of security-sector reforms, and the Mission’s support for the National Plan for Civilian Protection focuses on prevention, physical protection and creating an enabling protective environment, including strengthening the judiciary. UNITAMS has deployed three teams to Darfur to support the Sudanese police in community policing, investigation and addressing gender-based violence. On the latter point, he expressed concern over continued reports of human rights violations against women and girls — including social media campaigns instigating violence — and agreed with women’s rights activists that such crimes should be as unacceptable now as they were during the revolution. He said that UNITAMS will continue to support women’s rights groups and the Government to create an enabling environment for females to live free of fear and to exercise their full rights.

Noting the progress made by the United Nations in developing benchmarks and indicators for UNITAMS, he said the same will measure the Mission’s progress against the strategic priorities that define its mandate. Thanking the Government for its work to complete discussion of the mission agreement — now ready to be signed — he detailed his plans for continued outreach with diverse stakeholders across Sudan to address scepticism encountered along the political and societal spectrum and to build confidence that “UNITAMS works for all of Sudan”.

Following the briefing, many Council members echoed the Special Representative’s appraisal of a situation in Sudan characterized by both progress and delay. While welcoming the Transitional Government’s economic reforms and security commitments, many condemned recent violence against protestors in Khartoum and intercommunal clashes in Darfur. Stressing the need for accountability — particularly for crimes against women and girls — members also called for the rapid establishment of pending transitional bodies, particularly the Transitional Legislative Council. Others called for more international support for Sudan during its transition process, suggesting increased debt relief and welcoming the evaluative value of establishing benchmarks for the Mission’s work.

The representative of Sudan outlined his Government’s tireless efforts to advance the transition process, including meeting its commitment to end the fighting, eliminating structural distortions in the economy and returning to its role as an active member of the global community. Describing the scope of the Juba Peace Agreement as comprehensive, he said it addresses the causes of conflict not only in Darfur but across the country. The Government will continue to work to compel all armed groups to join the peace process, he said, expressing his hope that the movement led by Abdul Wahid al Nur will be among them. The Government is also committed to defusing all active intercommunal conflicts and establishing a criminal justice system that allows for reconciliation and reparations for victims. Among other institutions being developed, he cited the Legislative Transitional Council — which will supervise the work of the Government’s other main bodies — and outlined a series of newly approved draft laws that are awaiting approval.

Turning to protection of civilians and the rule of law, he reiterated the Government’s commitment to implementing its human rights framework, pointing out that it recently acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and approved the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. A representative of the International Criminal Court recently visited Sudan, charting a course towards strengthening the country’s relationships with the Court. Vowing to work with UNITAMS and other partners to protect civilians and ensure they can live in safety and dignity, he also pledged to advance efforts to create an environment conducive to foreign investment and economic growth. He thanked France for hosting the recent support conference, as well as all countries that participated, calling for additional efforts to help ease Sudan’s debt burden. The Government stands committed to cooperating fully with UNITAMS in line with resolution 2524 (2020) and, to that end, it has approved and will soon sign the status of mission agreement.

The representative of the United Kingdom commended the continued progress made by Prime Minister Hamdok of Sudan and his Government towards delivering all aspects of the country’s transition. Progress on difficult economic reforms is particularly notable, with Sudan having recently passed its second International Monetary Fund (IMF) review — another step on track to reaching the first milestone of the Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative. Pledging to support those efforts, he also praised plans to bring additional armed groups into the peace process and cited progress made by the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) closing its doors in a challenging context. Noting that many challenges remain, he voiced concern about the use of violence against protesters in Khartoum on 11 May. “This incident is a reminder that accountability for crimes committed before, and during, the revolution must be delivered if Sudan’s transition is to succeed,” he said, also echoing the Secretary-General’s concerns about increasing intercommunal violence and calling for efforts to prioritize the protection of civilians. He urged the Government to finalize the status of mission agreement and advocated for UNAMID’s extension, underpinned by a “whole-of-United-Nations” approach to achieving its strategic objectives.

The representative of the Russian Federation pointed out that the complex political situation in Sudan has been negatively impacted by events in Libya, the spread of COVID-19 and an influx of refugees and internally displaced persons from neighbouring African countries. More than 9 million Sudanese require humanitarian assistance, and more than 7 million are short of food. She said that UNITAMS will help build Khartoum’s capacity for peacebuilding and socioeconomic transformation, in addition to fostering peace and the rule of law. Noting that the signing of the Juba Peace Agreement was an important step towards lasting stability, she urged all armed groups to join this accord. Turning to Darfur, she said that the situation therein is gradually becoming peaceful, and that isolated intercommunal skirmishes do not change the overall picture. She also highlighted the upcoming renewal of the mandate of UNITAMS, calling for Khartoum to provide comments on desired goals for the Mission as it falls on Sudanese authorities to determine where the international community’s efforts should be prioritized.

The representative of Mexico said that the Juba Peace Agreement provides the foundation on which sustainable peace and inclusive development will be built. For this agreement to be fully effective, however, it must be endorsed by all armed groups, and Mexico will follow upcoming negotiations closely in this regard. Noting reports of violence against women in both public and private life, she called for the establishment of legal reform and a gender-equality commission within the Government. She also stressed that there must be no gaps in the protection of civilians in Sudan — pointing out the conflict’s alarming impact on children, particularly in Darfur — and called on the Sudanese authorities to ensure compliance with the national plan for civilian protection and accountability for those responsible for crimes against the populace. Turning to UNITAMS, she said Mexico will follow closely the establishment of benchmarks and goals for the Mission, which will allow for evaluation of the same’s work going forward.

The representative of Viet Nam said it is imperative to advance Sudan’s transition in line with the Juba Peace Agreement. Commending the progress achieved so far, he called on remaining armed groups in Darfur to join the peace talks as soon as possible. Synergy between the United Nations, UNITAMS, the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), as well as neighbouring countries and other international partners in supporting the peace process, also remains crucial. Reiterating his strong support for the active participation of women and youth in all stages of the transitional period and beyond, he called on Khartoum to continue strengthening its primary responsibility to protect civilians, noting its efforts to address the violence in western Darfur in April and calling on it to prevent such incidents in the future. In that vein, he described the full implementation of the National Plan for Civilian Protection as critical and underlined the need for more comprehensive, sustainable solutions to tackle the root causes of intercommunal violence in Darfur.

The representative of the United States expressed concern about the killing of two protestors on 11 May in Khartoum, which he said underline the need for further reform and further restrictions on the use of deadly force. The United States strongly supports the draft UNITAMS mandate, especially the notion of prioritizing key tasks, and remains concerned over the Transitional Government’s efforts and ability to carry out its most important task — namely, the protection of its own people. “We cannot let continued violence destroy the Juba Peace Agreement’s prospects for stability,” he stressed, calling for an expanded police presence and capacity; an extension of reconciliation efforts; and more efforts to deliver on the Peace Agreements’ sections on land reform, justice and other key areas. Commending the mediation efforts progressing under the auspices of South Sudan, he urged the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (al-Hilu) to join the peace agreement and expressed concern over the Abdul Wahid Al-Nur movement’s continued refusal to join or engage, despite the Special Representative’s many efforts. He also voiced concern over challenges in handing over United Nations team sites, warning that a lack of a smooth turnover can severely damage the appearance of commitment by local leaders or allow the sites to fall into the wrong hands.

The representative of Estonia joined others in welcoming the continued progress in Sudan’s historic transition, despite facing multiple challenges. “For the transition to stay on course … the importance of institution-building cannot be overemphasized,” he said, urging the transitional authorities to expedite the formation of the Transitional Legislative Council, with 40 per cent representation of women. He also called for the establishment of a Human Rights Commission, a Transitional Justice Commission and an Anti-Corruption Commission, while voicing concern over the level of violence still being perpetrated against women and girls. He commended steps taken by the Transitional Government to put the country on the path towards socioeconomic recovery, as well as the Paris Conference, and expressed his hope that Sudan can reach the Highly Indebted Poor Country decision point soon. Turning to the ongoing intercommunal violence in Darfur, he called for redoubled efforts to ensure the safety of civilians and hold perpetrators to account. “We know that Darfuri people had fears about the departure of UNAMID, and we cannot stand by as these fears seem to materialize,” he stressed, praising UNITAMS’ benchmarks and indicators as tools to prioritize tangible progress over the next year.

The representative of Kenya, also speaking on behalf of Niger, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, commended Sudan’s Transitional Government for its progress in the implementation of the political, governance, economic, legal and structural reforms outlined in the Constitutional Declaration and the Juba Peace Agreement. Entrenching the peace process in all parts of the country is crucial to its sustainability, he said, urging the parties to remain committed to the Peace Agreement’s terms and expedite its implementation. Welcoming the recent Declaration of Principles by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North Al-Hilu group and the signing of the Peace Agreement by the Sudan Liberation Movement faction led by Mostafa Tambour, he joined other speakers in appealing to the remaining armed groups to promptly and unconditionally join the peace process.

He voiced concern over the recurrent violent intercommunal clashes in Darfur, calling for the prompt implementation of the National Plan for Civilian Protection, as well as the promotion of dialogue and reconciliation among the different ethnic communities. “We note that Sudan has already demonstrated notable success in its journey to peace and stability, and that this is a matter of internal focus and competence,” he said. Calling for an acceleration of reforms — including the formation of remaining transitional institutions — he said special consideration should be given to creating opportunities for women and youth who were the pillars of the 2019 revolution. Reviving the deteriorating economy and addressing the humanitarian situation will also be crucial, he said, noting the effects of climate change and COVID-19. The support conference hosted by France was a good step, but more consistent international support is needed, and countries must honour their commitments. “We have a responsibility to help Sudan consolidate its democratic transition, rebuild its economy and deliver sustainable peace and development for all its diverse society,” he said.

The representative of Ireland, noting the rich diversity of Sudanese society, encouraged the Government to be as inclusive as possible during the transition, listening to the views of women, young people, civil society and internally displaced persons to ensure their priorities are appropriately understood and integrated. Further, successful transition hinges on the meaningful, safe participation of women throughout society, and the 40 per cent quota for female representation in the Transitional Legislative Council should be considered a baseline rather than a ceiling. Noting that the killing and maiming of children in Darfur continues with impunity, he supported the role of UNITAMS in ensuring that child-protection concerns are central to the ongoing peace process and stated that the rights and needs of children should be considered during all phases of conflict. He also highlighted tensions in the wider region, urging a peaceful resolution of the border dispute between Sudan and Ethiopia. Turning to the upcoming renewal of the UNITAMS mandate, he welcomed new benchmarks for the Mission, which will facilitate measuring progress made on strategic objectives.

The representative of Norway said that the success of the transition process in Sudan can — and should — be measured by two criteria: how well the Transitional Government manages diversity based on the principle of equal rights, and how the people as a whole benefit from economic development. She called for the Transitional Legislative Council to be formed immediately, for the Sovereignty Council to prepare for the transition to a civilian chairperson and for security-sector reform. Assisting these processes is at the core of the UNITAMS mandate. Expressing concern over the security situation in Darfur — particularly sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls — she welcomed the Transitional Government’s announcement of eight measures to address violence in West Darfur. Several such measures are derived from the Juba Peace Agreement, which gives the United Nations — represented by UNITAMS — specific, critical roles. She said that operationalizing and clarifying these roles is a key task for UNITAMS going forward and is important for the implementation of the Peace Agreement, particularly in the context of ceasefire-monitoring.

The representative of France, highlighting the importance of democratic transition in Sudan, said that the conference held recently in Paris shows the Sudanese authorities’ commitment to the momentum for change started by the December 2018 revolution and the international community’s commitment to helping Sudan achieve such transition. To this end, she called on all bilateral creditors to equitably relieve Sudan’s debt burden; for its part, France commits to cancelling a debt of $5 billion. She also welcomed the planned dialogue between the Sudanese authorities and the International Criminal Court to ensure accountability for crimes committed in Darfur, expressing concern that the return of intercommunal violence demonstrates the fragility of the security situation therein. To address this, she called on the Government to step up implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement and immediately deploy the protection force contemplated by the same. She added support for the rapid operationalization of UNITAMS to assist with transition and capacity-building, calling on Sudan to finalize the mission agreement as soon as possible.

The representative of India welcomed recent economic reforms by the Sudanese authorities, including the launch of a cash-transfer programme to shield the most vulnerable from the impact of subsidy removal. Noting the improved investment climate in Sudan, he said real opportunities are emerging in infrastructure, mining, regional connectivity, agriculture, food industries and energy. Turning to the security front, he pointed out that the Transitional Government has swiftly addressed continuing intercommunal clashes in Darfur, but encouraged the same to take measures to ensure the safety and security of United Nations personnel and premises in light of recent targeting thereof. He also supported the rapid operationalization of UNITAMS, which should remain committed to working closely with partners like the African Union and transitional authorities. Recalling India’s historical ties with Sudan, he detailed Indian projects in Sudan’s energy, transport and agricultural sectors along with the capacity-building and humanitarian assistance provided by his country.

The representative of China, Council President for May, spoke in his national capacity, welcoming the progress being made in Sudan and calling for the global community’s continued, targeted support. Outlining important recent developments, he encouraged the various parties to press ahead with setting up Sudan’s Transitional Parliament, as well as planning for elections. Since the start of UNAMID’s withdrawal, intercommunal conflicts have been flaring in Darfur. The international community should step up its support for the Government’s capacity to respond, while carefully studying the impact of the ongoing arms embargo on its ability to do so. Citing severe economic challenges, he said tens of millions of Sudanese people need humanitarian assistance, which requires stepped-up support from international partners. China participated in the Paris Conference and has already reduced or cancelled parts of Sudan’s debt on a bilateral level, he said, expressing his hope that other countries will do the same. Concluding, he emphasized the need for a smooth and orderly UNAMID withdrawal, and — while welcoming the Secretary-General’s benchmarks and indicators — voiced his hope that while implementing them the Mission will give due priority to the needs and wishes of the host country.

For information media. Not an official record.