The political landscape in Sudan changed dramatically in 2019, thanks to the Sudanese men, women and young people who rose up in massive numbers to demand change. Their movement culminated in an agreement signed on 17 August 2019 to establish a civilian-led transitional government and the launch of a transitional process that provides a unique opportunity to achieve sustainable peace, democracy and prosperity throughout the country.
The United Nations has supported Sudan’s transition in many ways, including through its long-established Country Team and the good-offices work of the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Sudan. On 3 June 2020, the Security Council established a new presence, the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS). German diplomat Volker Perthes was appointed in January this year as UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Sudan to lead the new special political mission in the country. We spoke to Special Representative Perthes after his arrival in Khartoum earlier this month.
You recently arrived in Khartoum to lead the newest UN Special Political Mission. What do you see as your first task or area of focus?
Aside from building up the mission, which only has its initial operative capacity as of now, it is hard to define one priority within our mandate of Security Council resolution 2524. I would say, primarily, we have to encourage and support the Sudanese stakeholders to stay on course in their path towards peace, political transition, and economic development.
We also have to manage expectations. The UNITAMS SRSG can certainly help connecting Sudanese stakeholders with international players that want to support the economic development of Sudan. But in the end, what the international community will do will depend on the progress on the other paths here in the country.
When it comes to peace processes, UNITAMS and the UN family are prepared to support the Sudanese transitional authorities and the peace partners in operationalizing and implementing the Juba Peace Agreement (JPA). We are also offering our good offices with the remaining tracks in the peace process, with the parties that have not signed the agreement yet. Together with the UN country team, we can do a lot to support Sudan in building sustainable peace on the basis of the agreements that have been concluded.
We will of course look to support the meaningful participation of Sudanese women in shaping the course of their country, as they have so clearly done during the protest movement that led to the transition. It is encouraging that the Prime Minister and the transitional government have so vocally committed themselves to gender equality and the empowerment of women.
With the departure of the United Nations–African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), and in light of the recent violence in that region, there has been a lot of concern regarding the question of protection of civilians. How does the UN intend to support the government in discharging the responsibility to provide security and protection to its population?
The main message is that the Government of Sudan and all other stakeholders, including the partners to the peace process, have committed to the protection of civilians. The Government has issued a national plan in this regard. There is Sudanese and international consensus that there should be no more presence of international forces in the country. UNAMID has been withdrawn, UNITAMS is here with no mandate for physical protection. That doesn’t mean we can’t help, and we are well aware of the protection concerns of civilians that remain urgent, particularly of women and children. We have a mandate to advise, strengthen capacity, advocate and support protection by the Sudanese stakeholders, which we take very seriously. We will be working very closely with our UN Country Team (UNCT) colleagues on this.
What kind of support does the Mission need from the Security Council/the international community to implement its mandate successfully?
Three things: unity, respect for Sudan and its difficult path forward, and economic support. Let me explain…
Unity in supporting UNITAMS and the tasks of an integrated mission. Security Council resolution 2524 – our mandate – has been agreed unanimously. We will continue to need this international consensus. Any division in the Security Council on our mission or the support we can lend to Sudan would have a negative impact on Sudan.
Second, respect. This country has made enormous steps forward: from the revolution, over the very difficult arrangements to share power among all stakeholders in the transitional institutions that have been working together since 2019, to the integration of the peace partners, i.e. the armed groups that signed the Juba Peace Agreement, into these institutions. Consensus-building sometimes makes political and economic processes move at a lesser speed than many international friends of Sudan would expect. The international community needs to realize the scope of the economic and political challenges which this country faces – and to respect the enormous effort Sudanese stakeholders are making not only to deal with these challenges, but also to agreeing among themselves on how to do so.
The third point is economic support: helping Sudan to gather international economic and development support is a core strategic objective for UNITAMS. Sudan needs these resources to stabilize and build peace. If we want the JPA to be implemented and peace to be sustainable, if we want non-signatories to join the peace process, if we want the civil society to buy into the peace process and the new political setup, we need economic recovery and development. It is as simple as that.
My hope is that the international community will not let Sudan down because of each member state’s own financial concerns. We all know the implications of the COVID-19 crisis, but I would say, particularly to the northern countries: we do have a COVID problem here in Sudan as well, but we have it on top of all other problems and challenges.
At the same time, let us not see Sudan only as a humanitarian case. There are opportunities here, and partners, for long-term sustainable development. We also need to encourage private business to invest in this country and its people.
The Sudanese government is quite prepared to make it easier for international investors to come, and we are looking forward to the international investment conference for Sudan to be held in Paris in May. In the end, Sudan doesn’t want to depend on international aid; it wants to develop its own economy so that international businesses see Sudan as a good partner.