As Sudan makes headway in transition to democracy, Security Council delegates urge sustained support for tackling causes of intercommunal fighting
Source: UN SC, 14 Sep 2021
Permanent Representative Says Transitional Government Has ‘Strong Will’ to Uphold Juba Peace Accord, Build Stable, Prosperous Country
Sudan is making headway in its transition to democracy, with growing momentum towards drafting a new Constitution and organizing elections, but long‑term success requires sustained international support, the Head of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) told the Security Council today.
Volker Perthes, presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in Sudan and the activities of UNITAMS (document S/2021/766), pointed to several positive developments, including steps taken by the Transitional Government in Khartoum to address violence in Darfur and eastern Sudan, undertake economic reforms and renew trust in political change. He also noted efforts to establish a transitional legislative council and to augment the role of women in political life, more than two years after long-time President Omar al-Bashir was ousted in a coup d’état.
He drew attention, however, to growing humanitarian needs, driven by economic hardship and intercommunal conflict, as well as the impact of conflict in neighbouring Ethiopia which has led to Sudan hosting the largest number of refugees of any African country. He underscored the Mission’s role in monitoring the Darfur ceasefire and its focus on priority areas identified by the Council, including peace talks and supporting the National Plan for the Protection of Civilians. If Member States want security in Darfur, they should not shy away from making resources available, he emphasized, adding that UNITAMS needs additional capacity to provide the “scalable support” which the Council expects, particularly as related to ceasefire monitoring in Darfur.
“Sudan’s challenges are immense, and the United Nations remains fully committed to supporting the authorities in addressing them and realizing the aspirations of the Sudanese people for a peaceful, stable and democratic Sudan,” he said, adding that UNITAMS is counting on the Council’s robust support as it navigates the path forward.
Hala al-Karib, Regional Director of the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa, also briefed the Council, stressing that the slow implementation of reforms is fuelling violence and impacting Sudan’s already fragile economy, governance system and public institutions. As was the case before the April 2019 revolution, women remain disproportionately impacted, with the worst food crisis in Sudan’s history pushing families to desperation. Women in conflict-affected areas, such as Darfur, Blue Nile, the Nuba Mountains and Kordofan, face such risks as rape, displacement and even death, she noted.
“Despite women leading the revolution, we have been shut out from equally and meaningfully participating in every step of the transition,” she continued. Their calls to end sexual violence, ensure just family laws and enable equal access to resources, education and employment continue to be ignored. Describing violent incidents of disrespect by armed groups of men — including those who roamed the streets of Khartoum early this year, attacking women for demonstrating a “lack of modesty” — she said such actions are making an inclusive and democratic transformation more difficult.
Against that backdrop, she urged the Council to support Sudanese women by ensuring their full, equal and meaningful participation and leadership throughout the Transitional Government’s bodies, and in the peace processes. Despite the 40 per cent quota demanded in the Constitutional Declaration, women are still fighting for representation, and only one woman currently sits on the Sovereign Council. “We must learn from our past mistakes, or else risk making them again,” she warned, calling also on the Transitional Government to urgently reform the legal system to ensure protection for women’s rights.
In the ensuing debate, Council members took note of the progress being made in implementing the Juba Agreement for Peace in Sudan, signed in October 2020, while also expressing concern over increased intercommunal clashes, particularly in Darfur. Many speakers also pressed for women to play a greater role in political processes and peacebuilding.
The United Kingdom’s representative praised “significant and continued progress” towards a more peaceful, prosperous and democratic Sudan and commended the Transitional Government’s deepening cooperation with the International Criminal Court, which has issued arrest warrants for Mr. Al-Bashir for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. He called for all commitments to be swiftly translated into actions that improve the lives of civilians.
Tunisia’s representative, speaking also for Kenya, Niger and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, called on signatories to the Juba Peace Agreement to continue to implement its provisions, including for the establishment of key transitional institutions. “Peace in Sudan will not be complete until all conflicts come to an end,” he said, emphasizing that sporadic intercommunal violence and clashes with armed groups attest to the need to address the root causes of the fighting. Noting a lack of sufficient financial and technical resources to implement the Juba Peace Agreement, he welcomed the establishment of the Sudan Peace Fund and called on all the country’s partners to support that initiative.
China’s representative said that UNITAMS should align its activities with Sudan’s strategic priorities. Efforts must also be ramped up to keep Darfur stable. Given Sudan’s dire economic woes, developed countries should fulfil their debt‑relief commitments, he said, adding that lifting sanctions on Sudan would be consistent with benchmarks on the ground.
The United States’ representative reiterated his delegation’s full support for the UNITAMS mandate, while also sharing concerns about heightened risks to civilians amid intercommunal clashes in Darfur. Noting that Sudan’s authorities bear the primary responsibility to protect civilians, he said that perpetrators of human rights violations must be held to account and reforms advanced to address the causes of violence.
Sudan’s representative, taking the floor at the end of the meeting, said the Transitional Government aims to build a safe and stable country in which everyone enjoys peace, prosperity and justice. It has a strong political will to implement provisions of the Juba Peace Agreement dealing with security arrangements, and the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and rehabilitation programme. It also aims to deploy a joint force for civilian protection to enhance security in Darfur. However, those tasks are difficult for Sudan to shoulder single-handedly, he said, calling on the international community to share the burden through financial and technical support, with UNITAMS playing its role, as well. He also stated that several elements in Ms. Al-Karib’s briefing did not align with the current situation in Sudan or with reports complied by relevant entities.
Also speaking today were representatives of France, India, Norway, Estonia, Mexico, Russian Federation, Viet Nam and Ireland.
The meeting began at 10:20 a.m. and ended at 12:01 p.m.
VOLKER PERTHES, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan and Head of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), said there has been some progress in Sudan’s transition since his last briefing to the Council three months ago. Among other things, the Transitional Government is taking steps to address violence in Darfur and eastern Sudan, ease the difficult economic situation and renew trust in political reform. A political initiative launched in June by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, titled “The National Crisis and Transition Issues: The Way Forward”, and a follow-up mechanism established in August, enjoy broad support. Last week’s agreement by the Forces for Freedom and Change, the ruling coalition in the Transitional Government, on a more inclusive structure is a welcome development that should lead to the swift formation of a transitional legislative council with at least 40 per cent participation of women.
There is also growing momentum to move forward on preparations for constitution-making and elections, with the United Nations providing technical support, he continued. UNITAMS stands ready to provide technical support, at Sudan’s request, on a road map for military and security sector reform that would align with the Prime Minister’s initiative and the Juba Agreement for Peace in Sudan. Economic reforms have enabled Sudan to reach the Highly Indebted Poor Countries decision point on 29 June, thus becoming eligible for debt relief to address poverty and improve social conditions. Humanitarian needs, driven by the economic crisis and intercommunal conflict, are growing, with 418,000 people newly displaced between January and August due to conflict and armed attacks, mainly in Darfur, parts of Kordofan and Blue Nile, he said.
He reiterated his concern about the impact of conflict in Ethiopia on Sudan, as well as ongoing tensions between the two countries over the Al-Fashaga border district and the stalemate over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. All stakeholders must avoid further escalation. Following the adoption on 3 June of resolution 2579 (2021), which extended the UNITAMS mandate until 3 June 2022, the Mission is refocusing its efforts on the priority areas identified by the Council, including peace talks, ceasefire monitoring and support to the National Plan for the Protection of Civilians. UNITAMS continues to engage the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North Al Hilu Faction and the Transitional Government and looks forward to those two sides resuming talks, he said, adding that the Mission is also facilitating efforts to mainstream gender into peace talks.
Underscoring the role of UNITAMS in monitoring the ceasefire in Darfur, he said that the Mission has begun the operationalization of the Permanent Ceasefire Committee, which met for technical consultations in Khartoum on 5 and 6 September. As Chair of that Committee, the Mission will follow the provisions of the Juba Peace Agreement, he said, adding that the parties have clearly stated that they expect logistical and financial support from the international community to implement security arrangements. If Member States want security in Darfur, they should not shy away from making resources available, he said, adding, however, that Sudan must assume its own responsibility to implement security arrangements and reforms. He emphasized that the Permanent Ceasefire Committee is tasked with monitoring, reporting, mediation and reconciliation, not physical protection, and that a resurgence of intercommunal violence in Darfur shows the urgency of deploying the Joint Security Keeping Forces.
HALA AL-KARIB, Regional Director of the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa, described her group as a feminist organization that advocates for the rights of grass‑roots women across Sudan, including in Darfur. Emphasizing that the Sudan today stands on the verge of several mounting crises, she declared: “The removal of Omar al-Bashir’s regime in 2019 revealed a rotten structure that must be urgently transformed.” While there are frameworks for reform, she warned that their slow implementation is contributing to ongoing violence and impacting Sudan’s already fragile economy, governance system and public institutions.
As was the case before the revolution, she said, women remain disproportionately impacted by the violence, deterioration of services and slow pace of reform. The economic recession and the worst food crisis in Sudan’s history are pushing families to desperation. Women in conflict-affected areas such as Darfur, Blue Nile, the Nuba Mountains and Kordofan suffer from ethnic marginalization and poverty, and face such risks as rape, displacement and even death. Stressing that those working in the informal labour sector are at even higher risk, she added that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to exacerbate all these challenges.
“Despite women leading the revolution, we have been shut out from equally and meaningfully participating in every step of the transition,” she continued. Their calls to end sexual violence, ensure just family laws and enable equal access to resources, education and employment continue to be ignored. Describing violent incidents of disrespect by armed groups of men — including those who roamed the streets of Khartoum early this year, attacking women for demonstrating a “lack of modesty” — she said such actions are making an inclusive and democratic transformation in Sudan more difficult.
Against that backdrop, she urged the Council to support Sudanese women by ensuring their full, equal and meaningful participation and leadership throughout the Transitional Government’s bodies, and in the peace processes. Despite the 40 per cent quota demanded in the Constitutional Declaration, women are still fighting for representation, and only one woman currently sits on the Sovereign Council. “We must learn from our past mistakes, or else risk making them again,” she warned, noting that women must finally be given the space to help craft Sudan’s future.
She called on the Transitional Government to urgently reform the legal system to ensure protection for women’s rights. Laws still exist permitting child marriage and protecting the perpetrators of gender-based violence, and women continue to be arrested for so-called “morality transgressions”, resulting in brutal punishments. It must ensure that inclusive and gender-sensitive security sector reform is urgently carried out, as the uncontrolled presence of armed militia in civilian areas in Darfur and elsewhere has led to an increase in sexual violence. “Such concerning trends not only compromise Sudan’s chances of achieving a peaceful transition, but also risk the country slipping back into chaos,” she stressed, calling on UNITAMS to ensure the implementation of the National Plan for the Protection of Civilians, and on the Council to ensure that the parties fulfil all their obligations under the Juba Peace Agreement.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom), praising the “significant and continued progress” towards a more peaceful, prosperous and democratic Sudan, welcomed Prime Minister Hamdok’s 22 June initiative and encourage buy-in from all parts of the Government. He also commended the deepening cooperation between the Government and the International Criminal Court. Noting that serious challenges remain, he called for all commitments to be swiftly translated into actions that improve the lives of civilians. Increased intercommunal clashes, particularly in Darfur, are concerning, and the plight of more than 300,000 civilians displaced so far in 2021 demonstrates the urgency of addressing the violence. He urged the Government to expedite implementation of its National Plan for Civilian Protection and other efforts to prevent and reduce violence, welcomed the Sudanese Police Force’s engagement with UNITAMS and echoed calls for the timely formation of a monitoring and evaluation mechanism and a peace commission.
NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France) welcomed recent reforms in Sudan, including economic reforms, as well as the development of the Government’s consolidated “Way Forward” initiative and progress made towards meeting international human rights standards. However, she expressed concern over the fragile security situation in Darfur and the east of the country and called for the swift implementation of the National Plan of Action for the protection of civilians. Issues outstanding in talks between Government and the and the Sudan Liberation Army-Abdul Wahid (SLA-AW) must be addressed, and the latter must urgently join the peace agreement. Welcoming United Nations efforts to facilitate peace talks, support the implementation mechanisms laid out in the Peace Agreement, build institutional capacity and address the risks posed by explosive mines, she went on to note that the crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region — and the subsequent hosting of refugees — is one of the main destabilizing factors impacting Sudan. In that context, she praised the African Union’s mediation efforts and called for their support by all parties.
DAI BING (China) said the Transitional Government has invested much effort to implement the Juba Peace Agreement and its achievements are visible to all. Sudan will hopefully make fresh headway towards forming a transitional legislative council and prepare for elections, he said, urging non-signatories to join the peace process as soon as possible. Going forward, UNITAMS should align its activities with Sudan’s strategic priorities, and efforts must be ramped up to keep Darfur stable. Despite the Transitional Government’s efforts, Sudan’s economic woes remain dire, and the international community — especially developed countries — should fulfil their debt relief commitments and help the country achieve universal education and poverty eradication. He added that, with the situation in Sudan improving significantly, lifting sanctions would be consistent with the prevailing benchmarks on the ground.
TAREK LADEB (Tunisia), speaking also on behalf of Kenya, Niger and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, called on signatories to the Juba Peace Agreement to continue to implement its provisions, including the establishment of key transitional institutions. “Peace in Sudan will not be complete until all conflicts come to an end,” he said, emphasizing that sporadic intercommunal violence and clashes with armed groups attest to the need to address the root causes of conflict. He welcomed progress in talks between the Transitional Government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North al-Hilu faction and urged the two sides to agree on a framework to address their differences. He also urged those who have not done so to join the peace process without delay.
He welcomed the Transitional Government’s national plan for civilian protection, its promotion of dialogue and reconciliation among ethnic communities, and steps taken to improve child‑protection legislation. Noting a lack of sufficient financial and technical resources to implement the Juba Peace Agreement, he welcomed the establishment of the Sudan Peace Fund and called on all the country’s partners to support that initiative. He also encouraged all parties to ensure gender equality in decision-making structures. Stringent economic reforms paved the way for debt relief and the Transitional Government should continue in that direction with international support. He concluded by commending Sudan for hosting a large number of refugees despite its own dire humanitarian situation.
T.S. TIRUMURTI (India) described intercommunal clashes as the main source of insecurity, encouraging the Transitional Government to ensure the safety and security of United Nations personnel and premises. Noting the high-level coordination between the Sudanese joint task force and the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), he expressed hope that Sudan’s central- and State-level efforts will continue and make the mission’s drawdown and liquidation “an example of effective collaboration” between the United Nations and Sudan. The full operationalization of UNITAMS and close engagement with transitional authorities will be decisive in expediting the transitional phase and moving towards the drafting of a Constitution and preparations for elections. Over the years, India has carried out various projects in Sudan under concessional lines of credit and provided humanitarian assistance, including food and life‑saving drugs.
RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States) reiterated his delegation’s full support for the UNITAMS mandate, while also sharing the Secretary-General’s concerns about heightened risks to civilians amid intercommunal clashes in Darfur. Noting that Sudan’s authorities bear the primary responsibility to protect civilians, he said they must allow full vetting of the newly deployed joint force in order to enable broad public trust. Perpetrators of human rights violations must be held to account and reforms must be advanced to address the causes of violence, including provisions of the Juba Peace Agreement on transitional justice and land reform. Turning to the liquidation of UNAMID, he expressed concern about risks to United Nations personnel and assets, urging UNITAMS to use its good offices to ensure that the drawdown advances smoothly and that team sites and other important assets — which were donated to the people of Sudan — do not fall into the wrong hands.
MONA JUUL (Norway) commended the Government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North Al-Hilu Faction for their efforts to forge a peace agreement, noting that her country will continue to support this process, together with its Troika colleagues (United Kingdom and United States). She cited efforts by UNITAMS and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (UN-Women) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to promote women observers and gender perspectives. Citing challenges, she said 9.8 million people are suffering from severe food insecurity, while those internally displaced face worsening conditions, especially in Darfur. Intercommunal conflict and armed attacks are on the rise, while conflict-related sexual violence persists amid floods and disease outbreaks. Delays in implementing the Juba Peace Agreement and the National Plan for the Protection of Civilians are also leaving the population vulnerable. Highlighting the Government’s duty to implement the security arrangements outlined in the Peace Agreement, and pointing to the critical need to rapidly form the Monitoring and Evaluation Mechanism, she commended Sudan for its hospitality in receiving and hosting Ethiopian refugees and keeping the border open.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia), stressing that institutions are “the backbone of any democracy”, urged authorities to expedite the formation of the transitional legislative council, with 40 per cent representation of women. Voicing concerns about the precarious security situation, particularly in parts of Darfur, and more broadly about the devastating consequences of intercommunal violence, he urged the Transitional Government to accelerate implementation of its National Plan for the Protection of Civilians and called for urgent deployment of the joint security keeping forces. While a long road lies ahead, Sudan will not have to walk this path alone, he said, as the international community stands firmly behind its historic transition. Sudan and UNITAMS should continue to strengthen their cooperation in transition, peace and civilian protection.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico) said that, two years after Sudan’s revolution, the Transitional Government’s efforts to implement crucial reforms continues apace. Calling upon civilian and military elements of the Transitional Government to demonstrate compromise, he urged all parties to adhere to the 40 per cent women’s quota and for all armed groups that have not yet done so to join the peace process. Welcoming efforts across the United Nations to support the deployment of a team of female technical observers, he went on to echo concerns raised about serious security challenges in Darfur and urged the authorities to accelerate implementation of the National Plan for the Protection of Civilians. Meanwhile, any neighbouring countries with troops in Darfur should withdraw them immediately. While the collection and management of weapons is a crucial element of the Peace Agreement, progress on that front remains minimal, and should be supported by UNITAMS. He also called on Khartoum to transfer all individuals against whom International Criminal Court arrest warrants have been issued to The Hague without delay.
ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) said the situation in Sudan remains highly fraught, negatively impacted by the situation in Libya, the growing number of refugees from neighbouring States, rising inflation and the spread of COVID-19. Urging the Government to respond to popular sentiment on all those issues, she said UNITAMS should help build the country’s capacity in peacebuilding, socioeconomic reforms and the maintenance of stability. Stressing the need to implement the Constitutional Declaration signed in 2019, she welcomed efforts to normalize the situation in Darfur and called on all armed groups that have not yet joined the peace process — including SLA-AW — to do so. Praising Khartoum’s willingness to tackle the causes of conflict head-on, she said peace in Darfur is gradually being restored despite sporadic clashes. Meanwhile, UNAMID’s closure is advancing as planned with support from national authorities and regional partners.
PHAM HAI ANH (Viet Nam) said it is imperative to advance the transitional process through the Juba Peace Agreement, with efforts focused on resolving differences among the parties. Calling on remaining armed groups to join the peace talks, he said it is critical to foster collaboration among the United Nations, UNITAMS, African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and other international partners. Underlining the importance of ensuring the full implementation of the National Plan for the Protection of Civilians, he called on the Transitional Government to further strengthen its related responsibility by addressing the causes of intercommunal violence. He urged Sudan to facilitate UNAMID’s liquidation process, stressing that, for Sudan to effectively own the transition process, the international community must continue to support the country in addressing COVID-19. At the same time, urgent efforts must be made to provide food and basic services to those in need. Turning to the issue of sanctions, he said clear, well-identified benchmarks and frequent reviews are needed to reflect progress on the ground.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland), Council President for September, spoke in her national capacity, saying that a successful transition in Sudan depends on the Transitional Government’s ability to maintain the power-sharing agreement and strengthen Government institutions. Much more must be done across the reform agenda, she said, adding that key democratic institutions, such as the transitional legislative council, must be set up urgently. Women’s participation in political processes is a right, not a request, and youth should be represented in peacebuilding efforts, as well. She emphasized that addressing the root causes of insecurity is the only way to break the cycle of civilian harm. Without a doubt, the targeting of politically active women is intended to silence their voices. She went on to welcome the Transitional Government’s enhanced cooperation with the International Criminal Court, calling it a vital step towards holding perpetrators to account and ending impunity.
ABDALLA ADLAN ALI OMBALI (Sudan) said that the Transitional Government is making steady progress as it implements its policy of democratic transition, while also promoting human rights and the rule of law and addressing economic deformities. Its programmes and policies aim to build a safe and stable Sudan in which everyone enjoys peace, prosperity and justice. Elaborating, he said that, since the Council last discussed the situation in his country, the Transitional Government has continued its consultations with different stakeholders to establish a transitional legislative council and to appoint a governor of Darfur as part of its implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement. It has facilitated the work of the Permanent Ceasefire Committee chaired by UNITAMS and is committed to silencing the guns in Darfur, including through dialogue with non-signatories to the Juba Peace Agreement. Talks are continuing to enable the resumption of negotiations with the Al-Hilu Faction and the Sudan Liberation Movement faction led by Abdul Wahid al‑Nur.
He said the Transitional Government has a strong political will to implement provisions of the Juba Peace Agreement dealing with security arrangements, and the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and rehabilitation programme, as well as to deploy a joint force for civilian protection that would enhance security in Darfur. However, those tasks are difficult for Sudan to shoulder single-handedly, he said, calling on the international community to share the burden through financial and technical support, with UNITAMS playing its role, as well.
Sudan’s complicated economic and political situation is the result of decades of mismanagement and bad governance, for which the Transitional Government is seeking solutions, he said. The Prime Minister has set forth a comprehensive national initiative which comprises seven pillars, including dismantling the Al‑Bashir regime and setting up a transitional legislative council. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the delicate economic situation, but the Transitional Government is sparing no effort to spur growth and attract investment through reforms, alongside a social protection programme to help the poorest and most marginalized persons. The Cabinet has approved Sudan to join the Rome Statute while the Transitional Government facilitated a visit by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. Steps have also been taken to accede to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the United Nations Convention against Torture, as well as to annul laws restricting women’s role in society. Several elements in Ms. Al‑Karib’s briefing today do not align with the situation in Sudan or with reports complied by relevant entities, he stated.
Turning to the humanitarian situation, he expressed appreciation for the efforts of United Nations agencies and other donors to address the situation of refugees, internally displaced persons and returnees. Restrictions on the delivery of humanitarian aid in conflict areas have been lifted and Sudan’s borders have been opened to refugees from Ethiopia and South Sudan, he said, urging the international community to shoulder its responsibility as waves of refugees flow into the country. He concluded by reaffirming Sudan’s commitment to cooperate fully with UNITAMS as it implements the strategic objectives set out in resolution 2579 (2021) and with the Secretariat to complete the liquidation of UNAMID.