Populations in Sudan face an imminent risk of mass atrocity crimes due to ongoing political instability and use of lethal force against civilians by security forces and affiliated militias.
On 25 October the military in Sudan, under the leadership of General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the joint civilian-military Sovereign Council, seized power by dissolving the transitional body and declaring a state of emergency. Several civilian leaders, including Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, were arrested or placed under house arrest. Since then, hundreds of thousands of protesters have demonstrated across the country, demanding the reinstatement of the civilian-led government. More than 40 people have been killed and hundreds injured by security forces during protests.
Sudan’s transitional authorities preceding the coup came to power after country-wide protests brought an end to then President Omar al-Bashir’s thirty-year rule in April 2019. The Sovereign Council was established in August 2019 to lead the transition to democracy and prepare for elections in July 2023. However, the power-sharing agreement remained fragile, and prior to the military takeover, there were increasing tensions between and within Sovereign Council members.
On 21 November a new political agreement was signed between General Burhan and the ousted Prime Minister Hamdok. The agreement provides for the reinstatement of Hamdok, the restoration of the transition to civilian rule and the release of all political detainees. General Burhan said that Prime Minister Hamdok will lead a technocratic cabinet under military oversight until elections can be held. Pro-democracy movements continue to demand a genuine civilian-led political transition.
Meanwhile, inter-communal violence and militia attacks remain a threat, with incidents in the Darfur region, as well as South Kordofan, West Kordofan, White Nile and Blue Nile states. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, between January-August, 408 people were killed and 418,013 displaced. At least 43 people were killed and 46 villages burned and looted in West Darfur’s Jebel Moon locality on 17 November when conflict erupted between the Arab community and farmers from the Misseriya Jebel community. Violence escalated despite the Sovereign Council and the leaders of the Sudan Revolutionary Front, a coalition of armed groups from Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile, signing a historic peace agreement in October 2020 aimed at ending almost two decades of armed conflict between the Bashir government and armed rebel groups.
Political turmoil risks undermining democratic progress made in Sudan since 2019.
The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and other security forces in Sudan have a history of violent crackdowns on protests and dissent. During mass demonstrations against military rule between December 2018 and August 2019, security forces used teargas and live ammunition against largely peaceful protesters, killing more than 200 people and arresting thousands. The military leaders who orchestrated the October coup also ordered the RSF to attack protesters on 3 June 2019 at a sit-in outside the army’s headquarters, killing at least 100 people. There is an increased risk of atrocities due to the deployment of security forces in the capital, Khartoum, to patrol ongoing protests.
During his 30-year dictatorship, former President Bashir and other government officials were responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes and acts of genocide while fighting armed groups in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Bashir has not been held accountable for past atrocity crimes. Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagolo, a member of the Sovereign Council involved in the 25 October coup, is also implicated in atrocities committed as commander of the RSF.
Prior to the coup, the Sudanese cabinet had unanimously passed a bill on 4 August to become a state party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), pending approval by the Sovereign Council. Disagreement over justice for past atrocities led to tensions between Sovereign Council members.
The Sudanese military must uphold its responsibility to protect and refrain from using excessive and deadly force.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) has imposed an arms embargo on Darfur since 2004 and sanctions on three individuals since 2006. Following a UNSC referral, the ICC issued arrest warrants for three Sudanese officials, including Bashir and two anti-government militia leaders, for atrocities perpetrated in Darfur.
On 3 June 2021 the UNSC extended the mandate of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), tasked to assist the Sudanese authorities during the transition to democracy, until June 2022.
Following the coup, the African Union suspended Sudan from all its activities. Several states and multilateral organizations, including Germany, the United States (US) and the International Monetary Fund, paused foreign aid and halted disbursements. On 28 October the UNSC adopted a Press Statement on the situation. On 5 November the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a resolution during a special session that designated an Expert on Human Rights to monitor and report on the developing situation in Sudan since the coup. Adama Dieng, former UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, was appointed as the designated Expert. One month before the special session, the HRC removed Sudan from its agenda for the first time since the Council was formed in 2006.
On 22 November UNITAMS, the European Union, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, US and United Kingdom welcomed the new political agreement between General Burhan and Prime Minister Hamdok.
Security forces should protect the fundamental right to peaceful assembly and refrain from using excessive and deadly force against protesters. All those unlawfully detained or placed under house arrest should be released immediately.
The international community should call for a credible political transition that respects the people’s desire for democracy.
The UNSC must continue to closely monitor the precarious security situation in Sudan.