Populations in Sudan, especially in the Darfur region, continue to face the threat of inter-communal violence and potential atrocities by armed groups.
Inter-communal violence and militia attacks have escalated in Sudan since the start of 2021, particularly in West and South Darfur. Disputes over land ownership and competition for scarce resources between herder and farming communities have led to violent clashes that are often ethnically motivated, resulting in hundreds of people being killed. According to the International Organization for Migration, approximately 237,000 people have been displaced by conflict in Darfur since the beginning of 2021, which is four times higher than during all of 2020.
From 16-17 January violence broke out between individuals from the Massalit and Arab communities around the city of El Geneina, West Darfur, prompting allied militias to mobilize. In the resulting clashes, at least 250 people were killed and an estimated 100,000 displaced. Additional fighting erupted on 3 April between the Arab and Massalit communities around El Geneina, resulting in 117 people being killed and 283 injured.
In response to the violence, Sudan’s transitional government has deployed the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) to restore security and mediate between the Massalit and Arab communities.
During October 2020 the transitional government – the Sovereign Council – and the leaders of the Sudan Revolutionary Front, a coalition of armed groups from Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile, signed a peace agreement aimed at ending almost two decades of armed conflict and atrocities. The agreement also calls for the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms.
While the October peace agreement is an opportunity to address the root causes of conflict, tensions in the Darfur region remain high. The recent violence in West and South Darfur started less than a month after the end of the African Union-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID). The UN’s newly established Integrated Transition Assistance Mission (UNITAMS), which is mandated to assist the government during the democratic transition, has no uniformed armed personnel. The Sudanese security forces, who are responsible for the protection of civilians, have previously committed atrocities against populations in Darfur.
During his 30-year dictatorship, former President Omar al-Bashir and other government officials were responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes and acts of genocide while fighting armed groups in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur. Although Bashir was convicted of corruption following his overthrow in April 2020, he has not been held accountable for past atrocity crimes. At least one member of the Sovereign Council – Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagolo – is also implicated in atrocities committed in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile as commander of the RSF.
Sustained international support is necessary to assist Sudan’s transitional authorities in upholding their responsibility to protect.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) has imposed an arms embargo on Darfur since 2004 and sanctions on six individuals since 2006. Following a UNSC referral, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for three Sudanese officials, including Bashir, and two anti-government militia leaders for atrocities perpetrated in Darfur. During October 2020 the ICC Chief Prosecutor traveled to Khartoum to discuss the potential prosecution of ICC indictees.
On 4 June 2020 the UNSC established UNITAMS to assist Sudan in its transition to democracy. The UNSC ended UNAMID’s mandate on 31 December.
On 14 December the United States removed Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, providing opportunities to access foreign loans.
Despite the withdrawal of UNAMID, the UNSC must continue to closely monitor the precarious security situation in the Darfur region. The transitional authorities must take immediate steps to disarm armed groups and ethnic militias, and provide effective protection to all vulnerable populations in Darfur. The Sudanese authorities, with the encouragement of the UNSC and the international community, should actively support efforts to bring Bashir and other ICC indictees to justice.