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, with incidents reported in Central, North and West Darfur, South and West Kordofan and Red Sea states. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, approximately 225,685 people have been displaced since January.
During 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. Between 16 February and 1 May the UN recorded another 170 people killed as result of renewed inter-communal clashes in the Darfur region, including 144 killed around El Geneina during fighting between the Arab and Massalit communities on 3 April. Violence in North Darfur during July prompted hundreds of people to participate in mass demonstrations in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, calling on the state government to urgently protect displaced populations.
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. On 4 August the Sudanese cabinet unanimously passed a bill, pending approval by the Sovereign Council, to become a state party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
While the October peace agreement is an opportunity to address the root causes of conflict, tensions in the Darfur region remain high. Conflict in Darfur stems in part from a long history of disputes over access to scarce resources, which was exploited by the former regime. The lack of accountability for past atrocities has further contributed to recurring violence in Darfur.
The recent violence in the Darfur region started less than a month after the end of the African Union-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) in December 2020. 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 Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. 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 Rapid Support Forces.
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 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. Arrest warrants against four individuals remain outstanding.
On 3 June 2021 the UNSC extended the mandate of UNITAMS until June 2022 to assist Sudan in its transition to democracy.
On 1 February the UN Special Rapporteurs on the human rights of internally displaced persons and on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions urged the government of Sudan to step up its efforts to protect civilians, including by promptly implementing its National Plan for the Protection of Civilians.
On 29 June Sudan became eligible to receive debt relief from the International Monetary Fund, which approved an agreement of $2.47 billion to support the political and economic transition.
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, provide effective protection to all vulnerable populations and address longstanding grievances over land and water access. 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.