Following months of mass demonstrations against President Omar al-Bashir’s government, on 11 April the Sudanese military overthrew and arrested Bashir, installing a Transitional Military Council (TMC). Despite Bashir’s removal, protesters continued to gather, demanding the transfer of power to a civilian-led government. On 3 June the TMC ordered the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) to bring an end to a peaceful sit-in outside the Army Headquarters in Khartoum, where demonstrators had been encamped since 6 April. During the violent crackdown by the RSF and security forces, at least 120 people were killed. Since mass demonstrations initially broke out in December 2018, more than 200 people have been killed and thousands arrested throughout Sudan.
On 5 July the TMC and the opposition coalition, the Forces of Freedom and Change, finally reached agreement on a power-sharing arrangement, resulting in the 17 August signing of a constitutional declaration. The declaration includes the formation of a joint military-civilian authority – the Sovereign Council –that will govern Sudan during an interim period of 39 months, with a rotating leadership. Parties also agreed to an independent investigation into the 3 June massacre. On 21 August the Sovereign Council was sworn in and a new Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, was appointed. On 8 September the new 18-member Cabinet was also sworn in.
During his 30-year rule, Bashir and other government officials allegedly committed crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide against civilians while fighting armed groups in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, Darfur and elsewhere. During 2016 the Sudanese government and some armed groups signed the AU High Level Implementation Panel’s “Roadmap” agreement aimed at ending the armed conflicts in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur, but failed to agree on a permanent cessation of hostilities.
In line with the Constitutional Declaration, the new government of Sudan and several armed groups started peace negotiations. On 11 September a roadmap to peace, the “Juba Declaration,” was signed by the the Sovereign Council, the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF), and a number of armed groups. On 10 December peace talks resumed between the transitional government of Sudan and several Darfuri armed groups, leading to an agreement signed on 28 December. While violence has generally decreased in Sudan, clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Sudan Liberation Army-Abdul Wahid (SLA-AW) faction, that continues to reject the new peace process, have continued in the Jebel Marra area of Darfur.
During 2019 inter-communal violence and land-related incidents between pastoralists and farmers also increased. A series of attacks between different communities near El Geneina in West Darfur since 28 December has resulted in at least 54 people killed, 60 injured and 40,000 displaced.
Impunity continues for perpetrators of past atrocities in Sudan, including Bashir and the former governor of South Kordofan, Ahmed Haroun, who are both wanted by the ICC. Although former President Bashir was convicted on 14 December of corruption and illicit financial gains, he has not been held accountable for atrocity crimes. On 22 December the State Prosecutor launched investigations into crimes committed in Darfur since 2003.
At least one member of the of the Sovereign Council is also implicated in atrocity crimes committed in Sudan since 2003. Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagolo, former commander of militias responsible for atrocities in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile States, had command over the RSF during the Khartoum massacre.
The political developments in Khartoum resulted in a security vacuum in the Darfur region that enabled the outbreak of clashes between farmers and pastoralists as well as unlawful land occupation.
Sustained international support and pressure is necessary to ensure that the Sovereign Council upholds its responsibility to protect.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) has imposed an arms embargo on Darfur since 2004 and travel ban and asset freeze against six individuals since 2006. Following a UNSC referral, between 2007-2014 the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for three Sudanese government officials, including Bashir and Haroun, and two anti-government militia leaders, for atrocities perpetrated in Darfur, including war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. All suspects remain at large.
On 29 June 2018 the UNSC adopted Resolution 2429, mandating the phased drawdown of UNAMID with an exit deadline for June 2020. Because of the political instability, on 27 June 2019 the UNSC “temporarily and exceptionally” extended the mission’s drawdown period for four months.
On 25 September 2019 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Sudan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs signed an agreement to open a UN Human Rights Office in Sudan. Despite its recent political transition and history of mass atrocity crimes, on 17 October Sudan was voted on to the HRC for the 2020-2022 term.
The newly-established Sovereign Council should fully implement the agreed upon power-sharing agreement and launch credible investigations into the killing of peaceful protesters. During the transitional period, the Sovereign Council should negotiate a comprehensive peace agreement with armed groups in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan. All armed groups, in particular SLA-AW, should join the peace process and work towards a sustainable solution.
Following the reconfiguration of UNAMID, the UNSC must closely monitor the precarious security situation in Darfur. The drawdown of UNAMID and the transition from peacekeeping to peacebuilding should be pursued alongside tangible implementation of the peace process in order to avoid a security vacuum.
Former President Bashir should be held accountable for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The Sovereign Council, with the support of the UNSC and the international community, should actively support efforts to bring ICC indictees to justice, especially Bashir and Haroun.
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