The potential for recurrent political instability and violence against civilians committed by Sudanese security forces and affiliated militias leaves civilians at risk of atrocity crimes.
Following months of mass demonstrations against President Omar al-Bashir’s government, on 11 April 2019 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 During mass demonstrations between December 2018 and August 2019, more than 200 people were killed and thousands arrested throughout Sudan.
On 5 July the TMC and the opposition coalition 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. 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.
Despite the formation of the Sovereign Council and previous agreements between the Sudanese government and armed groups, peace in the Darfur region of Sudan remains precarious. While violence has generally decreased in Sudan, clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Sudan Liberation Army-Abdul Wahid faction, that continues to reject the new peace process, have continued in the Jebel Marra area of Darfur. According to the UN Panel of Experts on Sudan, various human rights violations and abuses continued unabated in the Darfur region during 2019, including rape and other forms of sexual and physical violence, often used as tactics by armed groups to prevent communities from gaining access to their farms and from engaging in other livelihood activities.
During 2019 inter-communal violence and land-related incidents between pastoralists and farmers in Darfur 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.
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. On 11 February, the transitional authorities in Sudan announced that several suspects indicted by the ICC should face trial in The Hague. Although the authorities have not yet formally announced final details, it is expected that at least four suspects may face prosecution for war crimes, crimes against humanity and/or genocide.
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 Bashir was convicted on 14 December of corruption and illicit financial gains, he has not been held accountable for atrocity crimes. At least one member of the Sovereign Council – Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagolo – is also implicated in atrocity crimes committed in Sudan since 2003. Hemedti, a former commander of militias responsible for atrocities in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile States, had command over the RSF during the Khartoum massacre.
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.
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 31 October 2019 the UNSC extended UNAMID’s mandate for one year, and decided that UNAMID will maintain its current troop and police level until 31 March 2020, when drawdown plans will be further discussed.
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.
On 11 March 2020 the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict and the government of Sudan signed a Framework of Cooperation to address sexual violence in Sudan.
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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