Increased inter-communal violence in Sudan threatens the country’s fragile democratic transition and leaves civilians at risk of a recurrence of atrocity crimes.
Inter-communal violence and militia attacks against civilian populations have been increasing in Sudan since the start of 2020, particularly in West and South Darfur. Disputes over land ownership and competition for scarce resources between herder and farming communities have provoked violent clashes that are often ethnically motivated, resulting in hundreds of people killed and tens of thousands displaced.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, at least seven violent events were reported in West Darfur from 19-26 July, leaving dozens of people killed or injured and several villages burned down. On 25 July at least 60 people from the ethnic Masalit community were killed when approximately 500 armed men attacked Masteri village. Earlier in January, clashes between Arab and Masalit communities near El Geneina resulted in at least 70 people being killed and 40,000 displaced. Since the beginning of July, thousands of people in Darfur have organized demonstrations against the government’s inability to provide adequate protection against ongoing attacks by armed groups.
On 31 August the transitional government 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 conflict and atrocities. The peace agreement also calls for the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms.
The rise in inter-communal violence started less than six months after the formation of a new joint military-civilian government in Sudan, the Sovereign Council. Following months of mass protests against his government, on 11 April 2019 the Sudanese military overthrew President Omar al-Bashir. During the mass demonstrations between December 2018 and August 2019, more than 200 people were killed and thousands arrested.
During his 30-year rule, Bashir and other government officials committed crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide while fighting armed groups in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, Darfur and elsewhere. The peace agreement aims to bring an end to atrocities in Sudan and is as an opportunity to address the root causes of conflict. Despite recent violence in Darfur, the UN Security Council (UNSC) still plans to draw-down the African Union-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), replacing it with an unarmed political mission (the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan, or UNITAMS) that will be unable to provide physical protection to civilians.
Impunity continues for perpetrators of mass killings during the 2019 protests. Similarly, although Bashir has been convicted of corruption, 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.
Sustained international support is necessary to assist the Sovereign Council in upholding its responsibility to protect.
The UNSC has imposed an arms embargo on Darfur since 2004 and a travel ban and asset freeze against six individuals since 2006. Following a UNSC referral, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for three Sudanese government officials, including Bashir, and two anti-government militia leaders, for atrocities perpetrated in Darfur, including war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
On 4 June the UNSC extended UNAMID’s mandate until 31 December. The UNSC also established UNITAMS to assist the country in its transition to democracy.
On 17 October 2019 Sudan was elected to the Human Rights Council for the 2020-2022 term.
The drawdown of UNAMID and the transition from peacekeeping to peacebuilding should be cautiously pursued by the UNSC while working in close cooperation with the transitional authorities in Sudan. The protection of civilians in Darfur and elsewhere should remain central to any UN-authorized mission.
The Sovereign Council, with the support of the UNSC and the international community, should actively support efforts to bring former President Bashir and other ICC indictees to justice.
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