Joint Letter to the UN Security Council on Need for Robust Protection Force in Darfur
Joint Letter to the UN Security Council on Need for Robust Protection Force in Darfur
Sudan’s Imperilled Transition: Policy Recommendations for the U.S.
Sudan’s Imperilled Transition: Policy Recommendations for the U.S.
Open Letter / Africa

Joint Letter to the UN Security Council on Need for Robust Protection Force in Darfur

The UN Security Council must ensure the urgent deployment in Darfur of a strong UN mission authorised to use force to protect civilians, said Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Crisis Group, in a joint letter to Security Council member states today.

“The Security Council must fulfill its ‘responsibility to protect’ Sudanese civilians from further attacks by insisting Khartoum stop stalling and accept a robust UN force,” said Gareth Evans, president of the International Crisis Group. “In the meantime, the African Union’s efforts in Darfur must be supported and reinforced so it can better protect civilians.”

On April 28, the Security Council endorsed resolution 1674, which emphasises the responsibility of states to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Darfur is a key test of the Security Council’s commitment to the concept of “responsibility to protect.” Tens of thousands of people have been killed, raped, and assaulted and almost two million people forced from their homes by a Sudanese government counter-insurgency campaign that has resulted in war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“Overcoming Khartoum’s objections to a UN force is the first hurdle,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The next challenge is to ensure the UN troops are authorised to halt attacks on civilians, not just stand by and watch the killings continue.”

Khartoum continues to resist a UN force despite the May 5 Darfur peace agreement, which it set as a pre-condition for deployment of UN troops in Darfur. The Security Council approved a resolution calling upon the Sudanese government to facilitate the access of UN planners by May 23, a deadline that has passed. The UN secretary-general appointed Lakhdar Brahimi as UN special envoy, and on May 25 Brahimi announced that the Sudanese government had agreed to the entry of the UN planning team, but offered few details on the outcome of his talks with Sudanese officials.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Crisis Group said that if Khartoum does not abide by the Security Council resolution, the council must consider applying further sanctions on Sudanese officials who are blocking the UN transition.

The joint letter also called for donor governments to immediately provide funding, and logistical and technical support to the African Union mission in Darfur (AMIS). On May 15 the African Union Peace and Security Council approved the transfer of its 7,000-member Darfur mission to a UN force on or before October 1, 2006.

“It may be months before the UN is fully deployed, so immediate support to the African Union is essential,” said Irene Khan, secretary-general of Amnesty International. “Donor governments must show they are ready to protect the people of Darfur by publicly pledging funds and the military resources that the African Union – and the UN – desperately need.”

The African Union’s mission has struggled with the deteriorating security situation on the ground. Since late 2005, attacks on civilians, aid workers, and AMIS personnel have increased. As of April 2006, the UN estimates that at least 650,000 needy civilians are not receiving humanitarian assistance because aid workers cannot reach them.
 

[To the United Nation's Security Council members]

On 28 April 2006, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 1674 on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. Resolution 1674 reaffirms the international responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. For civilians around the world, resolution 1674 has the potential to be one of the most significant measures taken by the Security Council in decades to provide them with protection, but only if it is transformed from rhetoric into action.

A key test of the Security Council’s commitment to the concept of “responsibility to protect” is clearly Darfur, western Sudan. Darfur’s civilians have suffered three years of armed conflict, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, mainly at the hands of Sudanese government forces and the “Janjaweed” militias. The Sudanese government has repeatedly shown its unwillingness to take even the most minimal steps to protect Sudanese civilians in Darfur.

The Darfur peace agreement signed in Abuja, Nigeria, on May 5 could contribute to reversing the appalling situation in western Sudan, but only if the protection-related provisions of the agreement are fully and immediately implemented. Ensuring that the agreement is a milestone towards progress, rather than a marker in the steady decline of Darfur, is not only the responsibility of the warring parties, but also of the member states of the Security Council and indeed, of the international community generally.

The UN Transition

Darfur’s most urgent need is for a significantly stronger international force to be deployed without delay. A stronger force is essential to deter further attacks and protect civilians, who remain under massive threat from Sudanese government-backed and opposition armed groups in Darfur. For example, three days after the peace agreement was signed, on May 8, dozens of civilians in Labado, South Darfur came under attack by armed militias believed to be supported by the Sudanese government. These attacks are likely to continue unless a larger, more mobile and robust international force is promptly deployed. With each attack, the supporters of peace are weakened and the chances for real stability diminish.

In addition to sufficient numbers and equipment, the mandate of the UN force will be vital. The Security Council must demand that troops protect civilians using all necessary means under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and in full compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law. Without such a broad and robust mandate, and force rules of engagement incorporating this mandate, UN troops will be unable to protect civilians, as was the case for the African Union force and for previous UN forces in other conflicts. 

A stronger international force is essential to gain the confidence of the warring parties and monitor and guarantee any peace agreement. Given the Sudanese government’s record of broken agreements and commitments, an international presence will be vital to ensure that the government fulfills its pledges under the peace agreement. The longer it takes to deploy further international forces in Darfur, the more likely that attacks will continue and the rebel movements may splinter even further, making implementation of the peace agreement ever more difficult.

A larger, more mobile and robust international force is also essential to re-establish security in the rural areas and assist the return of displaced persons, more than two million of whom were ethnically cleansed from 2003 until the present and now live in camps in Darfur and neighbouring Chad. These two million people, plus an additional 1.5 million Darfurians affected by the conflict, are now wholly or partly dependent on humanitarian aid for food, shelter and medicine. The increasing insecurity is rendering hundreds of thousands of people inaccessible to humanitarian aid.

Strengthening the international presence on the ground will require much greater resources to be provided to the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) in the short-term and also to the UN in the medium and long-term. The African Union entered Darfur when no other country or institution was willing to do so, and has had some success in the areas where it deployed. Yet, as the African Union has steadily increased its forces over the past two years, its deployment and capacity have constantly lagged behind what was required to protect and deter attacks on civilians. The past nine months have seen a dramatic deterioration in security not only for Sudanese civilians but also for humanitarian aid workers. Today the African Union’s capacity and ability to deter attacks are insufficient to meet the mounting challenges in Darfur, and the Darfur peace agreement confers even further tasks on the already under-resourced AMIS forces.

The African Union recognises these constraints, and on May 15 the A.U. Peace and Security Council reiterated its intent to hand over to the UN on or before October 1, 2006, when the AMIS mandate expires. A.U. Commission Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare called for the UN force to deploy as quickly as possible and for the Sudanese government to allow UN planners entry to Sudan. It is essential that the UN and member states be prepared to take up this challenge and provide the political pressure, resources and other support necessary for the UN to speedily enter Darfur and carry out the vital protection and monitoring tasks that are required.

We urge Security Council member states to undertake the following:
 

  • Ensure that any UN Security Council resolution authorising a UN force for Darfur calls for UN forces to use all necessary means to protect civilians, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and in full compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law;
  • Take all necessary measures -- including ensuring the full implementation of the arms embargo, applying further sanctions on Sudanese government officials, pledging and providing resources to the UN, and passing the necessary resolutions -- to ensure the deployment of a UN force in Darfur on or before October 1, 2006 (following expiry of the mandate of African Union mission in Darfur on September 30, 2006);
  • Support the African Union’s efforts in Darfur to reach full operational capacity and to robustly interpret its mandate to protect civilians until transition; and
  • Call on member states to immediately fund and provide technical support and personnel to AMIS, and later, to the UN mission in Darfur.

Sudanese Government Obstruction: Further Sanctions

Resolution 1674 also demands that “all States fully implement all relevant decisions of the Security Council…and cooperate fully with United Nations peacekeeping missions.” Three years of international crimes by the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed militias, of repeatedly broken promises and commitments, of horrendous ethnic manipulation and blatant defiance of Security Council demands have left Darfur--and the broader region --at the threshold of what UN Under-Secretary-General Jan Egeland has called “the abyss.” While there is plenty of blame to be placed on all sides, the Sudanese government remains largely responsible for the catastrophe that has become Darfur and now threatens Chad.

According to the latest media information available to us, the Sudanese government continues to reject the deployment of the UN in Darfur despite the government’s earlier pledges to permit a UN force in the wake of a peace agreement. The Sudanese government is also refusing entry to a UN planning mission to Darfur in defiance of the Security Council’s demand in resolution 1679 that such a mission be given entry to Sudan by May 23. Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi will hopefully help secure the Sudanese government’s consent to the UN transition, but if his visit does not result in an immediate change of policy by Khartoum, then the Security Council must be prepared to take further measures to persuade the Sudanese government to comply.

The signing of the Darfur peace agreement will in no way translate into concrete security gains for civilians unless the international community maintains increased and constant pressure on the Sudanese government and rebel groups to abide by their obligations. Security Council members must immediately secure the Sudanese government’s consent to a UN force, or, failing such consent, impose further sanctions on high-level Sudanese officials.

We urge the Security Council to:

  • Apply targeted sanctions to Sudanese government officials if they obstruct the deployment of the UN force and otherwise contribute to abuses of civilians.

The Security Council’s Trip to East Africa

We welcome the initiative by the UN Security Council to visit Sudan and the region in June. If the visit is to have real impact on the deteriorating situation, however, then Security Council members must make the protection of civilians their top priority in fulfillment of their international responsibility to protect. As members are well aware, the issue of militia disarmament and demobilisation remains critical to civilian security and any possible future return of displaced people to their homes in Darfur.

In addition to the many other objectives proposed for the Security Council’s visit to the region in June, we urge the Security Council to explicitly include evaluation of the progress made by the Sudanese government to disarm militias among the terms of reference for their visit. Setting this as a specific objective would not only be a logical follow-up to Security Council demands in resolutions 1556, 1564 and the commitments made in other agreements, but would place additional pressure on the Sudanese government to proactively implement its most recent protection-related commitments in the Abuja peace agreement.

We urge the Security Council to:

  • Include among the Security Council terms of reference proposed for the June visit to the region, as a key priority, the protection needs of civilians.

Over the past three years, the international community has repeatedly failed the people of Darfur. As stated in resolution 1674, the Security Council must act immediately to meet its responsibility to protect Sudanese civilians in Darfur. It is imperative that the Security Council and the international community act now, not in three or six months when the opportunities presented by the Darfur peace agreement may have been lost through lack of confidence and breaches of the agreement, and the crisis of Darfur has spread farther and contributed to further gross human rights abuses and increased instability in the region.

Sincerely,

Gareth Evans, International Crisis Group

Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch

Irene Khan, Amnesty International 

Sudan’s Imperilled Transition: Policy Recommendations for the U.S.

In a 1 February 2022 hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Crisis Group’s President & CEO Dr. Comfort Ero testified on the escalating situation in Sudan and outlined four main recommendations for the U.S. to help restore the civilian-led transition to democracy.

Good morning/afternoon, Chairman Menendez, Ranking Member Risch and distinguished members of the Committee. My name is Dr. Comfort Ero, and I am the President and CEO of the International Crisis Group. Previously I served as the organization’s Africa program director and I have spent my professional and academic career focusing on peace and security issues in Africa. The International Crisis Group is a global organisation committed to the prevention, mitigation and resolution of deadly conflict. We cover over 50 conflict situations around the world and our presence in Sudan dates back more than two decades.[fn]Crisis Group Africa Report N°281, Safeguarding Sudan’s Revolution, 21 October 2019; Jonas Horner, “After the Coup, Restoring Sudan’s Transition”, Crisis Group Commentary, 5 November 2021; Crisis Group Africa Briefing N°168, The Rebels Come to Khartoum: How to Implement Sudan’s New Peace Agreement, 23 February 2021.Hide Footnote

I very much appreciate the opportunity to speak to you about the deteriorating situation in Sudan today. The country is at a dangerous crossroads. Not for the first time in its history, the military has turned its back on the demands of the Sudanese people for more just and representative rule by violently seizing power. The coup on October 25 brought a sudden halt to a civilian-military coalition that since 2019 has been charged with steering Sudan toward elections and full civilian rule.[fn]Crisis Group Report, Safeguarding Sudan’s Revolution, op. cit.; Horner, “After the Coup, Restoring Sudan’s Transition”, op.cit. It was a major reversal in a transition that had brought hope to so many in the Horn of Africa and beyond. I will share with you my analysis of the current situation in Sudan and recommendations for steps the United States might take to help guide it back on the path toward greater democracy and stability.

Background

By way of background, the transition that was interrupted on October 25 followed 30 years of rule by the notorious strongman Omar al-Bashir.

  • After coming to office in a coup in June 1989, Bashir maintained his hold on power by repressing political opposition, fighting costly counter-insurgencies in the country’s peripheries and underwriting his factious security sector with patronage-driven expenditure that ate up, by some estimates, 70 per cent of the national budget.[fn]Shortly after taking office, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who was mandated to lead the civilian-military transition in August 2019, listed as an ambition driving down military expenditure to 20 per cent of the national budget. He said in some years, that budget line had stood at 80 per cent. “Sudan PM seeks to end the country’s pariah status”, AP, 25 August 2019.Hide Footnote
     
  • The patronage system that Bashir built eventually bankrupted the country and contributed to the strongman’s ouster. A small cabal of favoured cronies including Bashir’s Islamist allies from the National Congress Party, senior military officers (many of them drawn from the tiny riverine elite that has dominated Sudan’s military and politics for decades) and newly minted allies such as the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which was blamed for some of the worst violence in the western region of Darfur, benefited substantially from Sudan’s rigged, lopsided economy.[fn]“Who are Sudan’s RSF and their Commander Hemeti?”, Al Jazeera, 6 June 2019.Hide Footnote These same actors continue to try to preserve their privileges atop Sudan’s political, economic and security establishment.
     
  • Popular frustration over political repression, rising prices and a sclerotic economy that could not absorb Sudan’s ranks of unemployed youths helped trigger the protests that eventually drove Bashir from power. The uprising began in the south-eastern towns of Damazin and Sennar, where crowds took to the streets on 13 December 2018 in response to a tripling of bread prices. By the time the protests reached Atbara, the historic bastion of unionism in Sudan, demonstrators were demanding regime change. Against long odds and despite heavy repression, the protesters eventually overwhelmed the security forces, who staged a palace coup against Bashir on 11 April 2019.  
     
  • The military tried to maintain the upper hand but was forced under pressure both from the protest movement and external actors to compromise and accept to share power with civilians. International revulsion over a 3 June 2019 massacre of protesters encamped outside the military headquarters was particularly important in forcing the generals to cede to the will of the Sudanese people.[fn]“Sudan commemorates the June 3 Massacre”, Dabanga Sudan, 3 June 2021.Hide Footnote Under the terms of a 17 August Constitutional Declaration, the country would be governed by a hybrid civilian-military coalition for 39 months leading up to elections.
     
  • The task before that coalition was enormous. The new cabinet headed by the technocrat and diplomat Abdalla Hamdok was charged with breathing new life into Sudan’s anaemic economy, reforming political institutions to lay the ground for elections and delivering justice to the many Sudanese victims of atrocities during Bashir’s rule – and in the weeks following his fall. Despite the formidable obstacles the authorities faced, that coalition represented the country’s best hope for emerging into a stable, prosperous and democratic future and was a source of hope for those supporting democratic renewal in other countries in the region.
     
  • Always reluctant participants in the alliance, the generals barely disguised their opposition to the Hamdok administration’s reforms and were particularly opposed to efforts to deliver justice and to reshape the country’s economy. In defiance of the United States government and others who warned them against doing so, they seized power and ousted the civilians.

The October 25 Coup and Its Aftermath

Today, unfortunately, the picture looks grim. The military violently applied the brakes on the transition in the early hours of October 25 when they placed Hamdok under house arrest, rounded up numerous other civilian officials in the administration, declared a state of emergency and dissolved key institutions including the cabinet. Since then, Sudan’s military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has taken a series of steps to reverse the reforms the civilian-led administration had rolled out, including by disbanding a committee charged with reclaiming public assets, by packing the Sovereign Council, which serves as the country’s executive, with his allies and by appointing Bashir-era figures into key posts including in the judiciary and security forces.[fn]Crisis Group EU Watch List 2022, 27 January 2022.Hide Footnote The military attempted some window dressing when it reinstated Hamdok on 21 November, a move Sudanese protesters rightly dismissed as an effort to legitimise their power grab. Some efforts to stimulate talks among Sudanese actors to find a way out of the crisis continue although the prospects of a resolution appear dim.

[Sudan] has been on a downhill trajectory since the coup.

Overall, the country has been on a downhill trajectory since the coup. On 2 January, Hamdok resigned in frustration after failing to persuade the generals to stick to their commitments under the August 2019 constitutional charter, and in particular to give him a free hand to appoint a new cabinet. In the meantime, the public’s frustration has been growing. For the past few weeks, Sudanese people across the country have taken to the streets to signal their revulsion at the military’s power grab. The general’s response to the protests has come right out of the Bashir playbook. The security forces have repeatedly fired into crowds, killing dozens, according to human rights groups and the UN.[fn]“Bachelet condemns killings of peaceful protesters in Sudan”, UN, 18 November 2021.Hide Footnote A late December decree by military chief Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan gave the police effective immunity for their actions. Still, the Sudanese people continue to risk their lives by staging protests, work boycotts and other strike actions.

While it is not yet clear who will come out on top in this contest between the security forces and the street, there is evidence to suggest that the generals have gravely miscalculated the strength of their hand. This is a different Sudan from the one in which the army captured control of the state at least five times in the past, including in 1989 when Bashir took office.[fn]"A history of Sudan coups”, Statista, 25 October 2021.Hide Footnote Sudan has one of the youngest populations in the world.[fn]“After the Uprising: Including Sudanese Youth”, Chr. Michelsen Institute, 2020.Hide Footnote Six in ten Sudanese are aged between fifteen and 30 – and the current generation rejects the notion that the country should go back to being governed by an unaccountable, out-of-touch elite.[fn]Sudan’s Political Impasse”, The Horn (Crisis Group podcast), 26 January 2022.Hide Footnote This mobilised, youthful population showed its power at the end of 2018 when it rose up in protest at Bashir’s repressive, kleptocratic rule. The protest movement captured the imagination of pro-democracy campaigners well beyond Sudan with its diversity, with the prominent role that women played – sometimes outnumbering men in demonstrations – with its tenacity, and ultimately with its success. Against what many viewed as tall odds, it brought a halt to Bashir’s rule. Since the coup, this movement has again shown its strength by mobilising millions of Sudanese to take to the streets and send a clear signal to the generals that they will not, as past generations of officers did, get away with imposing their will on the Sudanese people.[fn]“Deaths Reported in Sudan as ‘March of Millions’ Demands Restoration of Civilian Rule”, Voice of America, 30 October 2021.Hide Footnote

Getting the transition back on track would serve both the people of Sudan’s democratic aspirations and the interests of the United States.

Getting the transition back on track would serve both the people of Sudan’s democratic aspirations and the interests of the United States and other regional and international actors in the strategically important Horn of Africa – where Sudan sits between major regional powers Ethiopia and Egypt and shares a border with seven countries, several in the throes of conflict themselves. Support for Sudan’s transition would comport with the U.S. government’s stated commitment to champion democratic values and to “demonstrate that democracies can deliver by improving the lives of their own people”[fn]“President Biden to Convene Leaders’ Summit for Democracy”, White House, 11 August 2021.Hide Footnote . It would also be the surest pathway to medium- and long-term stability in the country.

Recommendations

The United States is one of Sudan’s most important external partners. It provides about half a billion dollars in assistance annually and was a champion of efforts to reconnect Sudan’s economy with international financial institutions. Given these ties and the United States government’s relations with all the main regional actors, the U.S. is well positioned to support efforts to reverse the military’s power grab and set Sudan back on a path toward elections and representative government. Specifically, it could:

  • Press the generals to immediately halt violence against protesters and coordinate targeted sanctions to hold them to account: As outlined, Sudan’s security forces have responded to peaceful protests by indiscriminately shooting into crowds and sometimes reportedly even pursuing fleeing and wounded demonstrators into hospitals.[fn]“Sudanese security forces ‘hunt down’ injured protesters in hospital”, France 24, 25 January 2022.Hide Footnote This pattern of behaviour, on top of its grave human cost, threatens to poison relations between the parties and render a resolution even further beyond reach. In coordination with partners including the African Union (AU) and the European Union, the United States should make clear that the generals will face consequences including asset freezes and travel bans if they continue to kill unarmed demonstrators. The White House should simultaneously convene an interagency process to design a targeted sanctions programs aimed at key figures in the military and outline that it is willing to deploy these against individuals that continue to sanction the killing of protesters or obstruct progress toward elections more broadly.
     
  • Support Sudanese-led efforts to rerail the transition: The United States has already signalled its backing for efforts to stimulate negotiations among the generals and civilian groups including the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), the coalition that spearheaded the protest movement and neighbourhood resistance committees, which play an integral role in the day-to-day organisation of protests and have proved a particularly effective channel of resistance to the military coup. The United States should warn the generals against taking precipitous measures that could derail these potential talks, including refraining from unilaterally appointing a new prime minister. It should further insist that these talks are maximally inclusive and in particular that they should take on board the views of the resistance committees. The 2019 power-sharing agreement should be the blueprint for a compromise that could restore civilian-military governance and lead to elections.
     
  • Withhold financial assistance until the military reverses its coup: In the immediate aftermath of the military takeover, the United states suspended $700 million in assistance to Sudan. This was the right step given the generals’ brazen decision to terminate the power-sharing agreement. The United States should make clear to the generals that this support will not resume unless they accept to return to the path toward elections laid out in the 2019 power-sharing agreement. In the meantime, the United States should advance with efforts to repurpose some of its support to civil society groups and also to work with partners including the UN to offer direct assistance to Sudan’s long-suffering people.
     
  • Urge all regional actors to back a return to a civilian-led dispensation: Many on the Sudanese street perceive some external actors, namely Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, as tacitly backing military rule.[fn]Sudan’s Political Impasse”, op. cit.Hide Footnote Such perceptions will ultimately be damaging to those countries’ standing in Sudan if it is able to reinvigorate its transitional process. But it is still possible for these key regional actors to play an important role in helping Sudan return to a civilian-led transitional process, thereby protecting their relations with the Sudanese people. Given his strong background in regional diplomacy, Special Envoy Satterfield should be well positioned to engage these actors and urge them to use their privileged relations with Sudan’s generals to convey to them that the power-sharing agreement they torpedoed remains Sudan’s best and perhaps only chance for stability, a goal they all profess to share. With the welcome appointment of a new ambassador to Khartoum, the United States could play a key role in marshalling a coalition of actors within and outside Sudan that can help steer the country back toward the path to elections.


Sudan is at a historic hinge-point. The military’s power grab has derailed a transition that was an inspiration well beyond Sudan, and still could be, if the generals step back and allow Sudan’s civilians to steer the country to elections. With a piling set of challenges – not least an economy in deep distress, resurging violence in Darfur and elsewhere, and a tottering peace deal with armed groups – the generals can hardly afford to stonewall the Sudanese people’s demands for change. The world – and the United States – should stand with Sudan’s people in their quest for a more democratic and accountable government, an outcome that represents the country’s best hope for achieving long-run political, social and economic stability.

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