ASSISTANT SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR AFRICA IN THE DEPARTMENTS OF POLITICAL AND PEACEBUILDING AFFAIRS AND PEACE OPERATIONS (DPPA-DPO) MARTHA AMA AKYAA POBEE REMARKS TO THE SECURITY COUNCIL ON 16 NOVEMBER 2023
Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Security Council,
The conflict in Sudan has been raging for more than seven months with no sign of de-escalation. On the contrary, hostilities have intensified in recent weeks.
While both warring parties have declared a readiness to negotiate a ceasefire, their actions on the ground suggest otherwise.
In Darfur, the Rapid Support Forces have made significant military gains in recent weeks, gaining control of the Sudanese Armed Forces bases in Nyala Zalingei and El Geneina between 26 October and 4 November.
At present, the RSF seems poised to advance on El Fasher in North Darfur, expanding its territorial control over all strategic locations in the Darfur region. An RSF attack on El Fasher or its surrounding areas could result in high numbers of civilian casualties, due to the large number of internally displaced persons located there.
Juba Peace Agreement armed movement signatories based in the area have deployed forces to defend the city. While they had been officially maintaining neutrality in the conflict, earlier today some of them announced their decision to end their neutrality in the conflict and align with the Sudanese Armed Forces. Their statement refers to alleged human rights abuses committed by the Rapid Support Forces, and the increasing risk of Sudan fragmenting, as the reasons for their departure from neutrality.
At the same time, people fleeing to Chad from West Darfur have reported a new surge in ethnically-driven violence directed towards members of the Masalit community.
Credible reports indicate that Arab militias affiliated with the RSF committed serious human rights abuses between 4 and 6 November, particularly in the Ardamata neighbourhood of El Geneina. UNITAMS is working to verify these reports, as well as reports that a Masalit militia undertook targeted violence against members of the Arab community in El Geneina, risking cyclical bouts of violence.
Outside of Darfur, deadly clashes have continued in Khartoum, Omdurman and Bahri, with the main battles taking place around SAF strongholds. Tensions between the SAF and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North / Al Hilu faction also persist in South Kordofan, while the situation remains tense around El Obeid in North Kordofan.
Hostilities have spilled over to new areas, such as Gezira, White Nile and West Kordofan states, placing even more civilians at risk as well as humanitarian operations.
Sudan is facing a convergence of a worsening humanitarian calamity and a catastrophic human rights crisis. More than 6,000 civilians, including women and children, have been killed since April. Sudan is now the world’s largest displacement crisis, with 7.1 million people displaced. The health situation also remains extremely worrying.
Despite numerous access constraints, attacks on aid workers, and bureaucratic impediments, the United Nations and humanitarian partners continue to deliver life-saving assistance. Overall, 4.1 million people have received life-saving assistance since mid-April, but this is only 22 per cent of the people that humanitarian organizations aim to assist in 2023.
Civilians continue to face serious violations of human rights, including sexual and gender-based violence. The warring parties have reportedly carried out indiscriminate attacks, while also conducting targeted attacks against civilians, in apparent violation of international humanitarian law. Restrictions on civic space and livelihood activities continue unabated.
The plight of women and girls across Sudan continues to significantly deteriorate. Testimonies of victims of sexual violence collected by the Mission predominantly point to armed men in RSF uniforms or RSF personnel as the alleged perpetrators. Allegations of rape and sexual harassment implicating the SAF have also been reported, primarily in Omdurman and Bahri.
We welcome the resumption of talks in Jeddah on 29 October, co-facilitated by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States with the positive inclusion of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) also representing the African Union. Coordinated regional and international leverage and reinforced linkages to ongoing civilian initiatives will be essential to strengthen the talks and the likelihood of further progress.
The Statement of Commitments adopted by the parties in Jeddah on 7 November is an important first step towards addressing the needs of the Sudanese people. We welcome the launch of the Humanitarian Forum on 13 November and are hopeful that it will facilitate the implementation of humanitarian commitments made in Jeddah.
Regrettably, the parties did not reach an agreement on a ceasefire in this round of Jeddah talks. Instead, they have intensified the fighting.
While a ceasefire must be put in place by the warring parties, no durable solution can emerge without engaging civilians as the paramount stakeholders in a political process.
In this context, we welcome the initiatives by civilian actors to coalesce around a common peace platform. A meeting of civilian stakeholders held in Addis Ababa in October was an important development towards this end. The meeting, along with other initiatives convened by civilian stakeholders, put forward principles of what a future, inclusive democratic Sudan could look like.
We also welcome the consultative meeting of signatories to the Juba Peace Agreement, convened in Juba on 24 and 25 October, and commend the Government of South Sudan for hosting this meeting.
While Sudanese women continue their activism against the war and in favour of an inclusive transition, we are seeing a diminishment of women’s political participation. No political process will succeed if women are not adequately present at the table and their concerns are not addressed.
A joined-up mediation approach will be essential to not only increase pressure on the parties but ensure that ceasefire and civilian political tracks are harmonized and integrated.
Diplomatic efforts should also include regional states that can exercise tangible leverage on the warring parties to end the war. To this end, we are encouraged by the prospects for renewed regional efforts to advance peace and dialogue.
Given the dramatically changed circumstances on the ground since the outbreak of the conflict, the Secretary-General has initiated a strategic review of UNITAMS to provide this Council with options on how to adapt the Mission’s mandate to better fit the current context. This will help ensure that the Mission’s objectives and priorities adequately reflect the needs of the Sudanese people, and support Sudan on its path towards peace and stability.
The Secretary-General has appointed Mr. Ian Martin to lead the Strategic Review. We encourage you to engage with him to share your views on the future of the Mission.
Mr. Martin will hold extensive consultations with key stakeholders including Sudanese authorities, civil society, regional and sub-regional organisations, Member States and relevant entities within the United Nations system. While the review team will work expeditiously, we would ask Council Members for sufficient time to ensure that the process is as thorough as possible and reflects the views of a wide range of actors.
Mr. President, Distinguished members of the Security Council,
It is high time that the warring sides recognize the futility of continued fighting and prioritize dialogue and de-escalation. It is also important that the situation in Sudan does not fall off the international radar, but rather, that the international community renews its commitment to revitalise collective and coordinated peace efforts under the leadership of the region.
The United Nations stands ready work with partners and play an effective and supporting role in ending the conflict and restoring a fully civilian transition. The continued cooperation and unity of this Council on Sudan will be critical in this regard.