Briefing by Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Volker Perthes, to the Security Council
Thank you, Madam President,
Members of the Security Council,
Since my last briefing in May, Sudan has seen new political developments but also a continued deterioration of the socio-economic situation. Security incidents affecting civilians have increased across the country. Humanitarian needs are growing exponentially.
The overall situation will continue to worsen unless a political situation is found to restore a credible, fully functioning civilian-led government: A government that can re-establish the authority of the state across the country and create the conditions for a resumption of international cooperation, including debt relief. Such a solution is by no means guaranteed. But there is a chance to reach a political agreement that would inaugurate a new transitional period towards democratic governance.
Next month, on 25 October, the military coup in Sudan will be one year old. The past ten months have been marked by recurrent protests against the coup. 117 people have been killed, and thousands injured in the context of these protests. At the same time, efforts to realize the goals of the revolution of 2018 have continued, particularly among youth, women, trade unions and professional associations. A recent noteworthy event was the formation of a new, independent journalists’ syndicate whose members not only asserted their right to form an association but also elected their council and president through competitive voting for the first time in 33 years.
At the same time, elements of the former regime which were displaced by the revolution are gradually returning to the political scene, to the administration, and to the public space.
With regard to the political process, some important decisions have been taken by the military, and some promising developments have happened among civilians. On July 4, the President of the Sovereign Council, General Abdelfattah Burhan, announced the military’s intention to withdraw from politics. And while large parts of the public doubted that the military leadership meant what it said, the announcement did generate momentum among civilian forces, and four/five major initiatives aimed at reaching a common “civilian” vision have emerged in response.
Last Saturday, the initiative of the Bar Association presented the outcome of their work on a draft constitutional framework to the Trilateral Mechanism. The draft was explicitly endorsed by the parties behind two other major initiatives, which means that the Bar Association initiative now gathers a broad spectrum of civilian forces around one vision, including the parties of the Forces for Freedom and Change-Central Committee on which the government of former prime minister Hamdok had relied, relevant parties not included in that government like the Democratic Unionist Party, and Juba Peace Agreement signatories still present in today’s Sovereign Council.
The Trilateral Mechanism, consisting of UNITAMS, the African Union and IGAD, has engaged with all initiatives. We have facilitated meaningful participation of women; we have provided constitutional expertise to those who have requested such assistance; and we are currently in the process of comparing the constitutional and political visions that have been issued. Almost all stakeholders, including notably the military, have expressed that they want the Trilateral Mechanism to play a role – either in bringing the different initiatives together, coming up with bridging proposals, or eventually mediating an agreement with the military.
I am actually encouraged by the degree of commonality in the current debate in Sudan. There are important differences, no doubt, about the institutional division of powers, particularly the role of the military. But the gaps have narrowed, and there is wide-ranging consensus now, among other things, on the need for a civilian head of state, an independent prime minister, and a cabinet of experts or technocrats, not party leaders. There is also consensus that the issue of transitional justice needs to be high on the list of priorities.
So there is an opportunity to end the crisis, which military and civilian forces need to grasp. And while any political agreement needs to be Sudanese-owned, the Trilateral Mechanism stands ready to convene the parties around one text so as to bridge remaining differences.
As the political stalemate continues, the human rights situation has also not improved. Since my last briefing, 20 protesters were killed and at least 1,700 injured. I have more than once deemed it necessary to publicly condemn the excessive use of force by security forces as well as their targeting of health facilities and medical staff.
The political crisis in Khartoum also contributes to instability in the rest of the country. Peace talks between the government and the SPLM/N that were paused in the summer of 2021 have not resumed. Particularly worrisome is the surge of violence in Darfur and the Blue Nile. From May to August, UNITAMS documented 40 incidents of inter-communal violence resulting in the deaths of more than 300 civilians.
National and local authorities including the Commander of the Rapid Support Forces, leaders of the Juba Peace signatories, regional and state governors, Native Administration, and civil society leaders, have all made attempts at brokering reconciliation agreements in Darfur and the Blue Nile, but the sustainability of these agreements remains uncertain in the absence of effective state authority. I urge all communities to refrain from hate speech, which is increasingly fueling communal tensions. And I urge the authorities to urgently address protection gaps. There should be no doubt that the responsibility for the protection of civilians rests on their shoulders.
The lack of implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement continues to contribute to instability. Protocols to address the drivers of the conflict in Darfur, including wealth sharing, justice, land issues, and the return of IDPs, remain unfulfilled. In the absence of a political agreement, it will be difficult to advance these issues.
One positive step, as mentioned by the Permanent Representative of Sudan in the last session, was the graduation on 3 July of the first batch of 2,000 fighters from the Juba Peace Agreement signatories for the Joint Security Keeping Force in Darfur. The UN has contributed to the training of these forces on human rights and international humanitarian law. But this graduation was only a first step. The Force has not actually been fully established with matching numbers of soldiers from the regular forces. And it has yet to be deployed. I urge the authorities to begin with the deployment of these forces, and thereby improve the protection of the population.
Humanitarian needs are now at record levels due to the combination of ongoing political instability, economic crisis, a rise in intercommunal violence, poor harvests, and now floods. 11.7 million people are facing acute hunger and this number is growing. While the UN and partner organizations managed to reach 7.1 million people in need since January, the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan is only funded at 32 per cent, less than a third.
Members of the Security Council,
In this challenging context, the United Nations has been working with partners to strengthen community stabilization efforts and resilience building. Integrated programmatic approaches supported by the Peacebuilding Fund have been put in place to address risks induced by climate change and food insecurity in Darfur.
UNITAMS and the UN family also continue to offer support to national and state authorities in the implementation of the National Plan for the Protection of Civilians. And UNITAMS continues to advise and train Sudanese Police Forces in community policing, addressing sexual and gender-based violence, and the protection of civilians. Workshops and trainings over the past few months have involved more than 400 police personnel and 1,100 community members, usually in cooperation with the Sudanese police, other UN agencies, civil society, and the respective state prosecutor’s offices.
And the Permanent Ceasefire Committee, chaired by UNITAMS, has continued to engage in order to de-escalate tensions, resolve disputes between signatory parties to the Juba Peace Agreement, and undertake capacity-building activities with local authorities. It has conducted investigations following formal requests from the parties, including after the conflict in Kerenik and El Geneina in April this year.
Excellencies, let me sum up:
Nearly a year after the military takeover of 25 October, Sudan still lacks a fully functional and legitimate government. The decision of the military to withdraw from politics and the recent initiatives by civilian forces offer a window of opportunity for both the military and political forces to reach an agreement on the way forward. Time is of essence however: the longer political paralysis exists, the more difficult it will become to return to the “transition” which UNITAMS is mandated to assist. I urge all actors to seize the opportunity and reach an agreement on a solution that enjoys legitimacy in the eyes of Sudanese women and men.
We, the United Nations and our partners in the Trilateral Mechanism, remain steadfast in our efforts in that direction. I count on this Council and the broader international community to back our efforts and to offer coordinated support to Sudan at this critical time.
Thank you, Madam President.