Security Council remarks Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Sudan and Head of UNITAMS, Mr. Volker Perthes

20 Mar 2023

Security Council remarks Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Sudan and Head of UNITAMS, Mr. Volker Perthes

Thank you Mr. President, Members of the Security Council,

Thanks for the opportunity to brief you again.

When I last briefed you on 8th of December, the Sudanese military and a broad range of civilian actors had just signed a political framework agreement. This was a watershed moment and ushered into a new phase of the political process which aims to lead to a new transitional period.

Today, we are the closest we have been to a solution, although challenges remain. Let me outline where we are:

On 9 January, the signatories to the framework agreement, with the facilitation of the Trilateral Mechanism of the African Union, IGAD and the United Nations, began broad consultations in the form of workshops on five contentious issues: the dismantling of the old regime; the Juba Peace Agreement; the East of Sudan; transitional justice; and security sector reform.

Calling these consultations “workshops” is a bit of a misnomer. Each consultation gathered hundreds of Sudanese women and men – most of them came from outside the capital, representing a broad social, professional, and political spectrum. And even some who had earlier publicly rejected the political process joined these conferences or workshops. Each workshop thus created space for public and transparent discussions among Sudanese citizens from all walks of life, including societal groups who often feel voiceless.

And while the representation of Sudanese women fell short of the commitment to have 40 percent minimum, women actively participated in the discussions.

Many areas of consensus emerged: in the workshop on the East for example, important breakthroughs emerged such as an agreement on a forum that will pave the way for future reconciliation in that region.

The national conference on transitional justice, which concludes today, was instrumental in advancing a common understanding of accountability and reconciliation.  

The reform of the security sector and the integration of forces are among the most sensitive elements of the current process. Last Thursday, military and civilian leaders signed a joint paper on phases and substance of security sector reform. This allows us – the Trilateral Mechanism – to launch the last workshop by the end of this week. It will focus on feasible options for the reform of the security sector and the integration of the Rapid Support Forces and armed movements into one national professional army. And it will hopefully come up with an initial roadmap for the implementation of these steps in the years to come.

Things are moving fast. Yesterday, the military and civilian signatories met the Trilateral Mechanism, the Quad, and the European Union again, to confirm their commitment to the process and speak about the next steps. Based on their understanding, we – the Trilateral Mechanism – convened a preparatory meeting at the Republican Palace, where these parties agreed to begin the drafting process for a final political agreement and a transitional constitution. They also established a committee to reach out to non-signatory parties and movements, and on a timeline. Their aim is to reach a final political agreement, agree on the constitution, and begin on the formation of a civilian government before mid-April. This is ambitious, but it can be done with the necessary political will.

We – the Trilateral Mechanism - remain encouraged by how little substantive difference there remain among the main actors. This includes the leaders of two major armed movements who are members of the current military-led government but have not signed the Framework Agreement and did also not participate in yesterday’s meetings. Their main differences with the signatories is not about the structures of the transition or the next government, but they wish to ensure their own representation in it.

Joining the process and voicing their demands through the final political agreement would be the best way to guarantee this.

The process has been a truly Sudanese one. We, the United Nations and our partners in the Trilateral Mechanism, have been actively facilitating it and we will continue to do so. General Burhan, the Chairman of the Sovereign Council, and General Hemedti, the Vice Chair, have repeatedly stressed that they want to see this process through and hand over power to a civilian government. Their commitment, and the cooperation in recent weeks of military and civilian leaders to reach a solution, is highly commendable.

At the same time, we have been alarmed by rising tensions between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces in recent weeks. I have appealed to both sides for urgent de-escalation and I was encouraged by their decision to establish a joint security committee last week and their agreement on fundamental aspects of security sector reform and integration.

Civilian parties will now have to swiftly finalize discussions on the mechanisms to select a Prime Minister and form a government. A transparent engagement with the public, with the youth on the street, and with those who have not or not yet entered the process, is necessary to build legitimacy for the future government.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Time is essential. The scale of challenges facing the people and any new government are enormous:

Humanitarian needs in Sudan are at record levels with 15.8 million people – about a third of the population – requiring humanitarian assistance this year. High food prices and rising hunger remain a serious concern.

Local conflicts particularly in Darfur, Blue Nile, South and West Kordofan, mainly over access to and control of resources, continue to result in the killing, injury, and displacement of civilians. Over 16,000 people were displaced due to conflict between December last year and February 2023.

Just in one incident last December in Bleil in South Darfur, intercommunal clashes claimed the lives of at least 15, injured another 47 and displaced nearly 13,000. Increasing interventions by the authorities managed to de-escalate these situations and broker cessation of hostilities. In several instances, investigations were also conducted, which is a welcome development. At the same time, the deployment of the Joint Security-Keeping Forces continues to be delayed. And we are also concerned about reports of sexual violence in the context of these conflicts, which must be investigated.

The Permanent Ceasefire Committee continues its monitoring. Encouragingly, no ceasefire violations were reported since my last briefing. In my recent meeting with the Joint High Military Committee, they repeated their call for more international support and for UNITAMS to continue its role as chair of the Ceasefire Committees.

Humanitarian access is still a critical concern, as are bureaucratic and administrative impediments that hinder effective operations of the United Nations and our NGO partners. We remain in continuous dialogue with the authorities to address these concerns, including on the issuance of visas for UN staff. Slower responses entail less support and less timely support for the people of Sudan. We also continue our dialogue with the government on the implementation of the National Plan on the Protection of Civilians.

The protests against military rule have continued albeit in lower numbers and with less frequency. While the excessive use of force has decreased over time, a young protestor was fatally shot by a police officer in Khartoum on 28 February. The immediate action taken by the authorities to investigate his death and lift immunity from prosecution of the officer was promising. I urge the authorities to make visible progress on investigations into this and other human rights abuses and bring the perpetrators to justice.

A court decision on 6 March to acquit and release eight young men accused of killing a military intelligence officer last year was welcome given the absence of evidence against them. I also welcome the release of three hundred other men who were detained without charges on the orders of the Governors of North and West Darfur in 2021 and 2022. The authorities must respect the due process rights of detainees and release anyone unlawfully detained.

The United Nations also continues to work with the authorities and armed groups, to ensure the release of children associated with armed groups. Over the last two months, 122 children (92 boys and 30 girls) were released in Darfur.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The challenges facing the next government are immense: addressing pressing humanitarian and economic needs, ensuring security and justice and respect for human rights, peacemaking, and advancing the democratic transition are all critical demands of the Sudanese.

The UN, with international partners, is coordinating and jointly planning collective support for the post-agreement transition phase and the government’s priorities. We already convened an initial discussion with UN agencies, the IFIs, and donors, to support the priorities of an expected incoming government post-agreement.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me to conclude by reminding us of how far the Sudanese have come: when I briefed you last year around this time, the Trilateral Mechanism had just begun the process of shuttling between Sudanese stakeholders. At that time, protests were held every few days, and key actors did not want to talk, let alone negotiate, with each other.  

Today, Sudanese stakeholders are closer than they have ever been to a settlement and the return to a civilian government. The process, certainly not perfect, and occasionally criticized for being too slow, has managed to get a broad and sufficiently inclusive group of stakeholders –particularly military authorities and civilian opposition parties – to near agreement.

And as the Sudanese navigate this last hurdle, collective efforts from the international community are needed now more than ever. It is necessary to support the next government with the required capacity to tackle the major issues that have lain dormant: addressing root causes of conflict; implementing security arrangements; significantly improving the lives of Sudanese women and men, preparing free and fair elections. The united support of this Council will be crucial.

Thank you.