UNITAMS SRSG Mr. Volker Perthes Remarks to the Security Council
Madam President, Members of the Security Council,
I am grateful for the opportunity to brief you again on the situation in Sudan.
Unfortunately, since my last briefing to this Council in January, the situation in Sudan has not improved. The country has been without a functioning government since the coup of 25 October, protests against the coup and the violent repression of such protests are continuing. And as a result, in the absence of a political agreement to return to an accepted transitional path, the economic situation, the humanitarian situation, and the security situation are deteriorating.
Time is not on Sudan’s side, and I speak to you today with a sense of urgency which is also increasingly felt by Sudanese stakeholders concerned about the stability and the very existence of their country.
Let me begin with the economic developments. On 7 March this year, the Central Bank announced the floating of the currency. In the following three weeks, the value of the e Sudanese Pound has fallen by over 35 per cent against the US Dollar. At the same time, there have been dramatic price increases for, among other things, bread, fuel, electricity, medicine, health care and public transport.
Sudan also risks losing out on billions of external support, as disbursements from the World Bank, the IMF and other major donors have been paused, and will continue to be paused as long as no functional government is in place. No foreign investment is coming in basically, and exports have dwindled. Moreover, Sudan is at risk of missing critical World Bank and IMF deadlines for international economic and financial support, and the realization of some 50 billion US dollars in debt relief which Sudan was well on its path to receive after reaching HIPC decision point last June.
Notably, protests in Khartoum and other places, while they are still basically political, that is “anti-coup” as it were, are gradually attaining an additional, socio-economic character with more and louder slogans denouncing rising bread prices and deteriorating living conditions.
International humanitarian assistance has continued and was never paused. And the number of Sudanese in need is growing. The combined effects of conflict, economic crisis, and poor harvests will likely double the number of people facing acute hunger to about 18 million people by the end of this year.
In the absence of a political solution to the crisis, the security situation has also worsened across the country. Crime and lawlessness are on the rise, and intercommunal conflict in Darfur has intensified. More concretely: farmers have been dispossessed of their land through violent attacks, assets been looted, villages have been burnt. Women from all parts of the country report deepening concerns for their own safety, even in broad daylight. In the latest violence this month, at least 48 people were killed, and more than 12,000 were displaced in what is being described as intercommunal conflict in Jebel Moon, in West Darfur. According to local reports, the conflict there is also about the control over gold resources.
I have repeatedly urged the authorities to take the necessary measures to help prevent further conflict. We, the mission, are supporting the implementation of security arrangements in Darfur through the Darfur Permanent Ceasefire Committee, which UNITAMS chairs. The PCC is indeed contributing to stability: It has been able to address some incidents between the signatories to the Juba Peace Agreement, and it has also been able recently to inspect assembly areas of Armed Groups moving out of the cities following a decree by General Burhan earlier this year. The PCC is confronted by exaggerated expectations though, both from the Armed Groups in terms of support we can give, and from civilians. Clearly, the role and mandate of the PCC are limited, and remain distinct from the protection of civilians. We have therefore welcomed recent steps by the Government and signatories of the Juba Peace Agreement to begin the training for and standing-up of the Joint Security Keeping Forces. A first batch of approximately 2,000 members of the signatory armed movements are currently being trained by the Sudanese Armed Forces as the kernel of this – eventually – 12,000 strong force. Combined with local peacebuilding efforts, which will need international support, these steps can help to prevent or stop violence and strengthen the protection of civilians. And let me just say here, I fully support the request from the Government of Sudan – which we heard in the last part of the session – that measures to implement DDR for fighters who have to be dismissed from the armed groups should be internationally supported.
Madam President, Members of the Council
Demands for an end to military rule continue with frequent protests in Khartoum and elsewhere. At the same time, protestors continue to be killed or suffer serious injury from live ammunition. Since late December arrests have increasingly targeted protest leaders, resistance committee members as well as political leaders on criminal charges. Many were denied access to family or lawyers for weeks. We welcome the invitation and access granted by Sudanese authorities to Human Rights Expert Adama Dieng in late February and hope that the authorities will continue to engage with him.
It is of particular concern that women continue to be targeted, being subjected to violence and intimidation by members of the security forces. As of 22 March, 16 women have been reportedly raped during protests in Khartoum. These cases have rightly triggered public condemnation, and mobilized groups across society.
In response to this pattern of sexual violence against women, the Working Group on Sexual Violence, which comprises the UN, local civil society partners and the Government’s Unit for Combatting Violence Against Women under the Ministry of Social Affairs, continues to meet regularly to coordinate and strengthen responses to sexual violence. This included a meeting with the Office of the SRSG on Sexual Violence in Conflict earlier this month. Government committees to investigate allegations of violations have yet to produce visible results.
More recently, there have also been disturbing reports of increased tensions between and within the different security forces. Some interlocutors express concern that if a political solution is not found, Sudan could descend into conflict and divisions as seen in Libya, Yemen or elsewhere, in a region already beset by instability.
Let me herewith, Madam President, distinguished members, move to our own – UNITAMS’ – good offices function:
Following the resignation of Prime Minister Hamdok on 2 January, UNITAMS launched intensive Consultations on a Political Process for Sudan. I have previously briefed you about the beginning of these consultations, which were held over a five-week period to hear Sudanese views on a way out of the crisis and the restoration of a credible democratic transition.
The report on these consultations, which was published on 28 February, provides a summary of the opinions and areas of convergence and divergence shared with the mission in more than 110 consultation meetings with more than 800 participants as well as over 80 written submissions. We heard from the military, political parties, armed movements, civil society, women’s groups, resistance committees, youth, Sufi leaders, the business community, nomads, IDPs, the diaspora and other state and non-state actors. Participants came from all parts of Sudan. And one third of the participants were women.
Encouragingly, consensus was visible on many issues including: the need for an end to violence, for a technocratic government or a government of experts, for a transitional legislative council. There was wide-reaching agreement on the need to reconsider the role, size and membership of the Sovereignty Council, for meaningful representation of women at a minimum of 40% in transitional institutions and mechanisms to advance women’s rights. There is overarching consensus on the need for one unified professional army, for judicial entities to be established, and for creating conditions for credible elections as well as for an inclusive constitutional process. There was also significant agreement around the need for a robust engagement by the international community in support of the political transition, including the possibility of serving as guarantors for any agreement. All this is remarkable in the light of the political divisions that have paralyzed the country in the last couple of months. Or as one commentator remarked: The UNITAMS-led consultations have shown the Sudanese that they agree on more substantial points than they are aware of.
Madam President, distinguished members,
I am pleased to announce to this Council that the United Nations, the African Union and IGAD have agreed to join efforts in supporting Sudan through the next phase of this political process, drawing on our comparative advantages and respective strengths. Our common intention is to facilitate an inclusive, Sudanese-owned, and Sudanese-led political process, with the full and meaningful participation of women, focusing on a limited number of urgent priorities required to address the current crisis, and restore constitutional order.
Based on the outcome of our initial consultations, we consider, jointly, these priorities to include (i) interim constitutional arrangements, including the executive, legislative and judicial organs of the transitions as well as their structure and functions; (ii) the criteria and mechanisms to appoint a Prime Minister and a cabinet; (iii) a roadmap for the transitional period and a government programme focusing on an achievable set of priority areas, including (iv) the type, timing, and necessary conditions for elections at the end of this transitional period.
We expect to start an intensive phase of talks in the next couple of weeks, fully recognizing that this will be during the holy month of Ramadan. We anticipate that stakeholders will participate in the month’s spirit of peace and forgiveness.
Over the last two weeks, our three organizations – UNITAMS, the AU and IGAD -- have been working robustly to agree on a common approach and lay the ground for this process, including holding individual and joint meetings with some of the key stakeholders. Many of these stakeholders have emphasized the urgency of the situation and the need for a speedy yet sound resolution. We share this concern and we will undertake all efforts, together, to advance the process.
And while the focus of the next phase will be on addressing immediate issues, a separate process will be needed to discuss mid- and longer-term issues, including a permanent constitution, levels of governance, centre-periphery relations and equitable wealth sharing, or peace agreements and their implementation. Hopefully such a longer-term process can then be led under the auspices of a domestically accepted Prime Minister and his/her government.
The upcoming talks, however, have a narrow and clearly defined aim: to return to constitutional order and transitional path, with an empowered civilian led government to steer the country through the transitional period and address the critical priorities.
If these political talks are to have a chance at succeeding, favourable – a conducive environment – conditions must be created. This will entail primarily three things: an end to violence; the release of political detainees; and a firm commitment to phase out the current emergency status in the country. AU Envoy Hacen Lebatt and I have been conveying these messages publicly, but also directly, privately to the military leadership and all stakeholders. I have been informed over the weekend that the military is now studying some confidence-building measures which, if implemented, could enhance the environment for political talks.
We are coordinating closely with respected Sudanese interlocutors who are working diligently and constructively to help foster consensus on a way forward. The international community has been playing a critical, supportive role both in the consultations and now in our preparations for the upcoming talks. I thank them and I look forward to that continued support.
Excellencies, in conclusion,
Let me say, the stakes are high.
The aspirations of Sudanese women and men for a prosperous, civilian-led, democratic future are at risk. Unless the current trajectory is corrected, the country will head towards an economic and security collapse, and significant humanitarian suffering.
All Sudanese stakeholders will therefore need to be prepared to make compromises in the interests of the people, for stability, and for prosperity.
I am encouraged by the desire of Sudanese to reach agreement, and by the wide-ranging consensus that has been crystallizing on several key principles during our consultations. Our commitment and support to the Sudanese people is unwavering.
I would like to thank this Council for its support to our endeavours at this critical juncture, and I also wish to thank my colleagues in the African Union and IGAD, Special Envoy Hacen Lebatt and Special Envoy Ismail Wais, for the fruitful collaboration to date.