Sudan’s descent into violent conflict and humanitarian catastrophe came under the scrutiny of the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday, as Member States called an emergency session of the body in Geneva.
The development comes after more than three weeks of fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) loyal to General Abdel Fattah Al Burhan and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
UN rights chief Volker Türk opened the meeting condemning the “wanton violence” which has brought more hunger, deprivation and displacement upon the Sudanese people, while both sides “trampled international humanitarian law“.
From ‘beacon of hope’ to humanitarian disaster
Mr. Türk reminded the Council that in 2019 Sudan appeared as a “beacon of hope” after popular protests with women and youth “at the forefront” toppled Omar al-Bashir’s three decade-long dictatorship. He spoke of his visit to the country six months ago – his first mission as UN rights chief – when a transition to civilian rule was on the horizon.
Recalling his meetings at the time with both rival generals, the UN rights chief said that his message had been to insist on accountability and human rights as essential to any future agreement.
“Today, immense damage has been done, destroying the hopes and rights of millions of people,” Mr. Türk said.
To date, more than 600 people have been killed in the fighting, more than 150,000 have fled Sudan, and over 700,000 have become internally displaced. Record levels of hunger are expected in the country in the coming months.
Urgent call for peace
The UN rights chief underscored the desperate need for a humanitarian truce and an end to human rights violations.
While noting that despite “intense” diplomatic efforts by actors including the African Union, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the League of Arab States and the United Nations, the leaders of the SAF and RSF have not agreed to discuss ending hostilities, the High Commissioner called on the parties to the conflict to “urgently commit to an inclusive political process and to a negotiated peace”.
The Council was expected to take action on a resolution on Thursday echoing this call and demanding “detailed” rights monitoring of the situation in the country.
‘Immense suffering’, rights abuses
Referring to a statement issued on Thursday by a group of independent UN-appointed human rights experts, Tlaleng Mofokeng, Chair of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures and Special Rapporteur on the right to health, highlighted the “immense suffering” endured by the people of Sudan.
The experts deplored human rights abuses experienced by “civilians of all ages”, including sexual assault and gender-based violence, and shortages of food, water and healthcare. The experts expressed alarm at the shelling of a shelter for girls with disability in Khartoum, as well as other attacks on healthcare, on humanitarian workers and on human rights defenders.
Ms. Mofokeng called on the parties to the conflict to commit to ensuring the safety of civilians and civilian infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals.
Independent rights experts appointed by the High Commissioner in accordance with Human Rights Council resolutions, are not UN staff nor are they paid for their work.
Lack of consent
Sudan’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Hassan Hamid Hassan, questioned the decision to hold the emergency session just weeks before the Council’s regular session in June.
Mr. Hassan further pointed out that the holding of the special session had not received the support of any African nor Arab state.
Diversity of perspectives
Some 70 countries, both Members and observers of the Human Rights Council, as well as NGOs, spoke during the day-long meeting. Their voices presented a diversity of opinions on the need for the Special Session and the extent and scope of the international community’s involvement in the crisis in Sudan.
Representing the United Kingdom, a key sponsor of the session, Andrew Mitchell, Minister of State for development and Africa, insisted on the need to carry out former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s “vision” for the Human Rights Council at its creation in 2006, as a body which could react quickly to human rights emergencies such as the one at hand.
The Special Session was also supported by the European Union and the United States.
On behalf of the group of Arab States, Lebanon’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Salim Baddoura, said that the group welcomed all international and regional initiatives aimed at ending the conflict, the latest being the talks in Jeddah under the auspices of the United States and Saudi Arabia.
He stressed that Sudan, as the affected country, had the right for its views to be taken into account before any new mechanisms were established or existing mandates extended.
Speaking on behalf of the group of African States, Côte d’Ivoire’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Allou Lambert Yao, also expressed support for “African solutions for African problems“, commending the mediation efforts of IGAD under the auspices of the African Union.
The representative of Pakistan, Khalil Hashmi, offered another critical perspective on the session, saying that it risked unnecessary duplication of work as the Security Council was already seized of the political situation in Sudan and that mediation efforts must now be “given primacy”.
Enhanced human rights monitoring
The resolution before the Council on Thursday called for an immediate cessation of hostilities “with no pre-conditions”, and a recommitment of all parties to return to a transition towards civilian-led government. The resolution also highlighted the urgent need to protect civilians and humanitarian workers, as well as to ensure accountability for human rights violations.
One of the resolution’s concrete effects is to expand the mandate of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, designated in December last year, to also include “detailed monitoring and documentation […] of all allegations of human rights violations and abuses since 25 October 2021”, when the Sudanese military led by General al-Burhan seized power in a coup.