Top Officials, Briefing Security Council, Urge International Support for Sudan, as Recent Political Progress Faces Complex Challenges

  • by Guest Writer
  • December 9, 2020

Sudan’s Speaker Highlights Juba Peace Agreement, amid Discussion of Transition from Hybrid Operation to New United Nations Presence

Officials briefing the Security Council today called for international support for Sudan as it advances in the face of complex challenges, outlining that country’s recent political progress and the transition from the African Union‑United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) to a newly mandated presence.

“It is incumbent on all of us to support Sudan in its efforts to achieve democratic governance, economic prosperity and an inclusive society for all Sudanese,” emphasized Rosemary DiCarlo, Under‑Secretary‑General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs.

Delivering the first briefing on UNAMID’s transition to the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), she said that since her last briefing, in September, progress towards a democratic transition has included the amendment of the constitutional document following the signing of the Juba Peace Agreement in October that expands the Sovereign Council and further defines representation in the transitional legislature. The latter’s formation has been postponed until 31 December, she noted.

Introducing the Secretary-General’s latest reports on the situation (documents S/2020/1155 and S/2020/1115), she stressed that all political stakeholders will need to engage in constructive consultations to ensure the creation of an inclusive and representative body that reflects Sudan’s social and political diversity and ensures the significant representation of women.

Despite the progress, however, political tensions are increasing, particularly over the timeline for creating the legislature, she reported, citing also the mandate of the Council of Partners of the Transitional Period, established on 1 December. Some think it undermines other defined bodies and includes little representation of women and young people, she said. Echoing calls for swift formation of the legislative body, she expressed hope that consensus can be found on clearly defined, inclusive and effective transitional institutions. In that regard, she welcomed efforts by civil society and the transitional Government to promote gender equality. The dire economic situation, exacerbated by COVID‑19, continues to cast a dark and long shadow over all these efforts, she added, underlining the importance of international assistance in that regard.

She went on to report that UNITAMS began to deploy to Khartoum in October, adding that, following consultations with the transitional authorities, the Mission will have a light footprint, and focus on the outlined in resolution 2524 (2020): support to the political transition, peace processes, peacebuilding, civilian protection and the rule of law, while mobilizing development and humanitarian assistance. It will provide good offices, technical support and capacity‑building, see said, noting that it will leverage the work of the United Nations country team through a fully integrated approach that will begin delivering on its strategic objectives by 1 January 2021. In that context, she urged the transitional Government to finalize the status‑of‑mission agreement. Welcoming Government civilian‑protection plans, including the deployment of a force for that purpose in Darfur, she pledged that lessons learned from UNAMID will help to shape the new Mission’s assistance in that area, emphasizing that effective protection will only be achieved by building sustainable peace through full implementation of the Juba Agreement.

Delivering a second briefing, Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, Under‑Secretary‑General for Peace Operations, said that the joint special report’s recommendations should be considered in the broader context of milestone political developments, such as the signing of the Juba Peace Agreement on 3 October and the Government’s national plan on civilian protection. They constitute a solid basis to address the root causes of the conflict in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan, and create the necessary institutional framework for parties to the Peace Agreement to jointly assume primary responsibility for protecting civilians. Welcoming the transitional Government’s firm and unequivocal resolve to assume responsibility for protecting civilians, he said the national plan is a comprehensive document, based upon which UNITAMS and the United Nations country team can develop a complementary support strategy going forward. The transitional Government has begun to deploy a civilian protection force to Darfur, he added, noting that its size and reach are intended to surpass those of UNAMID.

Darfur, however, saw a spike in clashes involving the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid elements as well as intercommunal violence during the reporting period, he said. The situation in camps for the internally displaced – such as Kalma in South Darfur, Sortony in North Darfur, and Hamadiya in Central Darfur, as well as the areas around Golo in the Jebel Marra region – will be of particular concern, he emphasized, pointing out that Government forces do not yet have a sustained presence, or even access. He expressed hope, however, that the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid group’s recent positive indications of potential involvement in the peace process could help change dispositions within its constituency.

He went on to recall that the tripartite mechanism recommended UNAMID’s termination at the end of its current mandate, 31 December 2020, and a six‑month period of drawdown and liquidation thereafter. Underlining the need to coordinate international support for efforts by the transitional Government and parties to the Juba Peace Agreement in providing protection, particularly to its civilian protection force, he said that if the Security Council decides to terminate UNAMID’s mandate by 31 December 2020, its remaining contingents will be dedicated to the protection of Mission personnel, team sites and assets, while preparing for exit. The onus is on the transitional authorities and the relevant institutions to respond to any security incident, as UNAMID will be unable to intervene in such cases after 31 December, he stressed.

It is also critical that the transition sustain peacebuilding gains, he continued. The drawdown period should factor in ways for the United Nations and its country team to help the transitional Government maintain peacebuilding support to further enhance the protective environment, so as to prevent relapse into conflict in fragile communities. Coordinated political advocacy is required in support of an orderly and safe drawdown and closure of team sites, he stressed, pointing out resistance from State authorities and local communities to UNAMID’s removal and withdrawal of assets and equipment from team sites. If the drawdown process is further accelerated, it would be essential that the Government provide further concrete support at all levels to facilitate and assist in the drawdown process.

“There is a real opportunity to end the decades‑long conflict in Darfur through implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement,” he said. “The immediate peace dividends, the permanent ceasefire and the deployment of the joint security‑keeping forces will change the dynamics on the ground and enhance the ongoing Government efforts to gain the confidence of the local communities.” He went on to reiterate his appreciation for the African Union in managing the unprecedented hybrid Mission. “There were trying times in the history of UNAMID, but we believe that the presence of the Mission averted large‑scale violence in the difficult terrains and operating environments that it has faced,” he said, concluding: “It is the responsibility of the transitional authorities of Sudan and the parties to the Juba Peace Agreement, with the support of the international community, to safeguard the gains made in the history of UNAMID.”

In the final briefing, Atul Khare, Under‑Secretary‑General for Operational Support, noted that UNAMID deploys more than 6,000 military and police personnel, most of them within 22 contingents. More than 1,500 remaining civilian staff includes about 700 international staff, spread across the logistics and operations base in El Fasher, UNAMID headquarters in Zalingei, and 13 team sites in Darfur, as well as Khartoum and Port Sudan. The 22 contingents represent immeasurable value in equipment deployed by contributing countries, and more than 10,000 Mission assets, plus remaining inventory, he said, estimating that an orderly and safe drawdown of such magnitude will clearly take no less than 6 months, followed by a period of asset disposal and liquidation that will last from 9 to 12 months. It will require the full cooperation of the transitional Government and local authorities, he added.

A compressed timeline and the inherent logistical challenges of closing the various team sites, he continued, as well as repatriating uniformed personnel and their equipment, separating or reassigning remaining staff, and properly disposing of the Mission’s assets will be an enormous task. Moreover, Darfur is landlocked, he pointed out, explaining that UNAMID relies on a single medium‑sized runway to support strategic passenger movements. The movement of equipment and inventories across vast distances, both within Darfur, and from the region to Port Sudan, will be critical to the drawdown’s success, he stressed.

Now reliant on force protection provided by contingents as the backbone of its security arrangements, he said, UNAMID will increasingly rely on the transitional Government to provide security for the Mission’s staff and assets during the drawdown. The Council may wish to consider options to maintain a modest, inwardly focused guard‑unit capability during the drawdown, he said, adding that may be very important as Sudanese security forces focus on protecting civilians. The pending challenges increase the strategic risks of a protracted drawdown and closure, he cautioned.

After a tripartite mechanism meeting in October, he recalled, the Department and the Mission reviewed and updated UNAMID’s drawdown and closure planning in preparation for termination of the mandate on 31 December. One day was dedicated to establishing a coordination mechanism. “The challenge remains daunting,” he said, expressing hope that the streamlined coordination mechanism will help to meet the challenges outlined today. “But it must be augmented by ongoing engagement with the Government, at the political level,” he emphasized. He went on to stress that the transitional Government’s continued full cooperation will be critical to establishing UNITAMS as UNAMID is closed. Noting that nearly 30 temporary staff have been recruited for the new Mission, he said the United Nations remains reliant on the transitional Government to promptly process requests for visas.

Council members then took the floor, with some welcoming the political progress in Sudan, including the Juba Peace Agreement and commitments by the transitional Government on civilian protection and governance reforms. Others warned against too hasty a drawdown of UNAMID in the face of violent incidents in Darfur and other challenges to the protection of civilians, alongside the deteriorating the economic situation, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For a successful transition to UNITAMS, the new Mission must be operational as soon as possible, with its leadership, as yet unnamed, appointed without delay, speakers emphasized. Sudan’s representative pledged the transitional Government’s commitment to working with UNITAMS, affirming its support for the 1 January transition and thanking all involved with UNAMID for their contribution to “a historic mission”.

The United Kingdom’s representative noted that Prime Minister Abdalla Adam Hamdok has implemented several critical reforms, including the removal of fuel subsidies and progress towards ratifying key international human rights norms. Urging Sudan to continue on that path she also welcomed the transitional Government’s commitment to fulfilling its civilian-protection responsibilities and to ensuring unfettered humanitarian access. However, persistent intercommunal violence, as well as intermittent clashes between the Sudan Liberation Army–Abdul Wahid (SLA-AW) and Government forces are concerning, she noted. As UNAMID prepares to withdraw, the Government must develop more responsive and representative rule-of-law institutions to build trust with local populations and ensure stability in conflict areas. Turning to UNITAMS, she said the delays in appointing a Special Representative of the Secretary-General to lead the new Mission are preventing the provision of support. She urged the Secretariat to conclude the appointment process and continue to work with the transitional Government to expedite the Mission’s full establishment throughout Sudan.

Germany’s representative said his country will fully support the Prime Minister, but it is depressing to see that women insufficiently represented in the transitional Government. Women’s participation is key to the effective functioning of peace processes, he emphasized. Citing news reports, he noted that infighting between factions of the holdout SLA-AW for control over goldmines, as well as attacks against Government forces have displaced more than 27,000 people. UNITAMS must be able to deliver its duties on day one, he stressed, saying Germany will provide voluntary contributions and personnel to the new Mission. It is important that the Security Council pronounce itself on the UNAMID drawdown. “Our blue helmets will not be able to intervene in security incidents” once the mandate expires, he pointed out, also citing local resistance to the drawdown. He went on to warn against possible looting of United Nations assets, saying that would tarnish the images of the transitional Government and the United Nations. He reiterated that the Council should consider those circumstances and decide UNAMID’s future.

The Russian Federation’s representative welcomed the transitional Government’s willingness to address root causes of conflict in Darfur and elsewhere, saying the fact that much of the progress was made in cooperation with South Sudan demonstrates the importance of the principle of “African solutions to African problems”. In responding to the difficult economic and social issues, UNITAMS must reach full capacity as soon as possible, she emphasized. At the same time, UNAMID should complete its mandate by 31 December, prioritizing the needs of the Sudanese authorities in the drawdown, she said, stressing that the hybrid mission has met its objectives. She added that the transitional Government’s immediate and coordinated response to recent violent incidents point to their attention to security issues. Underlining the need for pressure on SLA-AW, she described him as a “hard-line irreconcilable spoiler”.

The Dominican Republic’s representative said UNITAMS could support the transition successfully if it receives full support from the transitional Government, emphasizing that responsibility must be truly shared. Warning against too hasty a transition, she said intercommunal violence highlights the fragility of the current period, as does the deteriorating economic situation in the midst of other great challenges, such as COVID-19. Human rights violations, including sexual violence, continue and must receive attention, alongside ending impunity, she said, adding that cooperation with the International Criminal Court is a good step in that regard. While acknowledging Government efforts to improve women’s participation, she called for 40 per cent representation in decision-making processes. Other keys to progress include robust commitment and creative decision-making, tangible improvement in justice, rule of law and governance, as well as regional cooperation, she said, adding that, with those elements in place, UNITAMS has the opportunity to become an important tool for success of the transition.

Estonia’s representative said UNITAMS must be fully operational at the earliest opportunity to support Sudan’s political transition to democracy. Mission support is crucial to implementing the Juba Peace Agreement, he added. Emphasizing that women must be included in the peace process, he urged all parties that have not yet joined the peace agreement to do so urgently. UNITAMS needs sufficient capacity and adequate resources, he said, again urging the appointment of a Special Representative. Regarding UNAMID, he said his country supports a responsible, non-politicized withdrawal based on needs on the ground, he affirmed, warning that rushing the withdrawal risks losing the significant gains made by UNAMID over the years. Estonia deeply appreciates Sudan’s generous support to the Ethiopian refugees fleeing fighting and violence in Tigray, he said, adding that those actions show why investment in a stable, strong and prosperous Sudan gives so much back to the region.

Belgium’s representative emphasized that reconciliation must be embraced by all parties. Concerning the humanitarian situation, she described it as dire, compounded by major floods, the pandemic and the plight of 45,000 refugees. Belgium is revolted by the serious violence targeting, children, including murders and sexual abuse, she said, also emphasizing that signatories to the relevant agreements cannot keep recruiting children as soldiers. Intercommunal conflicts continue, and the general population is concerned as UNAMID prepares to close, she pointed out, cautioning that the drawdown will take time. She called for prudence in the discussing the mission’s closure, stressing the need to protect civilians and avoid losing the ground gained.

China’s representative, while noting the positive momentum over the past three months, including the Juba Peace Agreement and the transitional Government’s reform initiatives. To achieve lasting peace, the parties must fully implement the Juba Peace Agreement, he said, urging those that have not yet signed it to do so. Welcoming the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) and World Bank’s debt relief for Sudan, he called for the end of unilateral coercive measures against the country, and for a road map for the Security Council to lift its own sanctions. He went on to describe the transition from UNAMID to UNITAMS as an imperative, while paying tribute to the success story of United Nations-African Union cooperation over the past 13 years. China calls for a smooth handover and urges the Secretary-General to appoint his Special Representative to lead UNITAMS, he said. The Mission’s core mandate is to support political transition, he noted, stressing that United Nations entities should avoid stepping on each other’s toes in supporting Sudan.

Niger’s representative, speaking also for South Africa, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, welcomed the initiatives that led to the signing of the Juba Peace Agreement. “The signing of this Agreement is a manifestation of the willingness of the parties to the conflict to work towards achieving a lasting peace in Sudan.” Calling upon all signatories and Sudan’s partners to fulfil their obligations to ensure its effective and efficient implementation, he said that would help consolidate efforts to promote gender equality, protect human rights and promote the rule of law. He also welcomed the collaboration of the African Union, United Nations, Intergovernmental Agency for Development (IGAD) and South Sudan in the peace process.

Turning to the increase in intercommunal violence, and clashes between Government forces and certain non-signatory armed groups, he emphasized that they attest to the need for continued efforts to address the root causes of Sudan’s conflicts, particularly poverty and unemployment. Welcoming the decision by the United States to remove the country from the list of State sponsors of terrorism, he said that will promote its economic and social development through access to international development finance institutions. The situation on the ground and the arrangements put in place by the transitional Government to ensure stability and the protection of persons and property in Darfur are conducive for UNAMID to begin its withdrawal process and hand over to UNITAMS as of 31 December, he said.

The representative of the United States expressed concern over continuing violence, while welcoming the national plan for civilian protection and encouraging the transitional Government to engage in robust outreach and consultation with effected communities in that regard. UNITAMS can be an important factor in the transition, but it needs immediate leadership in order to be successful, she emphasized. In addition, UNAMID cannot too hastily end certain essential tasks, such as training of police and other security assistance. Affirming that the process of removing Sudan from the list of State sponsors of terrorism is proceeding, she praised the country’s welcome of refugees from Ethiopia.

Indonesia’s representative, speaking also on behalf of Viet Nam, said that, as members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the two Governments firmly believe in regional cooperation to support peacebuilding. He acknowledged the roles of the Government of South Sudan, IGAD and the African Union in Sudan’s transition. Calling for sustained cooperation until UNAMID’s closure, he said that for all Sudanese to feel safe, the people must be confident in the transition and the Juba Peace Agreement. All violence should end, he emphasized, while urging the international community to strengthen its support for Sudan’s economic development.

Noting that the country faces critical challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic, heavy floods and other natural disasters, he said the transitional Government faces a monthly budget deficit of about $250 million. There is also a need to ease Sudan’s access to international financial assistance, investment and debt relief. As troop- and police-contributing countries to UNAMID and other United Nations peace operations, Indonesia and Viet Nam believe that ensuring the safety, security and well-being of all peacekeepers during liquidation processes is very important, he said. The same support should go towards full implementation of the UNITAMS mandate, he added, emphasizing the importance of appointing a special representative.

France’s representative emphasized the priority of supporting the democratic transition and the necessary economic, political and reforms as the Juba Peace Agreement is implemented. Calling upon non-signatory parties to join without further ado, she also stressed the necessity for the transitional Government to tackle impunity and uphold human rights. In addition to its economic difficulties, Sudan is facing a worsening humanitarian situation, exacerbated by the pandemic, flooding and the situation in Ethiopia, she noted, citing the 50,000 refugees from Ethiopia whom the country is hosting in its eastern region. International support is needed to help, she stressed, declaring that France will play its part. She went on to express support for a rapid start-up of UNITAMS and the appointment of a Special Representative. UNAMID’s drawdown should be carried out in an orderly manner, she added. She went on to underline the crucial need to ensure the protection of civilians, pointing out that women and children face violence on the ground. Peacekeeping activities must build the confidence of traumatized civilians, she said, emphasizing the need for women’s full participation in the peace process. The Council should ensure the mission’s drawdown takes account of reality on the ground, she stressed.

Sudan’s representative described the Juba Peace Agreement as comprehensive in scope, addressing the entirety of root causes of conflict not only in Darfur, but in the country’s other regions, as well, with efforts under way to bring outstanding movements on board. The transitional Government is committed to its responsibility to protect its people in Darfur after the termination of UNAMID’s mandate, in accordance with the national plan for that purpose and with the Juba Peace Agreement, he pledged, adding that the protective environment in the region will be reinforced with a special focus on displaced persons, children, women and other vulnerable groups. In addition to existing army and police, the Juba Peace Agreement provides for a joint force in Darfur comprising the security forces and former combatants of armed group to enhance civilian protection, he noted.

He said that, after 31 December, it is expected that UNAMID’s responsibilities, including those under the framework of State liaison, will be assumed by UNITAMS and the United Nations country team. Conveying thanks for the UNAMID’s accomplishments, he declared: “Sudan will ensure that the mission will go down in peacekeeping history as a success story of cooperation between the African Union and the United Nations.” He also pledged the Government’s adherence to international humanitarian and human rights law while carrying out its protection responsibilities. Citing the persisting challenges in his country, he pledged Sudan’s cooperation with UNITAMS and other bilateral, regional and international partners in addressing them effectively. He called upon the Security Council, in turn, to support UNITAMS fully, particularly in terms of funding and in reaching consensus on the appointment of its leadership.