The country-wide state of emergency in Sudan declared by its President on 22 February puts a question mark over the peace process in Darfur and plans to draw down the joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission there by the middle of 2020, the Security Council heard today.
Citing solidarity with protests over economic and political conditions in Sudan, two groups — the Sudan Liberation Army-Minni Minawi (SLA/MM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), both non-signatories of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur — have gone back on an agreement to resume talks with the Government, said Bintou Keita, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa.
The result is a standstill in the peace process, she said, despite relative stability throughout Darfur apart from the Jebel Marra area where sporadic clashes persist between Government forces and the Sudan Liberation Army-Abdul Wahid (SLA/AW) faction.
“The impact of the recent developments in Khartoum on the dynamics related to the peace process in Darfur is yet to be assessed,” she said, adding that the replacement of state governors in Sudan will have a bearing on the peace process and that some armed movements have stiffened their positions.
Presenting the Secretary-General’s 90-day report on the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), the Assistant Secretary-General — just back from a visit to Sudan — updated members of the 15-nation organ on the mission’s reconfiguration and troop reduction, as it aims to exit Darfur by 30 June 2020 as stipulated in Council resolution 2429 (2018) (see Press Release SC/13422).
“The entire United Nations system is committed to ensuring that we operate as one, in close coordination with the Sudanese Government,” she said, emphasizing that the mission’s exit must not create a vacuum that leads to persistent local tensions or new risk factors.
She called on the Government to keep creating conditions that favour the return of internally displaced persons and suggested that Khartoum talk with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict to establish a framework of cooperation for addressing sexual violence.
In the ensuing debate, several Council members expressed concern about the Sudan-wide state of emergency and the impact it could have on the mission’s withdrawal and on sustainable peace in Darfur.
Emphasizing that the root causes of the Darfur conflict must be addressed, the representative of the United Kingdom — the Council penholder on Sudan — said the broader situation in Sudan is worrisome. Calling for the release of imprisoned opposition leaders, activists and journalists, as well as reported human rights violations, he said that such actions, if left unaddressed, threaten to throw into question the Government’s intentions regarding peacebuilding.
In the same vein, Germany’s delegate said the peace process cannot be separated from the political dynamics, including recent demonstrations. To avoid a relapse into conflict in Darfur, the Council and international community must remain seized of the situation on the ground. The Council must also work to prevent a relapse into conflict and ensure that UNAMID gets the political and financial support that it needs, he added.
Taking a different view, the representative of the Russian Federation — recalling the role played by the President of Sudan in securing a peace agreement in the Central African Republic — said the mission’s future should be based on what is happening in Darfur and that Council members ought not to discuss Khartoum’s internal affairs. He added that easing sanctions would help ease the economic situation in Sudan and contribute to peacebuilding in Darfur.
The Dominican Republic’s delegate reminded other Council members that Darfur is “the first climate change conflict”, with drought and desertification undermining the availability of natural resources essential for survival. With rising temperatures forecast to slash grain production in the region, he urged the Council to address climate-related risks from a practical perspective.
While the international community’s efforts have resulted in a considerable improvement in the security situation in Darfur, South Africa’s representative — pointing to the Jebel Marra region — said “it is clear that we are not where we should be”. He added: “We should also guard against spoilers utilizing the current socioeconomic challenges in Sudan to further their own narrow interests.”
Speaking at the end of the meeting, Sudan’s representative said the Council was meeting today to discuss Darfur and that if it wanted to consider other matters, then it should decide to do so in line with its own provisional rules. Three decades of Council-approved sanctions have impacted thousands of vulnerable people and deprived Sudan of basic needs, he said, calling also for his country to be freed from its huge debt burden. Emphasizing that developments in Jebel Marra should not be the sole criteria for judging the situation in Darfur, he stated that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights contains provisions regarding the declaration of a state of emergency and that Sudan would update the Secretary-General on developments.
Also speaking today were representatives of France, United States, Belgium, Indonesia, Kuwait, China, Poland, Peru, Côte d’Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea.
The meeting began at 10:09 a.m. and ended at 12 p.m.
BINTOU KEITA, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa, presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) (document S/2019/44), turned first to the 22 February declaration by President Omer al-Bashir of a year-long state of emergency throughout Sudan, the dissolution of the federal and state governments, and the replacement of all Walis (state governors). That development comes when the Darfur peace process has once again come to a standstill, she said. Although demonstrations against economic and political conditions across Sudan continue, protests in Darfur have been sporadic, yet — citing solidarity with the protest movements — the Sudan Liberation Army/Minni Minawi (SLA/MM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), both non-signatories of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur — reversed their agreement to resume talks with the Government. After the President declared an open-ended cessation of hostilities in Darfur and the Two Areas on 28 January, those two groups, together with the Sudan Liberation Movement Transitional Council and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North (SPLM/A-N), extended a unilateral cessation of hostilities in Darfur and the states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile for three months. “The impact of the recent developments in Khartoum on the dynamics related to the peace process in Darfur is yet to be assessed, but the replacement of all Walis will have a bearing on the process,” she said, adding that some armed movements have stiffened their positions.
Reviewing the security situation in Darfur, she pointed to intermittent clashes between the Sudan Armed Forces and the Sudan Liberation Army-Abdul Wahid (SLA/AW) faction in Jebel Marra as well as infighting between two subfactions of that group in Daya village, north-east of Golo, exposing the local population to robbery, abduction and violence. Those subfactions reportedly disagree over their prospects of participation in the peace process, although some clashes seem to point to competition over scarce resources. Reports of sexual violence by the Government’s Rapid Support Forces in the Guldo area on 6 February have meanwhile been received. She emphasized that conflict-related sexual violence remains a threat in Darfur, especially among displaced women and girls when they seek work outside internally displaced persons camps.
Briefing the Council on her recent visit to Sudan, accompanied by the Assistant Secretary-General for the Peacebuilding Support Office and the Assistant Secretary-General for the Regional Bureau of Arab States in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), she said internally displaced persons expressed to them deep concern over the Hybrid Operation’s departure in the absence of trusted and professional law enforcement agencies. She called on the Government to continue to create conditions that favour the return of internally displaced persons, and suggested — as a confidence-building measure — that it pursue a dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict on a framework of cooperation to address sexual violence. Noting some incidents in which UNAMID patrols encountered restrictions on their movements, she said the frequency of intercommunal tensions and other security incidents remain relatively low, except for a few hotspots in Jebel Marra.
Updating the Council on the mission’s drawdown, she said 10 team sites were closed as of the end of December, to be followed by three sector headquarters by June, leaving 13 team sites and a logistics hub in El Fasher. A new mission headquarters in Zalingei is fully operational, while the office of the African Union-United Nations Joint Special Representative is now located in Khartoum. Working together, UNAMID and the United Nations country team are ensuring a smooth transition from peacekeeping in Darfur and laying the ground for sustainable peacebuilding. “The entire United Nations system is committed to ensuring that we operate as one, in close coordination with the Sudanese Government,” she said, emphasizing that the mission’s exit must not create a vacuum that leads to persistent local tensions or new risk factors. The international community must mobilize the needed resources to support the mission’s exit strategy and its immediate effect on the ability of the Government and the United Nations country team to address Darfur’s challenges while focusing on the difficult economic, social and humanitarian context in the larger Sudan. Going forward, she said the Darfur peace process, especially in the context of changing national and regional dynamics, must be discussed jointly between the United Nations and the African Union. With the Jebel Marra area still a conflict zone, and with nearly 2 million internally displaced persons in Darfur, local capacity for the rule of law must be strengthened. The coming months and the upcoming strategic review of UNAMID will be an opportunity to assess and recalibrate what it has achieved and what it will leave behind, she said.
STEPHEN HICKEY (United Kingdom) raised concerns about reports of clashes, intercommunal fighting and conflict-related sexual violence. Welcoming the steps taken for the mission drawdown, he said the root causes of the conflict must also be addressed. He also called upon the Government to achieve the benchmarks set out in agreements and lay a foundation for sustainable peacebuilding and development. Considering the humanitarian needs, he said the Security Council must have a clear account of the situation on the ground. The broader situation in Sudan is worrisome, including the recent state-of-emergency announcement. Calling for the release of imprisoned opposition leaders, activists and journalists, he remained concerned about reports of human rights violations there involving the security services. Such actions, if left unaddressed, threaten to throw into question the intentions of the Government regarding peacebuilding, he said, calling on it to take necessary steps on these and related issues going forward.
JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) said a political solution is key for sustainable peace in Darfur. Encouraging the Government and armed groups to build on the positive dynamics of the agreement signed in Berlin in 2018, he said the peace process cannot be separated from the political dynamics, including recent demonstrations. To avoid a relapse into conflict in Darfur, the Council and international community must remain seized of the situation on the ground. At the same time, UNAMID must deliver on all its mandated tasks, including intercommunal peacebuilding and support for internally displaced persons. The upcoming strategic review should assess United Nations engagement and make recommendations. The Council must also work to prevent a relapse into conflict, ensuring that the mission receives the required political and financial support. A strong presence of the United Nations on the ground must match UNAMID drawdown activities. The partnership with the Government and the United Nations must be built on trust to ensure positive results.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France) said despite security improvements in Darfur, critical challenges remain, among them attacks in late 2018 that have already displaced millions of people. Perpetrators of these and other crimes must be brought to justice. At the same time, the Government and armed groups must advance the peace process. Regarding the recent state-of-emergency measures, she called on authorities to guarantee the freedom of assembly, association and expression in line with Sudan’s international commitments. Meanwhile, the mission drawdown must unfold in a prudent, progressive manner catering to current conditions on the ground while considering the refugee situation and respect for human rights. The main challenge is ensuring stability is maintained in Darfur. Work on a post-mission operation should consider the question of funding with a view to ensure that the country team can continue to assist authorities in consolidating peace. Meanwhile, the country team and UNAMID must work closely together to best prepare the transition. The international community’s engagement is equally important, with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) playing a key role.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States), deeply concerned about the declaration of a national state of emergency, called on the Government to allow peaceful demonstration, investigate violations and foster an environment conducive to peace. The Council has already expressed support for such goals, including detailed benchmarks. However, these benchmarks should be modified to reflect the developing situation on the ground. An inclusive political process must ensure that the people enjoy the freedom of assembly and other rights, he said, calling on authorities to take positive steps, including ensuring the release of activists and journalists from prison.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) said the international community’s tireless efforts and consistent support have resulted in a considerable improvement in the security situation in Darfur. “However, it is clear that we are not where we should be,” he said, citing clashes and insecurity in the Jebel Marra area. Calling on armed groups — especially Sudan Liberation Army-Abdul Wahid (SLA/AW) — to resolve their disputes though established political avenues, he added that all outstanding provisions of the Doha Document must be implemented while the Government of Sudan should work to combat cases of sexual violence and bring perpetrators to justice. Turning to the Hybrid Operation’s important support, he said it should maintain a close partnership with the Government, the African Union and the United Nations system as it transitions out of Darfur. “We should also guard against spoilers utilizing the current socioeconomic challenges in Sudan to further their own narrow interests,” he said.
KAREN VAN VLIERBERGE (Belgium) said a cautious approach must be adopted in the ongoing mission transition process, including regarding essential activities involving the protection of civilians, improving humanitarian conditions, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration and security sector reform. Raising concerns about clashes in Jebel Marra and reports of sexual violence, she welcomed the Berlin agreement between the Government and armed groups, but regretted to note delays in launching further negotiations. The situation in Darfur must be addressed in the context of national developments, including the recent dissolution of the federal and provincial Governments. Calling for the immediate release of those arbitrarily detained, she remained concerned about reports of the authorities’ violent response to peaceful demonstrations. Given recent developments, she urged all actors to refrain from using force. Efforts must also centre on finding constructive solutions to pressing challenges through dialogue.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) said given the current progress, the Government of Sudan should eventually be able to bear the primary responsibility for peace in Darfur as UNAMID proceeds with its reconfiguration. Further efforts are required to address the root causes of conflict, including land disputes, while the needs of internally displaced persons must be addressed. Also calling for unfettered access for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, he expressed concern about intermittent clashes in Jebel Marra and the destabilizing activities of SLA/AW, as well as the presence of Darfuri armed groups in neighbouring countries. As there can be no military solution to the conflict, he urged all non-signatories to the Doha Document — including Abdul Wahid al-Nur — to join the peace process and called for a follow-up to the recent pre-negotiation framework signing. The international community’s sustained engagement, as well as sustained and predictable funding, are also crucial.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) expressed concern at the declaration of a state of emergency in Sudan and its impact on both the peace process and the mission’s reconfiguration. He encouraged the Government and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict to continue talks on a framework to address sexual violence. He described Darfur as “the first climate change conflict” with drought and desertification undermining the availability of natural resources essential for survival. Rising temperatures in the coming decades are forecasted to reduce grain production, including sorghum, by 70 per cent in the region. Such a situation is an opportunity for the Council to address risks associated with climate change from a practical perspective. He emphasized that the mission’s drawdown must reflect the genuine situation on the ground.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said Khartoum is doing a lot to improve the situation in Darfur, adding that it is hard to ignore the role of the President of Sudan that led to the signing of a peace agreement in the Central African Republic. The future of UNAMID should be based on conditions in Darfur, he said, emphasizing that Council members should not be discussing the internal situation in Sudan. The drawdown of the mission’s military component must continue, he said, stressing the need to help build the capacity of state institutions in Darfur and calling on donors to live up to the commitments they made in Doha and Cairo in 2010 and 2013. Easing sanctions would help ease the economic situation in Sudan and contribute to peacebuilding in Darfur, he added. On the peace process, he said that almost all provisions of the Doha Document have been implemented, and that the current stalemate is due to the intransigence of Abdul Wahid’s faction. If that person fails to meet the African Union’s demand to participate in negotiations, then the Council should consider sanctions, he said, stressing the need to ensure the mission’s full withdrawal in 2020.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) reaffirmed the need to support Sudan’s efforts to extend its sovereignty throughout its territory and to uphold its responsibility to protect civilians as UNAMID draws down. The safe, voluntary and dignified return of internally displaced persons and refugees must be a goal, alongside implementation by Sudan and other parties of the remaining provisions of the Doha Document, thus paving the way for the mission’s exit in 2020. Calling on the Council to give priority to political solutions, he said it is high time to step up efforts to help Sudan achieve stability and peace on its territory, as it has been doing in neighbouring countries.
WU HAITAO (China) said countries with influence on opposition and armed groups in Darfur should pressure them to actively participate in the peace process. Priority should be given to assisting the Government in capacity-building and enhancing law and order. The Council should review and lift sanctions on Sudan, he added. Reconstruction in Darfur should be stepped up, with the international community providing humanitarian and economic support, he said, noting China’s role as a major troop contributor to UNAMID.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) welcomed the signing of the pre-negotiation agreement in Berlin but expressed regret that this momentum in the peace process has been lost. The Council should closely monitor the impact of the mission’s downsizing on the ground to ensure that the gains achieved in Darfur will not be compromised. The Government should be held to account for progress towards the achievement of exit benchmarks and indicators. The mission’s drawdown must be compensated by increased presence of the United Nations country team. During the transition from peacekeeping to peacebuilding, emphasis should be put on socioeconomic conditions, including on health service, jobs, education, trade, basic economic infrastructure, and agriculture, and on the rule of law. The international community should support Darfur’s recovery and development to avoid a relapse into conflict. In this regard, her delegation hopes for the timely finalization of the new Darfur Development Strategy.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) raised concerns about the Government’s recent announcements of a year-long state of emergency, the dissolution of state governments and modifications to the Constitution, which could reverse hard-won gains in Darfur. The only way forward on the path to sustainable peace is through a political agreement, with an important step being the current pre-negotiating process among the Government and armed groups. However, it remains to be seen how recent media restrictions will affect this process. Reiterating a call on all parties to refrain from hostilities in Darfur and address pressing challenges with dialogue, he regretted to note the continuation of grave violations involving armed groups and the persistence of conflict-related sexual violence. UNAMID must be able to fully discharge its mandate, especially in the Jebel Marra region, he said, calling on the Government to take necessary steps, including by ensuring humanitarian access. Ongoing coordination among the mission, country team and local authorities has reduced intercommunal violence, he said, also commending efforts to address the root causes of the conflict. Going forward, the mission transition must be well planned and the international community should lend its support to funding efforts to consolidate peace and foster development.
GBOLIÉ DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire), concerned about ongoing sociopolitical problems leading to the loss of life, called on all parties to make every effort to find solutions to the root causes of the crisis. Commending efforts to maintain stability in Darfur, he remained concerned about continued violence, condemning clashes in Jebel Marra that triggered broad displacement, civilian deaths and reports of conflict-related sexual violence against women and girls. Calling on armed groups to use dialogue to resolve differences, he anticipated that the signatories of the Doha Document would soon begin peace talks and commended the work of UNAMID, the country team and authorities in reducing intercommunal violence. On the humanitarian situation, he welcomed improvements in food security and safety in camps for internally displaced persons, but remained concerned about reports of human rights violations. Turning to the UNAMID transition plans, he underlined a need to establish strong institutions that guarantee rights with a view to consolidating peace.
JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea), Council president for February, spoke in his national capacity, commending progress on the ground while raising concerns about the situation in Jebel Marra and precarious humanitarian conditions. Calling on all parties to renew commitments to a political process, he asked them to cease and desist from participating in clashes. Meanwhile, he called on countries hosting armed groups to work towards peace. Mediation and reconciliation efforts are needed to end this conflict and, more broadly, to halt violence in Africa. A situation of permanent peace must be fostered, he said, calling on the Government to work towards achieving a ceasefire, as outlined in the Doha Document. The creation of a power vacuum could indeed reignite tensions, he said.
OMER DAHAB FADL MOHAMED (Sudan) said the Council is meeting on Darfur at a time when the stabilization process is gathering steam and getting stronger, reflecting what the Government, the African Union and the United Nations agreed upon in 2015 in the joint working grounp on the Hybrid Operation’s phased and smooth withdrawal. Sudan is delighted that the Council’s position aligns with regional and national views, he said, expressing hope that the transition to peacebuilding will enjoy the same level of support as that given to UNAMID. The goal is a rapid improvement in the security situation by addressing social, economic and environmental issues, he said, emphasizing that under-development was a factor that led to the insurrection. Regional and international efforts must support the Government in laying the groundwork for the return of refugees and internally displaced persons as well as the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and rehabilitation of combatants, strengthening peaceful coexistence within civil society and creating job opportunities for young people who comprise 65 per cent of Darfur’s population.
Emphasizing that the Government is ready and willing to welcome the joint African Union-United Nations team that will carry out a strategic review of UNAMID, he said the mission’s departure will be a mark of success for the region and the Organization, taking its place in the annals of the peaceful resolutions of conflict. “We are all entitled to celebrate what has been achieved so far,” he said, emphasizing that Sudan’s experience has been key in addressing the conflicts in the Central African Republic and South Sudan.
He emphasized that the Council was meeting today to discuss the situation in Darfur, not elsewhere, and that if it wanted to consider other matters, then it should decide to do so in line with its own provisional rules. He recalled that Sudan has been subjected to three decades of Council-approved unilateral sanctions that have had an impact on thousands of vulnerable people and deprived the country of basic needs, such as aircraft parts. Emphasizing that Sudan is a least-developed country that is hosting more than 2 million refugees, he said it should be freed from its huge debt burden and granted favourable conditions by international institutions. Council members and the wider international community must understand that conflict in Sudan stems from under-development, environmental deterioration and desertification in Africa. Some have meanwhile chosen to compound the conflict by imposing the International Criminal Court in a way that distorts the facts.
He acknowledged that a unique situation exists in the Jebel Marra area, but added that that is just one small part of one of five provinces that make up Darfur. What is happening there should not be the sole criteria for judging the situation in Darfur, he said, calling on the Council to impose sanctions on those who deserve them. He reported that, during a meeting in January with the Secretary-General, he presented information that members of the Abdul Wahid faction, operating from the Jebel Marra area, were behind the protests in Sudan. He went on to emphasize that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights contains provisions regarding the declaration of a state of emergency and that Sudan would update the Secretary-General on developments. He concluded by expressing gratitude to UNAMID, its peacekeepers and troop-contributing countries for their hard work, and reiterated the Government’s readiness to cooperate with the African Union Commission and the Secretariat until the mission’s withdrawal.