The information below (updated on 12 May) is provided ahead of a briefing and consultations on the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) in the Security Council on Monday, 22 May 2023. The Secretary-General's 90-day report on UNITAMS is due by 15 May. The previous report published in February (S/2023/154), before fighting began, noted that the human rights situation in the Sudan remained concerning. The mandate of UNITAMS is due to expire on 3 June 2023. This overview may also support those who engaged in the Human Rights Council's Special Session on the Sudan on Thursday, 11 May 2023.
Key topics below
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Human Rights Council Special Session on the Sudan (11 May 2023)
The request to convene the Special Session.
Draft resolution expands reporting mandate of the designated Expert.
The High Commissioner and Chair of Coordination Committee of the Special Procedures brief the Council.
Head of UNITAMS addresses Declaration of Commitment to Protect Civilians in Sudan (12 May 2023).
Latest reporting by the WHO (9 May 2023).
The WFP reports a quarter of food stocks looted (8 May 2023).
Comments by UNHCR (5 May 2023).
Comments by UNICEF (4 May 2023).
Comments by OHCHR (28 April 2023).
Joint statement by SRSGs on CAAC and violence against children (26 April 2023).
Statement by High Commissioner for Human Rights (18 April 2023).
Press statement by Security Council (15 April 2023).
High Commissioner expresses alarm by the tense situation (8 April 2023).
High Commissioner designates new expert on Sudan (16 December 2022).
Human Rights Council adopts resolution on reporting on Sudan (7 July 2022).
Briefing by SG, Head of UNITAMS and ASG for Humanitarian Affairs (25 April 2023).
Recommendations on women, peace and security.
Recommendations on children and armed conflict.
Comments by Members of the Security Council [645 words]
Human Rights Council Special Session on the Sudan (11 May 2023): African Group, Arab Group, GCC, Russia, Ecuador, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the UK.
Security Council meeting on Sudan (25 April 2023): All Council members are noted, except China and Russia.
Human Rights Council dialogue with High Commissioner (3 March 2023).
Human Rights Council Special Session on Sudan (5 November 2021).
References in Security Council resolutions [239 words]
Security Council resolution 2579, adopted on 3 June 2021: Noting relevant preambular paragraphs.
Relevant information for the Security Council to consider [1,252 words]
Human Rights Council Special Session on the Sudan (11 May 2023)
On 11 May 2023, the Human Rights Council held a Special Session on the human rights impact of the ongoing conflict in the Sudan. The request for the session was made by the UK, the US, Norway and Germany (Core Group of the HRC resolution on Sudan) on behalf of 19 members of the HRC (among them the UK, the US and France) and 33 observers (among them Albania, Malta, Japan and Switzerland). The full list of signatories is in the request.
The Human Rights Council adopted a draft resolution (A/HRC/S-36/L.1) by a vote of 18-15 with 14 abstentions. China, the UAE and Sudan voted No. France, the UK and the US votes Yes. Gabon abstained. The Council requested additional reporting by the High Commissioner and his designated Expert. It also stressed the urgent need for the prioritization of the protection of civilians, including those displaced, and civilian objects, and for full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access [PP16].
During the Special Session, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Volker Türk, briefed the Human Rights Council. He reported that since 15 April, at least 487 civilians have been killed. The real figure is much higher [see reporting by the WHO in para 2 of the next section]. More than 154,000 people have fled the country, and an estimated 700,000 more have been displaced inside the borders of Sudan. The health system has been severely damaged, with at least 17 attacks against health facilities, and several others occupied by military forces. He strongly condemn this wanton violence, in which both sides have trampled international humanitarian law, notably the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution. The Sudanese military has launched attacks in densely occupied civilian areas, including airstrikes. OHCHR has also received several reports alleging sexual violence by uniformed men, as well as allegations of unlawful killings and enforced disappearances.
During the same meeting, the Chair of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng, also briefed the Human Rights Council. Among other concerns, she noted that the ability to monitor and document the situation on the ground has been significantly hindered due to the targeting of journalists, as well as the intimidation and threats faced by human rights defenders, particularly women human rights defenders.
On 12 May 2023, the SRSG for Sudan and Head of UNITAMS, Mr. Volker Perthes, shared his views in a virtual press briefing based in Geneva. He expressed his hope that the combating parties will honor the Declaration of Commitment to Protect the Civilians of Sudan which they signed the previous day and communicate it to lower ranks. It was a mutual commitment to respect "international humanitarian rights law", respect humanitarian forces, respect the free movement of people and respect the sanctity of medical facilities.
On 9 May 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 604 people had been killed and more than 5,000 injured since violence erupted in mid-April. In addition, the WHO reported attacks and looting of healthcare facilities in Sudan. 28 such attacks have already been verified since 15 April, leading to eight deaths and 18 injuries. These attacks include looting, obstruction of access to healthcare, violent attacks using weapons and the forced occupation of facilities.
On 8 May 2023, the World Food Programme (WFP) reported that close to a quarter of its food stocks had been looted.
On 5 May 2023, the UN refugee agency UNHCR called to protect more than 1.1 million refugees hosted in Sudan. Sudan is the second largest refugee-hosting country in Africa. UNHCR was particularly concerned about the situation of the newly displaced in Darfur, where camps of internally displaced people (IDPs) were being burned to the ground. UNHCR advises governments not to return people to Sudan.
On 4 May 2023, UNICEF reported 190 children killed and 1,700 injured. UNICEF Executive Director, Ms. Catherine Russell, called on parties to the conflict to abide by their legal obligations under IHL and ensure that children are not caught in the line of fire. This includes stopping all attacks on health centers, schools, and water and sanitation systems and other infrastructure on which children rely.
On 28 April 2023, the Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Ravina Shamdasani, released a statement, noting that hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes to find safety, and have been facing abuses en route. Thousands remain trapped in residential areas where fighting has been taking place, facing air strikes, shelling and the use of heavy weapons. People also continued to be forced from their homes by the RSF and suffered looting, extortion, acute shortages of food, water, electricity, fuel, limited access to healthcare, limited communication and limited cash due to the closure of banks. "We call on the parties to immediately end hostilities, and in particular to halt hostilities in residential areas and to cease targeting the civilian population and infrastructure. The protection of civilians must be paramount. International humanitarian law demands it," she stated.
On 26 April 2023, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on children and armed conflict and the SRSG on violence against children issued a joint statement. “The lives, protection and well-being of children must take precedence over combat operations", they said. "Parties should further refrain from attacking civilian infrastructures in accordance with international humanitarian law, especially those impacting children – this includes schools and medical facilities, as well as water and sanitation systems.” They recalled that under no circumstances should children below 18 years be involved in armed conflict, as the recruitment and use of children is prohibited under international law.
On 18 April 2023, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Volker Türk, expressed his appall by reports of attempted rape. He called for prompt, thorough and independent investigations into the killings of civilians, including three staff members of the UN’s World Food Programme, along with other reported violations. Those responsible must be held to account, he added.
On 15 April 2023, as fighting began in Sudan, the Security Council released a press statement. It did not include any references to protection of civilians.
On 8 April 2023, the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed alarm at the tense situation in Sudan. He recalled his visit to the country in November. He stressed the need to ensure that the strong human rights commitments set out in the Political Framework Agreement remain central to the final political agreement, including in relation to credible and inclusive transitional justice and accountability processes.
On 16 December 2022, the High Commissioner for Human Rights designated Mr. Radhouane Nouicer as his expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan, replacing Mr. Adama Dieng who stepped down from this position in October 2022. Mr. Nouicer has served as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for the Tunisian Transitional Government in 2011 and has held senior positions at the UN for over 30 years, including at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
On 7 July 2022, the Human Rights Council adopted without a vote the resolution on reporting by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation in the Sudan (50/1). The resolution renewed the monitoring and reporting mandate of the expert designated by the High Commissioner, which was established in HRC resolution S-32/1, during its special session on 5 November 2021. The previous report of the High Commissioner was presented during that session in July 2022 (A/HRC/50/22).
Information previously considered by the Security Council [547 words]
Briefing in the Security Council
On 25 April 2023, 10 days into the fighting in the Sudan, the Security Council held a meeting on Sudan. The Secretary-General reported that health services were already near collapse and several hospitals were being used by armed groups. He recalled that one third of the Sudan’s people needed humanitarian aid even before the crisis began.
During the same meeting, the Head of UNITAMS, Mr. Volker Perthes, noted that both of the warring parties have fought with disregard for the laws and norms of war, attacking densely populated areas with little consideration for civilians, hospitals or even vehicles transferring the wounded and the sick. He urged both sides to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law and ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure. Civilians must be given safe passage to leave areas of active hostilities, and they must be allowed to access supplies, he said.
Also at that meeting, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Ms. Joyce Msuya, reported that at least 20 hospitals have been forced to close due to damage, military use or lack of resources. Power cuts and fuel shortages risk damaging vaccine stocks and water supplies, a precursor for the spread of disease. There have been numerous reports of sexual and gender-based violence. Aid workers have also been attacked. "We have lost five of our own," she said. She echoed the calls to respect IHL. In addition to the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, the parties must respect humanitarian workers and assets and facilitate relief operations, and they must respect medical personnel, transport and facilities.
Women, Peace and Security
In May 2023, the NGO Working Group on WPS noted that gender-based violence was already prevalent prior to the fighting; access to services, including sexual and reproductive care is often limited or non-existent; and women involved in ongoing protests have been met with gender-specific violence by security forces, including assault and rape.
The NGO offered detailed recommendations towards the mandate renewal of UNITAMS, including to ensure accountability for GBV; ensure women's safety in public life and civic space; emphasize the importance of negotiation processes inclusive of diverse women; recall that the Mission's mandate includes the protection of the full range of women's human rights and call on UNITAMS to monitor and report on violations; emphasize the need for a survivor-centered approach to preventing and addressing GBV; and reflect how women are particularly affected by climate change in all efforts to address its effects.
Children and Armed Conflict
The NGO Watchlist on CAAC offered updated recommendations for the Security Council, including to:
Unequivocally condemn all attacks on humanitarian actors, civilians, especially children, and civilian infrastructure; demand that all parties uphold their obligations under IHL and IHRL and avoid the use of explosive weapons in populated areas;
Demand an immediate ceasefire and prevent further violations and abuses against civilians, including children;
Demand that all parties allow and facilitate the safe, timely, and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance to affected populations, especially children; and respect and protect humanitarian personnel, assets, and infrastructure; and
Renew UNITAMS’ child protection mandate and ensure that adequate resources are allocated to allow UNITAMS to fully deliver on this mandate.
Comments by Members of the Security Council [645 words]
On 11 May 2023, the Human Rights Council held a Special Session on the Sudan. Statements are available here. The African Group, the Arab Group and Russia questioned the complementarity of the Special Session to current negotiation efforts and stressed the need for Sudan's support for any change to the designated Expert's mandate. Notably, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) did not express this critical tone. Ecuador deplored all actions contrary to human rights and international humanitarian law, including attacks against humanitarian workers and civilian infrastructure, in particular hospitals and airports, as well as the increase in sexual and gender-based violence. It called to establish humanitarian corridors and address the critical situation of internally displaced persons in Darfur, as well as women and girls fleeing violence. Parties must resume dialogue within a framework of respect for human rights and democratic principles. Japan pledged its support for emergency humanitarian assistance to refugees in neighboring countries and to internally displaced persons. Malta deeply regretted the concentration of fighting in residential areas, including heavily populated parts of Khartoum. It was also appalled by the reports of SGBV. Malta called to ensure respect for IHL and IHRL obligations, and the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure such as schools and hospitals. Finally, it called for independent investigations and accountability. Switzerland condemned violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including attacks on hospitals. It urged the parties to the conflict to take all necessary measures to protect the civilian population. The UK called on the Human Rights Council to send a united message of concern and of horror about the increase in human rights violations and abuses. Calling for accountability, it stated: "We must use our collective influence to break the cycle of impunity in Sudan."
On 25 April 2023, the Security Council held a meeting on Sudan. Brazil, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the UK and the US called on parties to allow humanitarian access, comply with their obligations under IHL and ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure and humanitarian and medical workers. Several of them also called for accountability. The US and Malta expressed concern about sexual and gender-based violence. The US condemned the attacks on diplomats, including a US diplomatic convoy and the US Embassy in violation of the Sudan’s obligation under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Switzerland recalled that intentionally directing attacks against personnel, facilities or equipment employed in a humanitarian assistance mission could constitute a war crime. Malta called for specific attention to women, children, the elderly and those with disabilities to ensure that they are not left behind in protection and evacuation operations. The UAE echoed the call to protect medical workers and the concern about diplomatic staff. Albania strongly condemned the attacks on civilians, including UN and other humanitarian staff. It called for the protection of civilians and humanitarian access. The A3 (Gabon, Mozambique and Ghana) also called for humanitarian access and the protection of civilians. However, unlike other speakers expressing concerns about the attacks on diplomats and staff of international organizations, the A3 noted the cooperation of the parties in allowing their evacuation.
On 3 March 2023, the Human Rights Council held a dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights focused on the Sudan. As the context was different, prior to the recent fighting, the statements are not summarized here but some of them may still contain relevant human rights concerns, including the statements of the African Group, the European Union, France, Switzerland, the UK and the US.
On 5 November 2021, the Human Rights Council held a Special Session on the Sudan, following the military coup of 25 October 2021. As the context was different, the statements are not summarized here but some of them may still contain relevant human rights concerns, including the statements of the African Group, the European Union, Ecuador, France, Japan and Switzerland.
References in Security Council outcomes (not verbatim) [239 words]
Due to the substantially changed situation in Sudan, the mandate of UNITAMS is obviously no longer fit for purpose. It is a Mission established to support a transition, yet a transition is not taking place and there are other urgent priorities. However, it is noted that the Council has had difficulties in agreeing on changes to the mandate.
Security Council resolution 2579, adopted on 3 June 2021, includes declaratory language that is nice to have, including on protection of civilians [PP7], accountability [PP11], inequality and marginalization [PP12], women's participation [PP13], child protection [PP14], as well as inclusion and civil society [PP15]. Still, much more is needed.
In contrast, the operative paragraphs of resolution 2579(2021) are not a good basis to address the current situation in Sudan, particularly with regard to human rights. A mandate that will seek to support a way out from the state of armed conflict will need to have strong provisions for the protection of civilians, especially children; women's full participation in talks that the Mission may aim to support; human rights monitoring and reporting with a view to promote accountability, including with regard to sexual and gender-based violence; support for internally displaced persons and refugees; and engagement with civil society. The mandates of other Missions may offer a better starting point for new language, including language previously pointed out in the posts on Libya, the DRC and South Sudan (see last section of every post).