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Sudan update

Ahead of Security Council deliberations in September, the information below adds to our previous post from May 2023. The High Commissioner, with the assistance of his designated Expert, is expected to brief the Human Rights Council on 12 September (TBC). This post addresses civil society recommendations to the Security Council; HRC consideration of an independent mechanism; HRC Special Session held in May; UN statements; Women, peace and security; and comments by Security Council members.

Key topics below

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  1. Imposing sanctions.

  2. Supporting investigations.

  3. Request alternatives to UNITAMS.

  1. NGOs joint letter calling to establish independent mechanism with reference to statements by African inter-governmental bodies (1 September 2023).

  2. HRC Special Procedures call for investigations (11 May 2023).

  3. Main sponsors announce consideration of tabling a resolution (28 August 2023).

  1. The vote on a resolution mandating additional reporting (briefing on 12 September).

  2. Topics addressed by the resolution (para 5).

UN statements [429 words]

  1. Statement by UNICEF (24 August 2023).

  2. Statement by HRC Special Procedures on sexual violence (17 August 2023)

  3. Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noting possible war crimes (15 August 2023).

  1. Observations and recommendations by the NGO Working Group on WPS.

  1. Security Council briefing on Sudan (9 August 2023): All Council members are noted, except China and Russia.

  2. Link to HRLO's previous post on Sudan noting statements at HRC Special Session (11 May 2023).


Recommendations to the Security Council (by Human Rights Watch) [176 words]

On 17 August 2023, Human Rights Watch presented the following recommendations:

  1. UN Security Council member countries should publicly identify and condemn governments not respecting the existing arms embargo on Darfur, and impose targeted sanctions against commanders and officials responsible for serious abuses, including sexual violence. The council should also invite members of war-affected communities in Darfur, including survivors of sexual violence, to brief the council.

  2. Security Council members and other countries should actively support the International Criminal Court’s investigations in Darfur, particularly in light of the prosecutor’s announcement that his office is investigating recent atrocities. Past obstruction of the court’s investigations by the Sudanese government and the UN Security Council’s passivity in the face of that obstruction has facilitated impunity and new crimes.

  3. The UN Security Council should instruct the UN Secretariat to prepare a paper within 45 days with options for additional action to protect civilians in Sudan with a focus on Darfur that examines alternate configurations to the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) mandate, including support for an African regional force.


Human Rights Council consideration of an independent mechanism [673 words]

  1. On 1 September, 114 NGOs published a joint letter, calling on the Human Rights Council (and elaborating on their call in May 2023) to establish an independent mechanism:

    1. Impunity is at the heart of the current crisis, and addressing it should be a priority. The failure of the in­ter­national community to hold accountable those responsible for international crimes in Darfur decades ago has sent a dangerous message to all parties that they can continue to commit crimes with impunity. Though the UN Security Council referred the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Council’s passivity in the face of Khartoum’s obstruction to the investigation sharply limited progress on cases, especially enforcing the arrest warrants issued by the ICC and gaining custody of fugitives, including former president Omar al-Bashir.

    2. The UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, the OHCHR, and the UN Special Representative for Sudan have all emphasised the preventive value of holding perpetrators to account, with the former stressing that “[w]hen perpetrators of past atro­cities are not held accountable for their action, we are doo­med to see history repeat itself. We need to un­equi­vocally support accountability processes as we witness the resumption of violence across Sudan, including in Darfur, Blue Nile, and North and South Kordofan states.”

    3. African bodies and mechanisms made strong pronouncements in support of investigations and account­ability for grave violations. These include the Inter-Governmental Au­thority on Develop­ment (IGAD), the African Union (AU), and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). In a Com­muniqué, the IGAD Quartet Group of Countries for the Reso­lu­tion of the Situation in the Republic of Sudan said it was “[a]ppalled by the reports of widespread serious human rights abuses including sexual violence targeting girls and women” and “[committed] to work closely with the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity to put in place a robust monitoring and accountability mecha­nism that will be ins­tru­mental in bringing perpetrators to justice.”

    4. In a statement to the AU Peace and Security Council, the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, warned that “the risk of ethnic and racial tension and conflicts between local communities around the country is great” and that “[t]he longer the fighting continues, the greater the risk of a complete collapse of Sudan.” Regarding protection of civilians, he added: “We should coordinate the recording of any breaches […] and warn all parties about the risks they are exposing themselves to, in case of esta­bli­shed violations.”

    5. Last, in a resolution adopted at its 76th session, the ACHPR said it was “[a]larmed by the many violations taking place in the country, including excessive use of force, extrajudicial, arbitrary or summary exe­cu­tions, unlawful killings, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, ill-treatment and enforced disappearance, sexual and gender-based violence, violations of freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, economic and social rights, as well as inter-communal violence” and called on the African Union to take urgent measures to put an end to the conflict in Sudan and restore peace and stability, including, “[putting] in place a mechanism for monitoring, documenting and reporting on the perpetration of human rights and international humanitarian law violations by the warring parties inclu­ding with particular attention to the situation in Darfur.”[16]

  2. Already during the HRC Special Session on the Sudan in May, the Coordination Committee of the Special Procedures (HRC human rights experts) urged the immediate initiation of independent and impartial investigations into the loss of civilian lives, injuries sustained by individuals, and cases of ill-treatment and other gross human rights violations inflicted upon humanitarian personnel, healthcare workers, human rights defenders, journalists, as well as into attacks on civilian infrastructures. Establishing robust investigative and accountability mechanisms is of utmost importance, as they are instrumental in effectively monitoring, documenting, investigating and prosecuting violations, and in preventing the reoccurrence of systematic human rights abuses and holding accountable those individuals or entities responsible for such violations.

  3. On 28 August 2023, the UK, Germany, Norway and the US announced their consideration of tabling a draft resolution on Sudan in the Human Rights Council.


Human Rights Council Special Session on the Sudan (11 May 2023) [259 words]

  1. On 11 May 2023, the Human Rights Council held a Special Session on the Sudan, upon the request initiated by the UK, the US, Norway and Germany (Core Group of the HRC resolution on Sudan) and supported by France, Albania, Malta, Japan and Switzerland, among others.

  2. The HRC adopted resolution S-36/1 by a close vote of 18 to 15 with 14 abstentions. Security Council members that are members of the HRC voted: YES: France, UK, US. NO: China, UAE. ABSTAIN: Gabon.

  3. HRC resolution S-36/1 added to the mandate of the designated Expert of the High Commissioner on human rights in the Sudan detailed monitoring and documentation of, and reporting to the HRC on, all allegations of human rights violations and abuses since 25 October 2021, including those arising directly from the current conflict, as well as a specific focus on prevention of further such violations and abuses from occurring.

  4. The High Commissioner, with the assistance of his designated Expert, is expected to brief the HRC on 12 September (TBC) and to publish a comprehensive report in March 2024.

  5. The resolution addressed inter alia the need for humanitarian access and evacuation of civilians; protecting objects critical to the delivery of essential services to the civilian population and for producing food and drinking water; prioritizing the promotion of accountability; respecting the principle of non-refoulement; ending attacks on humanitarian and health workers, and on the premises and members of international organizations, civil society organizations and the diplomatic community in the Sudan; and lifting restrictions on the Internet, telecommunications services and social media.


UN statements [429 words]

  1. On 24 August 2023, UNICEF reported that more than two million children have been uprooted – an average of more than 700 newly displaced every hour. Currently, nearly 9.5 million children in Sudan lack access to safe drinking water, and 3.4 million under-fives are at high risk of diarrhoeal diseases and cholera. In Khartoum and the Darfur and Kordofan regions, fewer than one-third of health facilities are fully functional, UNICEF said. Insecurity and displacement are also preventing patients and health workers from reaching hospitals, with many facilities reportedly being attacked and destroyed.

  2. On 17 August 2023, UN human rights experts expressed alarm about conflict-related sexual violence. The experts expressed specific concern at consistent reports of widespread violations by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), including reports that women and girls have been subjected to enforced disappearance and acts tantamount thereto, forced to work, and sexually exploited. Reportedly, hundreds of women have been detained by the RSF, held in inhuman or degrading conditions, subjected to sexual assault, and are vulnerable to sexual slavery. The lives and safety of migrant and refugee women and girls, primarily from Eritrea and South Sudan, have also been seriously affected. The experts noted that it has been challenging for local and international actors to reach affected persons and those seeking or qualifying for international protection, and to provide assistance, including reproductive and sexual health care.

  3. On 15 August 2023, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk decried the acts in Sudan which may amount to war crimes. His Office has reasonable grounds to believe that the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have committed serious violations of international law, including violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law. Hundreds of individuals, including political activists and human rights defenders, have been detained arbitrarily and held incommunicado by both parties to the conflict. Since May, food insecurity has nearly doubled, affecting more than 20.3 million people, and at least 700,000 children are now at risk of acute malnutrition and mortality. The economy is in freefall, and the health system in crisis. Witnesses interviewed by the UN Human Rights Office have also accused the two parties of denying civilians safe passage to flee the fighting, or to evacuate the injured. The High Commissioner called for investigations and holding those responsible accountable. He also urged to increase political and economic pressure on the parties to the conflict to stop immediately the fighting, and increase financial support for humanitarian agencies responding to the humanitarian crisis caused by the conflict, including displacement and refugee crises.


Women, Peace and Security [159 words]

  1. On 30 August 2023, the NGO Working Group on WPS noted that in West Darfur, violence targeting civilians increasingly follows a pattern of ethnically-motivated attacks, including sexual violence, which, if verified, could amount to war crimes, and, if the acts are widespread or systematic, could constitute crimes against humanity. Women human rights defenders, peacebuilders, and women’s civil society groups, including those documenting gender-based violence carried out by armed groups, have been targeted by security forces in attempts to intimidate, including through interrogation and surveillance.

  2. The NGO Working Group on WPS encourages Security Council members to ensure that all discussions are informed by gender-sensitive conflict analysis of the drivers of violence against civilians, including GBV. In addition, all efforts must be made to support the participation of diverse women in crisis de-escalation and resolution efforts at the local level, including mediation and negotiation, and all parties should seek to meet the minimum quota for women’s participation in any transitional processes.


Comments by Members of the Security Council [412 words]

  1. On 9 August 2023, the Security Council held a briefing on the Sudan. The A3 (Gabon, Ghana and Mozambique), Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, the UAE, the UK and the US called to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, camps of internally displaced persons and places of worship. They also called to protect humanitarian personnel and allow unhindered humanitarian access in order to provide food, water and health services. Switzerland, the UAE and the UK called to implement the parties' commitments in the 11 May Jeddah Declaration, including to enable and facilitate unhindered humanitarian access. France and Malta called for an inclusive political process. It may be worth recalling that the Communiqué of Sudan’s Neighboring States Summit also called to promote safe humanitarian access and an inclusive political dialogue [Art. 6-7]. The UK noted that credible evidence suggested serious violations of IHL by both the Sudanese Armed Forces and the RSF, which could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Albania, Ecuador, Switzerland and the US referred to widespread sexual violence and air strikes in populated areas, targeted killing of civilians and atrocities against specific ethnic groups in Darfur. Ecuador also condemned, inter alia, forced disappearances and extrajudicial executions. The A3, Ecuador, Malta, Switzerland, the UAE and the US referred to the plight of internally displaced persons and refugees. Albania and the UK welcomed the decision of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to start investigations and called to ensure accountability. Ecuador, Malta and Switzerland also called for accountability. Switzerland joined the calls for thorough, impartial, independent and timely investigations and Ecuador called to set up mechanisms, investigate and bring perpetrators to justice. The A3, Albania, Malta condemned the perpetration of sexual abuses against women and girls. Malta condemned attacks on women’s human rights defenders and civil society organizations, and the abductions of women and girls. It called to urgently support survivors’ access to medical care and prioritize psychosocial support. Albania, Malta, Switzerland and the US called to redouble efforts to end and prevent all grave violations against children. To recall, the Jeddah Declaration includes a commitment to respect the obligation to refrain from the recruitment of children and the use of children in hostilities. Malta urged for protection measures to be strengthened, especially for women, children, the elderly, people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups.

  2. To recall, our previous post on Sudan noted Security Council members' statements during the Human Rights Council's Special Session in May.


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