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High Commissioner for Human Rights Strongly Condemns Wanton Violence in Sudan as Human Rights Council Opens Special Session on the Human Rights Impact of the Ongoing Conflict in Sudan

11 May 2023

The Human Rights Council this morning opened a special session on the human rights impact of the ongoing conflict in Sudan, hearing the High Commissioner for Human Rights strongly condemn the wanton violence taking place in the country in which both sides had trampled international humanitarian law.

Volker Türk, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said he strongly condemned this wanton violence, in which both sides had trampled international humanitarian law, notably the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution.  The Sudanese military had launched attacks in densely occupied civilian areas, including airstrikes.  Immense damage had been done, destroying the hopes and rights of millions of people.  It was essential that both parties urgently committed to an inclusive political process and to a negotiated peace. 

Mr. Türk said since 15 April, at least 487 civilians had been killed, notably in Khartoum, El Geneina, Nyala and El Obeid; the real figure was much higher.  More than 154,000 people had fled the country, and an estimated 700,000 more had been displaced inside the borders of Sudan.  Those who remained in areas affected by the conflict were at continued, severe risk.  In Khartoum, clashes between the two armed forces, shelling and airstrikes had taken place in heavily populated residential areas, and millions of people were now struggling to access food, fuel and currency.  In parts of Darfur, as well as the Blue Nile and Kordofan regions, the violence between military groups had triggered inter-ethnic clashes. 

The ongoing talks in Jeddah, which focused on creating a ceasefire, needed to be complemented by commitments to establish a humanitarian truce, to enable life-saving deliveries of aid, to allow for safe passage for civilians from areas of hostilities, and to protect humanitarian supplies from looting.  It was also crucial that discussions expand to respecting international humanitarian law, protecting civilians, and bringing an end to human rights violations. 

Mr. Türk said the Human Rights Council had called this special session to express its urgent concern for the rights and lives of Sudan’s people.  He urged all States with influence in the region to encourage by all possible means the resolution of this crisis.

Tlaleng Mofokeng, Chair of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, said innocent civilians had borne the severe consequences of the conflict in Sudan, enduring immense hardship and remaining exposed to significant protection risks. The situation remained deeply distressing and demanded urgent attention and action.  Since the onset of hostilities, an alarming number of lives had been lost. The collapse of basic infrastructure and the disintegration of critical services, including hospitals, had compounded the plight of the population.  The pressing situation necessitated an immediate and prolonged ceasefire, swiftly followed by the initiation of political negotiations aimed at fostering the establishment of a government led by civilians.  The conflicting parties must cease all hostilities without delay.

Concluding, Ms. Mofokeng said there must be 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. 

Hassan Hamid Hassan, Permanent Representative of Sudan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said what was happening was an internal affair, and what the Sudanese Armed Forces was doing was a constitutional duty for all armies of the world.  Sudan’s position on this special session was based on the following: while reiterating the absolute priority of the Government to the promotion and protection of human rights, under the present dire circumstances, the military clashes and the falling of victims, it had a priority, namely to achieve a ceasefire and to save lives, in line with the Universal Declaration for Human Rights. 

Mr. Hassan said there were regional efforts underway to achieve a ceasefire and a truce, including the negotiations in Jeddah under the initiative of Saudi Arabia and the United States, as well as an initiative by the Inter-governmental Authority on Development.  The latter was in line with the principle of African solutions for African problems.  Sudan wanted more time to work on these regional efforts, without overcoming them or negatively affecting them.  As the situation in Sudan was still before the Security Council, and would be before the Council in June, why was the Council rushing to hold this ad-hoc session now, especially without the support of any African or Arab countries, Mr. Hassan asked. 

In the discussion, some speakers urged all parties to silence the guns immediately, abide by ceasefire efforts, and avoid attacks on civilian infrastructure.  International human rights law and international humanitarian law must be respected.  Rapid and secure humanitarian access must be guaranteed, and the safety of humanitarian, medical and diplomatic personnel must be ensured.  The international community should encourage dialogue and consensus between all stakeholders and reinforce stability during the transition period.  There should be full respect for the territorial integrity, independence, and political identity of Sudan.  The country had a right to have its views taken into account by the Council before any new Special Procedures were established or existing ones extended. 

Some speakers said the resolution must be balanced and consensual, and be in the interest of the people of Sudan.  They expressed dissent with the holding of the Special Session, pointing out that without the cooperation of the country concerned, it could not lead to positive developments.  The urgency of the humanitarian situation in a country should not mean that the Council leave aside dialogue with the country concerned, as this only reduced the effectiveness of the mechanisms proposed, and also jettisoned the spirit of consensus of the body as a whole, which maintained as its focus the respect of human rights, international human rights law, and international humanitarian law.  The Human Rights Council must avoid the politicisation of human rights. 

Speaking were the United Kingdom, Lebanon on behalf of the Arab States, Sweden on behalf of the European Union, Finland on behalf of the Nordic-Baltic countries, Oman on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Germany, Ukraine, Paraguay, Argentina, Cameroon, Morocco, Belgium, United States, France, Malaysia, Czech Republic, China, Pakistan, Chile, Mexico, India, Senegal, Viet Nam, Costa Rica, Luxembourg, South Africa, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, Eritrea, Côte d’Ivoire on behalf of the Africa Group, Liechtenstein, Australia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Monaco, Bulgaria, Holy See, Indonesia, Netherlands, Brazil, Peru, Switzerland, Uruguay, Croatia, Venezuela, Malta, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Ireland, Italy, Israel, New Zealand, Egypt, Slovenia, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russian Federation, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Türkiye, Austria, Canada, Mauritania, South Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda and Equatorial Guinea.

Also speaking were East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, International Bar Association Intervention, International Service for Human Rights, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, Human Rights Watch, World Organization against Torture, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Front Line - The International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,  Amnesty International, Association Ma'onah for Human Rights and Immigration, Meezaan Centre for Human Rights, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme, Broad National Movement Limited, Interfaith International, Institute for Human Rights, Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, and African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies.

The Council will reconvene at 3 p.m. this afternoon to take action on the draft resolution and close its thirty-sixth special session.

Keynote Statements

VOLKER TÜRK, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said four years ago, the people of Sudan lit a beacon of hope for millions around the
world.  On 11 April 2019, popular protests brought an end to decades of tyranny and human rights violations, toppling the longstanding dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir.  Women and young people were at the forefront, demanding good governance and a new social contract between the State and the people, based on democracy, freedom, justice, and a fair share of development.  This inspiring movement was followed by significant reforms.  But the hoped-for transition to full civilian rule and democracy was once again dashed in October 2021, when General al-Burhan and General Dagalo jointly carried out a military coup.  Last month, fighting exploded between the forces led by those same two men, plunging this much-suffering country into catastrophe.

Since 15 April, at least 487 civilians had been killed, notably in Khartoum, El
Geneina, Nyala and El Obeid; the real figure was much higher.  More than 154,000 people had fled the country, and an estimated 700,000 more had been displaced inside the borders of Sudan.  Those who remained in areas affected by the conflict were at continued, severe risk.  In Khartoum, clashes between the two armed forces, shelling and airstrikes had taken place in heavily populated residential areas, and millions of people were now struggling to access food, fuel and currency.

In parts of Darfur, as well as the Blue Nile and Kordofan regions, the violence between military groups had triggered inter-ethnic clashes.  In West Darfur, at least 100 people had been killed, and thousands displaced, by inter-communal violence between so-called “Arab” and Masalit groups, allied respectively with the Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese Armed Forces.

The country’s health system had been severely damaged, with at least 17 attacks against health facilities, and several others occupied by military forces.  Years of development efforts were being obliterated by damage to water, electricity, and communications infrastructure.  Extensive and increasing looting of United Nations and international non-governmental organizations offices, businesses, and private property had also obstructed the humanitarian operations that kept millions of people alive and in health.  The World Food Programme projected that if the conflict continued, 2.5 million more people could become acutely food insecure within 3 to 6 months, bringing the total to 19 million people – more than half the population.

Mr. Türk said he strongly condemned this wanton violence, in which both sides had trampled international humanitarian law, notably the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution.  The Sudanese military had launched attacks in densely occupied civilian areas, including airstrikes.  Immense damage had been done, destroying the hopes and rights of millions of people.  It was essential that both parties urgently committed to an inclusive political process and to a negotiated peace. 

The ongoing talks in Jeddah, which focused on creating a ceasefire, needed to be complemented by commitments to establish a humanitarian truce, to enable life-saving deliveries of aid; to allow for safe passage for civilians from areas of hostilities; and to protect humanitarian supplies from looting.  It was also crucial that discussions expand to respecting international humanitarian law, protecting civilians, and bringing an end to human rights violations.  If there was one lesson to be drawn from this tragic crisis, it was the pressing need for all transitional arrangements to build on bedrock commitments to accountability, non-discrimination and participation – so that peace could be sustainable and stable, because it was just.

The Human Rights Council had called this special session to express its urgent concern for the rights and lives of Sudan’s people.  He urged all States with influence in the region to encourage by all possible means the resolution of this crisis.

TLALENG MOFOKENG, Chair of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, said the crisis in Sudan had now extended beyond three weeks.  Throughout this period, innocent civilians had borne the severe consequences of the conflict, enduring immense hardship and remaining exposed to significant protection risks. The situation remained deeply distressing and demanded urgent attention and action. 

Since the onset of hostilities, an alarming number of lives had been lost.  The dire consequences of this crisis had compelled hundreds of thousands of individuals to seek refuge, while others had been forcibly displaced from their homes.  Sudanese civilians in search of safety reportedly found themselves subjected to egregious human rights violations, including sexual and gender-based violence, rampant looting, and acute shortages of vital necessities such as food, water, healthcare, including reproductive healthcare, fuel, and other basic commodities. 

The collapse of basic infrastructure and the disintegration of critical services, including hospitals, had compounded the plight of the population.  The ability to monitor and document the situation on the ground had been significantly hindered due to the targeting of journalists, as well as the intimidation and threats faced by human rights defenders.  This situation had resulted in an information blackout.

Ms. Mofokeng said that prior to the crisis, Sudan already had 3.7 million internally displaced persons within the country.  However, due to the ongoing crisis, the International Organization for Migration estimated that more than 700,000 individuals had been internally displaced, and, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 123,000 refugees had crossed into neighbouring countries.  Tragically, the delivery of critically needed food assistance, vital infrastructure, and life-saving services had been subjected to what appeared to be deliberate and indiscriminate attacks, posing a grave threat to humanitarian personnel, including local healthcare workers, and impeding their efforts.

Despite the dedicated work of humanitarian organizations to expand their operations, the persisting conflict severely hampered access to essential provisions, including food and other necessities.  Humanitarian organizations were diligently striving to expand their operations, as evidenced by the resumption of food distributions in eastern Sudan and ongoing responses in various other areas.

Urgent and decisive measures were imperative to tackle the worsening humanitarian crisis, protect the rights and well-being of vulnerable people, and rehabilitate critical infrastructure and services.  The pressing situation necessitated an immediate and prolonged ceasefire, swiftly followed by the initiation of political negotiations aimed at fostering the establishment of a government led by civilians.  The conflicting parties must cease all hostilities without delay, and uphold their responsibilities according to international law, ensuring the safety of civilians and vital civilian infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals.  It was crucial for them to publicly commit to safeguarding humanitarian personnel, facilities, and resources, thereby ensuring unrestricted access to life-saving aid and assistance, given the escalating need for emergency support. 

Concluding, Ms. Mofokeng said there must be 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.

Statement by Country Concerned

HASSAN HAMID HASSAN, Permanent Representative of Sudan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, expressed condolences to all those who had fallen victim to the military confrontation in Sudan since the rebellion of the Rapid Support Forces on 15 April, and wished recovery to the victims.  The integration of the Rapid Support Forces in the National Army, the Sudanese Armed Forces, was one of the main challenges of the transitional period, especially after the signing of the Juba peace agreement on 3 October 2020 and the integration of armed groups into the Army according to the principle of the one national army.  Unfortunately, the issue of integration had been constantly postponed until it exploded on 15 April when Khartoum woke to witness a full military attack by rebel forces on all strategic facilities in Khartoum.  What was happening was an internal affair.  What the Sudanese Armed Forces was doing was a constitutional duty for all armies of the world. 

The Council was thanked for its close interest and follow-up.  However, Sudan’s position on this special session was based on the following: while reiterating the absolute priority of the Government to the promotion and protection of human rights, under the present dire circumstances, the military clashes and the falling of victims, Sudan had a priority, namely to achieve a ceasefire and to save lives, in line with the Universal Declaration for Human Rights. 

There were regional efforts underway to achieve a ceasefire and a truce, including the negotiations in Jeddah under the initiative of Saudi Arabia and the United States, as well as an initiative by the Inter-governmental Authority on Development.  The latter was in line with the principle of African solutions for African problems.  Sudan wanted more time to work on these regional efforts, without overcoming them or negatively affecting them. 

The issue of Sudan was still before the Security Council, the international body in charge of peace and security.  The issue of Sudan was also under the agenda of the Human Rights Council, and a session had been due to be held in June.  So why was the Council rushing to hold this ad-hoc session now, especially without the support of any African or Arab countries, Mr. Hassan asked.  Protecting and promoting human rights had always been a priority of the Sudanese Government. 

Discussion

Speakers then took the floor, saying, among other things, that the effects of the conflict on the region would be very wide.  There was an alternative to killing: the political track was vital and so important.  The international community must do all it could to help Sudan return to the path of peace.  The cycle of impunity in Sudan must be brought to an end.  Dialogue and sending messages that encouraged reconciliation between the parties and strengthened stability in the transition period were all vital.  There should be full respect for the territorial integrity, independence, and political identity of Sudan.  The country had a right to have its views taken into account by the Council before any new Special Procedures were established or existing ones extended. 

All parties should silence the guns immediately, and abide by ceasefire efforts.  All should avoid attacks on civilian infrastructure.  International human rights law and international humanitarian law must be respected.  Rapid and secure humanitarian access must be guaranteed, and the safety of humanitarian, medical and diplomatic personnel must be ensured.  The fighting must end to allow space for inclusive dialogue and mediation, to facilitate a return to the paths of democracy.  External actors must refrain from fuelling the conflict.  Reports of grave human rights abuses and violations were increasing, and the impact on women, children and persons with vulnerabilities was considerable. 

Neighbouring countries had taken on life-saving work in hosting the hundreds of thousands of people who had left the country.  The longer the conflict lasted, the greater its impact on the population, especially on children.  Access to life-saving programmes, such as vaccinations and health services, were jeopardised.  The supply of humanitarian aid must be facilitated and ensured.  International humanitarian law was being repeatedly broken.  Human rights also applied in times of conflict, and international humanitarian law must be respected.  The international community was steadfast in its support for the people of Sudan and their struggle for peace and justice.  Peace was urgently needed: but lasting peace and respect for human rights went hand in hand.

Some speakers said the strengthening of the mandate of the designated expert and of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was crucial.  The Jeddah negotiations were vital.  It was important to ensure Sudan’s cohesiveness: the international community should encourage dialogue and consensus between all stakeholders and reinforce stability during the transition period.  All should respect the political identity, stability, independence and territorial integrity of Sudan.  The stability of Sudan was vital for the stability and security of the region.  The willingness of the institutions of Sudan to engage with the international community and with the Human Rights Council in particular was commended.

All sides must immediately respect the cease fire, and protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.  Humanitarian needs had reached record levels.  The immense suffering of the population of the country was deplored by many speakers.  Safe corridors, whether by air, sea or land, should be created to evacuate innocent victims of the conflict and diplomatic personnel.  The generalised plundering must be brought to an end. 

The resolution was a call for peace and human rights: all should join and vote in favour of it, as the international community owed it to the people of Sudan.  All initiatives to support Sudan were applauded and commended.  The resolution must, however, be balanced and consensual, and be in the interest of the people of Sudan.  There was a clear and urgent need for the Human Rights Council to respond to the situation: the longer it continued, the more human rights would be violated, and the harder it would be to achieve a lasting peaceful solution.  All Member States should support the Sudanese people and support the unity of the international community.  There must be full respect for international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should place emphasis on strengthening the rule of law and promoting democracy: the resurgence of the crisis demonstrated a democratic deficit.  The fundamental rights of the people of Sudan had been flouted for far longer than this current crisis.  The necessary conditions must be established for a return to dialogue and cooperation.  Any attack on humanitarian or health workers was deeply unacceptable.  The Sudanese Forces must not take part in the fighting.  The perpetrators of abuses must be held to account to end the cycle of violence. 

What could be done to protect civilians and strengthen the protection of all the most vulnerable groups, a speaker asked.  A prolonged conflict would only increase the sufferings of all in the country: inclusive dialogue was the only way to restore peace, and ensure a ceasefire and efforts to work towards a solution to the ongoing and continuing crisis.  The ongoing fighting was plagued by increased levels of sexual - and gender-based violence.  Democracy was the only path towards peace and justice for all Sudanese.  Sudan had the wisdom to put itself back on track towards national development and create a favourable environment for internal and external dialogue for solving the problem.

All parties should solve their differences in the field of human rights through constructive dialogue and cooperation, said a speaker, expressing dissent with the holding of the Special Session, pointing out that without the cooperation of the country concerned, it could not lead to positive developments.  The call for the special session and its outcomes on a matter that fell within the purview of the Security Council could not help to improve the situation.  The urgency of the humanitarian situation in a country should not mean that the Council leave aside dialogue with the country concerned, as this only reduced the effectiveness of the mechanisms proposed, and also jettisoned the spirit of consensus of the body as a whole, which maintained as its focus the respect of human rights, international human rights law, and international humanitarian law.  The Human Rights Council must avoid the politicisation of human rights.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2023/05/session-extraordinaire-du-conseil-des-droits-de-lhomme-sur-le

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