Statements Multiple Mechanisms
Türk calls on Sudan combatants to agree peace talks, aid and protection of civilians
11 May 2023
Volker Türk, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
36th Special Session of the Human Rights Council
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 have been killed, notably in Khartoum, El Geneina, Nyala and El Obeid; the real figure is much higher. More than 154,000 people have fled the country, and an estimated 700,000 more have been displaced inside the borders of Sudan. Those who remain in areas affected by the conflict are at continued, severe risk.
In Khartoum, clashes between the two armed forces, shelling and airstrikes have taken place in heavily populated residential areas, and millions of people are 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 has triggered inter-ethnic clashes. In West Darfur, at least 100 people have been killed, and thousands displaced, by inter-communal violence between so-called “Arab” and Masalit groups, allied respectively with the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF).
The country's health system has been severely damaged, with at least 17 attacks against health facilities, and several others occupied by military forces. People who have been wounded; women in childbirth; or simply the severely ill have nowhere to go. Years of development efforts are being obliterated by damage to water, electricity, and communications infrastructure. Extensive and increasing looting of UN and international NGO offices, businesses, and private property have also obstructed the humanitarian operations that kept millions of people alive and in health. WFP projects that if the conflict continues, 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. Already, some 50,000 acutely malnourished children have been cut off from receiving live-saving treatment, according to OCHA.
I 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. Last week one airstrike reportedly hit the vicinity of a hospital in the East Nile area of Khartoum, killing several civilians. The RSF, meanwhile, has allegedly taken over numerous buildings in Khartoum to use as operational bases, evicting residents and launching attacks from densely inhabited urban areas. These tactics place civilians at acute risk and prevent people from accessing critical supplies and assistance.
We have also received several reports alleging sexual violence by uniformed men, as well as allegations of unlawful killings and enforced disappearances.
Six months ago, I visited Sudan. It was my first mission as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. At that pivotal moment in the country’s history, with talks underway to shape a transition to fully democratic, civilian government, I expressed my solidarity with the people of Sudan, and I needed to bring a strong message: accountability and human rights must be at the core of any future agreement.
In the course of that visit I met both General al-Burhan and General Dagalo, among many others. I urged them, and all those who were involved in the talks, to focus on accountability for past human rights violations, and on the common good.
Today, immense damage has been done, destroying the hopes and rights of millions of people. It is essential that both parties urgently commit to an inclusive political process and to a negotiated peace. The ongoing talks in Jeddah, which focus on creating a ceasefire, need 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 is also crucial that discussions expand to respecting international humanitarian law, protecting civilians and bringing an end to human rights violations.
To date, despite intense diplomatic efforts – notably by the African Union, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, the League of Arab States and the United Nations – the leaders of the SAF and RSF have not agreed to discuss ending their hostilities.
We have been moved by the courage and resilience of the people of Sudan, their desire for change and their attachment to principles of justice and freedom. They and their country are pivotal to the future of Africa. At the point where the two Niles, Blue and White, surge into one majestic river, it is impossible not to see how profoundly connected is the Continent, and how powerfully its resources could drive growth and peace for millions of people.
I condemn the use of violence by individuals who have no regard for the lives and fundamental rights of millions of their own compatriots. All parties must protect the rights of civilians and comply with international humanitarian and human rights law.
If there is one lesson to be drawn from this tragic crisis, it is the pressing need for all transitional arrangements to build on bedrock commitments to accountability, non-discrimination and participation – so that peace can be sustainable and stable, because it is just.
The Human Rights Council has called this special session to express its urgent concern for the rights and lives of Sudan’s people.
I take this opportunity to urge all States with influence in the region to encourage, by all possible means, the resolution of this crisis.
In closing, I pay tribute to my staff – notably our national staff, who have been directly affected by the fighting and severe shortages.
And I express my deepest and most heartfelt solidarity with the people of Sudan.