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Statements Multiple Mechanisms

Sudan: High Commissioner calls for an end to the “sea of suffering”

19 June 2023

Delivered by

Volker Türk, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights


53rd Session of the Human Rights Council


Enhanced interactive dialogue on the Sudan



Mr. Vice President,
Distinguished Colleagues,

The Council has received the report pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 50/1, covering the human rights situation in Sudan from 11 April 2022 to 14 April 2023.

Since conflict erupted on 15 April, the country has been plunged into chaos.

As the African proverb goes, when the elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.

In this situation, the people of Sudan are suffering, immeasurably. 

During my last update to this Council’s Special Session in May, I called for the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) to cease the hostilities.

I state - again - that I am eager to speak to both parties.

I have also urged all States to help advance a resolution to this catastrophe. Yet efforts to pursue and sustain a ceasefire have produced little or no success.

We still see a reckless, senseless conflict taking place in a context of total impunity.

The streets of Khartoum and its surrounding cities, of El Geneina and of El Obeid are stained with the blood of civilians.

And millions are still in need of vital humanitarian assistance, which, in many places, has been all but impossible to deliver.

I visited Sudan last November. While I saw a country in acute pain, I also heard the voices of hope and expectation for a better future.  

It is heartbreaking to see that hope decimated.

Aggressive tactics have resulted in the deaths of at least 958 civilians since the fighting began, and the injury of 4,746, as of 12 June. The actual figures are undoubtedly much higher.

More than one million people remain trapped in Khartoum, Omdurman, and Bahri.

Densely populated residential areas are being bombarded. The RSF are forcing people from their homes and looting their possessions. They have also attacked, looted and occupied hospitals, assaulting health staff and leaving medical services on the verge of collapse. And the suffering is compounded by dramatic shortages of food, water, cash, and electricity, with many on the brink of survival.

In yet another of a long list of attacks on human dignity, many civilians killed in Khartoum and Omdurman have been denied the right to a proper burial, their bodies still lying on the streets or in abandoned homes. The Sudanese Red Crescent reported that they recently buried 180 unidentified bodies across the country. Scores of families must now live with uncertainty over the fate of their loved ones.

                This is a crisis reverberating across an entire region.

It is a powder keg.

                More than 2.1 million people have fled their homes, including 528,147 who have crossed into neighboring countries. Refugees and internally displaced people face abysmal conditions, walking for days in searing heat with very little access to food, water and shelter.

Mr. Vice President,

Blatant disregard for international humanitarian and human rights law and utter indifference for human life and dignity lie at the heart of this conflict.

I condemn in the strongest terms the ongoing human rights violations in the Darfur region. In West Darfur, the violence has now exploded along ethnic lines. Just last week, the Governor of West Darfur was killed within hours of the RSF arresting him.  At least 430 people were reportedly killed between 24 April and 13 May, most in El Geneina. However, the actual number of people who have lost their lives as a result of organized and repeated large-scale attacks by the RSF and large numbers of their supporters targeting African-inhabited neighbourhoods in El Geneina is expected to be higher. We have been unable to verify the figures due to communications outages over the last month.

As if that is not enough, residents of El Geneina have been cut off from vital services and supplies. More than 150,000 people have fled West Darfur to Chad, yet those leaving El Geneina fear being turned back or further violations by the RSF, who have been controlling the route to the border.

I repeat the call for a humanitarian corridor between Chad and El Geneina, and for safe passage for all civilians out of the conflict areas.

 In North Darfur, recent clashes have resulted in the killing of more than 100 civilians. In the first week of June alone, 41 people were killed in the town of Kutum. And in Nyala, South Darfur, and Zalingei, Central Darfur, heavy fighting has erupted at various times since the start of the conflict. In both cities, most premises belonging to the UN and international non-governmental organizations were looted.

Mr. Vice President,

This is a human rights and humanitarian crisis that is unfolding at an alarming rate, on a devastating scale and with a complexity not seen before in Sudan.        

Every day, children are bearing the harrowing consequences, with more than 13 million across the country in urgent need of lifesaving humanitarian support, including 5.6 million in Darfur. At least 620,000 are reported to be suffering from acute malnutrition.

At the Mygoma Orphanage Centre in Khartoum, 71 children reportedly died due to severe shortages of humanitarian and medical supplies. It is an unfathomable tragedy. Many children have since been evacuated.

Medical supply shortages are also affecting nursing homes. In Khartoum North, my Office has heard disturbing reports of ten older men and women dying because they did not receive assistance in time.

Without delay, the parties to the conflict must protect the organisations seeking to evacuate children and older people to a safer place where their needs can be met.

I am appalled by allegations of sexual violence, including rape. My Office has received credible reports of 18 incidents of sexual violence related to the conflict against at least 53 women and girls – the victims include at least 10 girls. In one case, 18-20 women were reportedly raped in the same attack. In almost all cases, the RSF has been identified as the perpetrator. There is little access to medical and psychosocial support and many cases remain unreported.

As I did when I met him in November last year, I call on General Dagalo - again - to ensure that these vile acts stop immediately.

We continue to receive reports of enforced disappearance and arbitrary arrest of civilians. At least 394 people have been reported as disappeared from the Khartoum area alone, including 16 women and 12 children. The total number could be much higher - disappearances have been reported in Khartoum, Darfur and north Kordofan. Reliable sources tell us that many may be being held by the RSF. I welcome the recent release of two Sudanese doctors held incommunicado, one by the RSF, one by the SAF, and call for the immediate release of all civilian detainees.

My heart goes out to the human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and others who have stayed behind, many of whom I had a chance to meet in November last year. I admire their courage. Defenders, particularly women, are facing mounting threats, including death threats. Journalists and media professionals are also encountering threats and hate speech. Some have been directly targeted on social media, accused of supporting the RSF, and threatened with death. Many others have been arbitrarily arrested or held incommunicado. Some have been released, but there is no information on the whereabouts of many.

Mr. Vice President,

I welcome the new 72-hour nationwide ceasefire agreed on 17 June and urge the two parties to respect their commitments to halt the fighting and to allow the unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance throughout the country.

The new ceasefire is a new opportunity to put an end to this sea of suffering.

I remind the two parties of their obligations to respect international humanitarian and human rights law and to take all measures necessary to protect all civilians -- including humanitarian and medical workers -- from harm.

I also call on the authorities to conduct prompt, thorough, impartial, and independent investigations into all alleged violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

I remind them that failure to pursue accountability for past grave violations has contributed to the current crisis.

To break the cycle of violence, impunity must end.

To the governments and people that have shown great humanity in welcoming refugees seeking safety from this vicious conflict, thank you for your solidarity. I urge all countries receiving refugees to keep your borders open. And in the spirit of international solidarity, I call on Member States urgently to scale up funding for humanitarian organisations who are desperately trying to assist the internally displaced and refugees, both inside Sudan and out.

As we speak, there is a pledging conference. I hope that this conference will fulfil the expectations of the people of Sudan.

I would also like to add that I welcome this Council’s decision to strengthen the mandate of my designated Expert on Sudan to include detailed monitoring and documentation of the human rights situation, including violations arising directly from the current conflict.

Mr. Vice President,

Four years ago, the people of Sudan rose up to demand their rights, driven by a desire for a transition from dictatorship to peace, freedom and safety. They ousted the tyranny they had endured for decades, and began to walk the path to justice and freedom.

As we know, their journey was short-lived, with the October 2021 military coup and now, the gruesome conflict that has gripped the country for the past nine weeks.

Millions of lives have been shattered and uprooted, and Sudan is now -- again – engulfed by bleakness and the bottomless grief of the far too many who have lost children, parents and loved ones.

Ushering in a lasting peace demands our utmost attention.

The violence must stop, today.