One Year On: Urgent Strategy Shift Required to Halt Atrocities in Sudan

By Caitlan Lloyd (Legal Officer)

Today marks one year since the outbreak of deadly armed conflict in Sudan between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The conflict has caused unprecedented devastation, marred by serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law perpetrated by both warring parties.

As the humanitarian crisis worsens, REDRESS urges the international community to shift its strategy with a view to brokering an end to the atrocities, preventing further violence against civilians, facilitating the delivery of life-saving humanitarian aid to all conflict-affected areas, supporting accountability for the commission of international crimes, and the establishment of a civilian government at the earliest opportunity.

The cost of the conflict is being overwhelmingly paid by civilians, with most of the violence taking place in densely populated urban areas. Civilians are being targeted by the warring parties, injured or killed in the crossfire of indiscriminate attacks, and trapped under siege without food, water, and medical care. Even by conservative estimates, around 15,000 people have been killed and 8.5 million people have been forcibly displaced, making Sudan the largest displacement crisis in the world.

While numerous States and other stakeholders have attempted to mediate between the warring parties, only meagre progress has been made. The key actors must develop a robust and coordinated strategy to halt the fighting before it is too late. Mediating actors should make full use of all available leverage to resolve the negotiating impasse, and obstruct arms and financing networks presently facilitated by third States.

By all appearances, neither of the warring parties has engaged meaningfully in ceasefire negotiations. Both remain convinced of their path to victory and their prevailing logic of recourse to violence as the principal means of doing politics. Prior negotiations have typically been preceded by opportunistic attacks by both sides to strengthen their respective bargaining power. This pattern has exacerbated the human toll of the fighting, further entrenched both sides’ positions, and derailed momentum towards a cessation of hostilities. Without a change in strategy, the prospects of an effective cessation of hostilities are likely to worsen further. The conflict is also expanding – both to new geographic areas and embroiling additional actors. Sudan’s history demonstrates the very real risk of a protracted armed conflict lasting many years more.

The warring parties have seemingly exploited the proliferation of negotiation platforms to stall discussions until they consider that they have the upper hand. States should now commit unequivocally to a single negotiating platform. The Jeddah platform led by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia has received the most consistent engagement by both warring parties and is likely to be expanded to formally include the UAE and Egypt. It therefore appears well placed to consolidate other existing processes.

Amongst other tools, States should make more effective use of targeted sanctions against the individuals and entities most responsible for ongoing serious human rights and international humanitarian law violations. While the U.S., UK, and EU have each made some designations since 15 April 2023, additional multilateral network sanctions are required to maximise the overall impact of the designations and to address sanctions-evasion networks. Further, only the U.S. has sanctioned any individuals. States should designate senior decision-makers within the RSF and the SAF responsible for international crimes and other gross violations, including those responsible for targeted attacks against civilians in the Darfur, Khartoum, Kordofan, and Gezira States, as well as those obstructing and appropriating aid deliveries. On this, we welcome today’s designation by the UK of three entities linked to the warring parties.

In January 2024, the UN Panel of Experts on the Sudan reported transfers of arms and ammunition into Darfur constituting violations of the UN arms embargo and reiterated that those who breach the arms embargo may be designated for targeted sanctions. The UN Security Council and Sudan Sanctions Committee must now take decisive action to address these violations, recognising the Panel of Experts’ finding that allegations of the UAE transporting weapons and ammunition for the RSF via Eastern Chad are “credible”.

There is strong and growing evidence implicating both warring parties in the commission of widespread international crimes against civilians, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. In Darfur, systematic and ethnically targeted violence perpetrated by RSF and allied militia against the Masalit is increasingly viewed as amounting to genocide. In establishing an environment conducive to lasting peace, it will be critical to provide for appropriate accountability mechanisms with a view to ending the impunity that currently exists for perpetrators and addressing its root causes.

States should support existing fact-finding and accountability processes for Sudan. This should include cooperating with the International Criminal Court in the investigation and prosecution of those most responsible for international crimes in Sudan, and supporting measures to fully staff, operationalise, and renew the mandate of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission for Sudan (the FFM has so far struggled to carry out meaningful investigations because of a hiring freeze stemming from the ongoing UN liquidity crisis). States should also proactively open structural investigations, continue to monitor the movements of suspected perpetrators and their enablers, and take robust action against them – including arresting and prosecuting any such individuals that enter their territory under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

Looking forward, accountability and comprehensive legal/institutional reforms must be prioritised. These are essential prerequisites to ensure human rights protection and justice in Sudan. Mediators should refuse to endorse any peace agreement that provides for amnesties or other measures that limit accountability for gross violations of human rights or humanitarian law. Members of the SAF and the RSF responsible for violations and the relevant institutions themselves should also not be in a position to hold office or to steer future democratic processes.

The International Humanitarian Conference for Sudan and its Neighbours is currently ongoing in Paris. Humanitarian needs in Sudan are currently reaching unprecedented highs, with 17.7 million people facing acute hunger. Meanwhile, the warring parties have consistently obstructed and appropriated aid deliveries intended for conflict-affected communities. Key humanitarian actors should continue to prioritise negotiations to enable the delivery of humanitarian aid to the communities most in need. As has been consistently called for by Sudanese civil society, international aid actors should consider increasing their coordination with the resistance committees and emergency response rooms – both of whom have developed robust mutual aid networks and strategies amidst the fighting. States should commit additional funds to the 2024 Sudan Humanitarian Needs and Response Plan (which has only received 5.8% of the amount required at the time of writing). Neighbouring countries should also ensure they allow entry and provide adequate reception conditions for those fleeing Sudan, and that they comply at all times with their non-refoulement obligations. 

Key members of the international community have previously failed to prioritise the needs and interests of the Sudanese people and to pursue a transformative agenda towards civilian rule, democratic transformation, and legal/institutional reform. In recent weeks, senior SAF leaders have openly rejected the prospect of future power-sharing arrangements with civilian political groups, insisting on continued military rule during any transitional period – supposedly with a view to future elections. Now more than ever, decision-makers should not lose sight of the powerful call for democratic transformation to a civilian government that unified demonstrators during the revolution of 2018-19 and ultimately led to the ouster of former President Omar al-Bashir.  

For Information about REDRESS’ work on Sudan, please read here or contact our legal officer Caitlan Lloyd on [email protected].

For media queries, please contact:  Eva Sanchis, REDRESS’ Head of Communications, on [email protected] or +44 (0)20 7793 1777.

Photo by Reuters.