A year into Sudan’s war

Asmaa Al-Husseini , Tuesday 16 Apr 2024

What might the prospects be for the war in Sudan? A Paris conference gives some clues.

A year into Sudan s war

 

Paris hosted an international humanitarian conference for Sudan on Monday, 15 April. The date marks a year since the conflict erupted between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The spiralling hostilities have been devastating for the Sudanese people and the spillover has impacted Sudan’s neighbours and the interests of international powers.

The high-profile regional and international attendance at the conference and the many pledges and commitments it occasioned reflect the international community’s desire to break the silence surrounding the Sudanese conflict. For months, this crisis has been all but ignored, with the result that the conflict has been allowed to spread and worsen, along with its humanitarian toll. The Sudanese people’s hopes are now pinned on the Paris conference to bring their plight back to the international agenda, after having long been overshadowed by other major crises at the centre of international and regional concern and competition, and which also impact on the Sudanese crisis.

World powers at the conference shared very similar views on the current state of the crisis and how to resolve it. They also acknowledged the international community’s failure to devote sufficient attention to it.

“For a year the Sudanese people have been the victims of a terrible war,” said French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne. He added that they had also suffered from “being forgotten” and “indifference”. “This is the reason for our meetings today: to break the silence surrounding this conflict and mobilise the international community.”

In like manner, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock noted how, “as the war enters its second year, it is practically absent from our daily news.” Therefore, she said, the conference participants needed to send the Sudanese a “loud and clear” message: “We see your suffering. We know we have a responsibility. And we are not forgetting you.” She also stressed that while it was essential to act immediately to alleviate the humanitarian catastrophe in Sudan, “we are not letting up in our work for a permanent political solution to the conflict. We all know there is no shortage of mediation initiatives to end this war. But the point is to link them up and settle them on a format that will bring the warring parties together.”

The EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Chief Josep Borrell, who co-chaired the conference with Sejourne and Baerbock, said: “We need to continue… to push the warring parties to commit to a cessation of hostilities and only international pressure can do that,” adding, “we will also have to think about demanding responsibilities, including through the application of sanctions against those who act against the prospects for peace.”

Echoing Baerbock, Borrell noted that despite the many peace initiatives, they were not coordinated, which gave the warring parties openings to evade pressures and prolong the fighting. He stressed that the next steps by the international community should include “securing a sustained ceasefire, making sure that humanitarian convoys can reach those in need, and supporting a democratic transition of power.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also underscored the need for a “concerted global push for a cease-fire in Sudan followed by a comprehensive peace process.”

The crisis in Sudan was “more than a conflict between two warring parties,” Guterres said. “It is a war being waged on the Sudanese people. It is a war on the many thousands of civilians who have been killed, and tens of thousands maimed.”

Echoing the call for an end to the hostilities in Sudan, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, writing on his X (formerly Twitter) account, accused both warring parties of preventing humanitarian relief from reaching its intended recipients and committing human rights violations and war crimes, including rape, torture, and extrajudicial killings. He added that Washington will double its efforts to bring perpetrators of war crimes and other atrocities in Sudan to account.

The Ministerial Meeting for Advancing the Sudan Peace Initiatives was held in tandem with the humanitarian conference, which focused on mobilising donations. The meeting brought together EU foreign ministers and other ministers and representatives from Sudan’s neighbouring countries, the EU, the African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the US, the UK, Kenya, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Britain, and Norway. It was also attended by some 40 Sudanese civil society figures.

The participants issued a “Declaration of Principles” stating: “We, the ministers of Foreign Affairs and representatives of the states and international and regional organisations assembled in Paris, France, in order to advance the peace initiatives for Sudan, reaffirm our unwavering commitment to supporting a peaceful resolution of the Sudanese conflict while respecting the aspirations of the Sudanese people and the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Sudan.”

The document called on the warring parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law. It also called on them to cease hostilities, and to facilitate unhindered access of humanitarian aid to those who need it. It urged foreign actors to cease providing armed support to the warring parties and to support efforts to restore peace in Sudan, and it called for urgent coordination of international mediating efforts in the framework of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.  Finally, it stressed the participants’ continued commitment “to support the democratic aspirations of the Sudanese people and a representative and inclusive Sudanese-led and owned process which leads to the restoration of civilian rule.”

The purpose of the humanitarian conference, as expressed by the French foreign minister, was to focus on the participants’ shared goals, which included mobilising essential funding for the humanitarian response in Sudan and neighbouring countries.  Only five per cent of the 3.8-billion-euro ($4.1 billion) target in the UN’s latest humanitarian appeal for Sudan had been met ahead of the conference, according to the French Foreign Ministry. It noted that 27 million Sudanese, equivalent to half of the population of Sudan, suffer from food insecurity, and these include 15 million children. At least 1.8 million Sudanese have sought refuge abroad, while 6.7 million were internally displaced inside Sudan. Tens of thousands have been killed or wounded as a result of the conflict.

In its closing communique, the Paris conference announced that it had mobilised around $2.13 billion for Sudan, including €110 million from France, €244 from Germany, €350 from the EU, and $138 from the US. The amount is still far from the target €3.8 billion, but, as the French president observed, this support will allow a response to the Sudanese people’s most urgent needs in food security, nutrition, health, water and sanitation, and education.

The statement reiterated the participants’ firm commitment to supporting a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Sudan and called on all foreign actors to cease providing armed support to the parties to the conflict. It also stressed the need to refrain from any action that could aggravate tensions and fuel the conflict, and it called on the parties to the conflict to cease hostilities immediately, to abide by their commitments in the framework of the Jeddah Platform, and to facilitate access to humanitarian assistance for the civilian population.

The conference came under fire from some quarters in Sudan, which questioned the motives of its Western sponsors and the Sudanese attendees. The Sudanese Foreign Ministry expressed its surprise and anger that the Paris conference was held without prior consultation or coordination with the Sudanese government. This, it held, was in blatant disregard for international law, the UN Charter, and the principle of national sovereignty.

Of course, the results of the Paris conference and the commitments of its participants must still stand the test of implementation. Meanwhile, all have their eyes pinned on the forthcoming session of the Jeddah platform, which will be attended by Cairo, and which will pursue a broader agenda to advance the Sudanese peace drive and efforts to alleviate the suffering of millions of Sudanese. That occasion will provide the international community the opportunity to demonstrate its unified stance on Sudan in a concrete way, delivering in the process a strong message to the belligerents to end the war, facilitate humanitarian relief efforts, and commit to a political process that will lead Sudan out of its cumulative cycle of crisis.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 18 April, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

 

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