UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. assistant secretary-general for Africa says Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s declaration of a countrywide state of emergency and replacement of all governors will affect peace efforts in Darfur — but it’s too soon to assess the impact, the U.N. assistant secretary-general for Africa said Monday.
Bintou Keita told the Security Council that “some rebel groups have demonstrated a stiffening of their position” since al-Bashir’s announcement Friday of the yearlong emergency, amid protests calling for his resignation.
“The Darfur peace process had come to a standstill — once again — in the context of the ongoing demonstrations against the economic and political conditions in Sudan,” she said.
Last July, the Security Council voted to dramatically cut the United Nations-African Union military force in the vast western Darfur region in response to reduced fighting and improved security conditions, with a target of ending the mission on June 30, 2020.
The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when ethnic Africans rebelled, accusing the Arab-dominated Sudanese government of discrimination. The government in Khartoum was accused of retaliating by arming local nomadic Arab tribes and unleashing them on civilian populations — a charge it denies. The conflict has forced close to 2 million people to flee their homes and killed thousands.
Facing genocide charges at the International Criminal Court stemming from the Darfur conflict, al-Bashir’s rule has been marred by civil wars and increasing street demonstrations.
The latest wave of protests began in December over price hikes. A heavy security crackdown has left scores of protesters dead.
U.S. deputy ambassador Jonathan Cohen urged the government “to end the use of violent measures to address these protests and hold all responsible for human rights abuses and violations accountable.”
The Trump administration calls for “an inclusive political process toward elections” with guarantees of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, as well as the immediate release of all journalists, opposition leaders, human rights activists and other protesters “who’ve been arbitrarily detained,” he said.
The Russian and Sudanese ambassadors objected to Cohen and several other ambassadors raising the state of emergency at a council meeting on the situation in Darfur.
In recent years, as the result of a successful government military campaign, the rebellion in Darfur has been reduced to rebel Sudan Liberation Army forces loyal to founder Abdul Wahid Elnur in western and southern Jebel Marra who have refused to join the peace process.
Keita said intermittent clashes between government forces and those loyal to Elnur continue, in addition to infighting between two sub-factions of the SLA founder’s fighters.
“Reportedly, these factions disagree over their prospects of participation in the peace process, while some of their clashes also seem to indicate competition over scarce resources,” she said.
During a recent visit to Sudan and Darfur with other senior U.N. officials, Keita said all internally displaced people they spoke to expressed “deep concern” over the departure of the joint U.N.-AU force known as UNAMID “in the absence of trusted and professional law enforcement agencies.” She said “fear of sexual violence” is also hampering the return of civilians.
“It is our collective responsibility to ensure that the exit of UNAMID does not create a vacuum that leads to persistent local-level tensions or new risk factions,” Keita told the council.
“The engagement of the government of Sudan will be ever more critical in this context.”
She called for additional funding, strengthened local efforts to improve the rule of law and resolve inter-communal tensions and stepped up efforts to ensure human rights and to protect women, children and “vulnerable youth from violence.”