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  • Tarazi Mohammed Sheikh

Déjà vu in Sudan: Black July's Shadow and the United Nations

This article is authored by Tarazi Mohammed Sheikh, a senior Law Student at BRAC University.


The Sudan conflict

On April 15, 2023, an armed conflict erupted in Sudan involving rival factions of the military government. The clashes initially occurred in various cities but centred around the capital, Khartoum, and the Darfur region [1]. The conflict began when the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) launched attacks on government sites [2]. Sudan witnessed airstrikes, artillery shelling, and gunfire in different areas. The dispute over control of key government locations, such as the general military headquarters, Presidential Palace, Khartoum International Airport, the residence of de facto leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the SNBC headquarters, intensified between RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan "Hemedti" Dagalo and al-Burhan [3]. In June, a faction of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement–North (SPLM-N) led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu joined the conflict by launching attacks on army positions in southern Sudan [4].


Sudan has tragically experienced similar humanitarian disasters in the past, making the current conflict not an isolated incident in the country's history. The country witnessed two civil wars between the central government and southern regions [5], resulting in the loss of millions of lives [6].


Indubitably, such conflicts bring about devastating consequences to the general citizens, causing immense human suffering. In the ongoing conflict alone, in the first 2 months [7], the death toll has ranged between 3,000 and 5,000. As of August 2023, over 4.5 million individuals have been forced to flee within and outside of the country. Various states have reported outbreaks of diseases like measles, whooping cough, acute watery diarrhoea, dengue fever, and malaria [8].


The United Nations’ role in the Sudan conflict and lessons of Black July

On April 16, a United Nations (“UN”) proposal for a temporary ceasefire between the Sudanese Armed Forces (“SAF”) and the Rapid Support Forces (“RSF”) was agreed upon; however, it was not followed by the conflicting parties wholly [9]. Since then, several ceasefires have been proposed and negotiation talks held [10], but in vain [11]. Humanitarian efforts, however, are being made by the UN in various capacities, such as the UN Refugee Agency (“UNHCR”), the UN Mission in South Sudan (“UNMISS”) and the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (“UNITAMS”), to assist the victims of the conflict and citizens fleeing the country. While acknowledging the ongoing efforts of the UN to address the Sudan conflict, it has become crucial, at this stage, to reflect on the effectiveness of these measures and consider additional actions that could be undertaken to more effectively alleviate the situation.


Drawing from the lessons learned from Sri Lanka’s Black July [12], which has multiple similarities with the Sudan crisis in terms of involving internal conflicts within the country that have resulted in significant loss of life, widespread displacement, and an alarming number of casualties, including ethnic tensions, the pressing question arises: What steps can the UN take to make a more substantial impact?


First and foremost, it is crucial for the UN to engage directly with all stakeholders involved, transcending individual interests and focusing on the larger goal of peace and stability in Sudan. This entails facilitating inclusive dialogues that allow for open and constructive discussions, promoting reconciliation among conflicting parties, and addressing the root causes that fuel the conflict. Secondly, it is time the UN utilised its diplomatic stance to encourage greater cooperation and dialogue between conflicting parties, both internally and externally [13]. By leveraging its neutral stance and global network, the UN can foster an environment conducive to meaningful negotiations, mediation, and consensus-building. Thirdly, given the civil war saga of Sudan, it is now imperative for the UN to adopt a long-term perspective that emphasizes sustainable peacebuilding rather than solely addressing the immediate humanitarian needs, which involve supporting comprehensive peace agreements, implementing disarmament and demobilization programs, promoting transitional justice, and facilitating reconciliation processes [14]. Last but not least, the UN must strengthen accountability for human rights violations and ensure that perpetrators are held responsible for their actions by supporting national and international mechanisms to investigate and prosecute those responsible for atrocities committed during the conflict [15]. By promoting justice, truth, and reconciliation, the UN can (and should, in fulfilling its inherent purpose) contribute to healing and preventing future cycles of violence.


Conclusion

While the conflict in Sudan may be seen as an internal matter, it is crucial to recognize that remaining silent in the face of such human rights crises inadvertently perpetuates violence. If we fail to address the plight of disadvantaged nations, similar conflicts will continue to emerge elsewhere [16]. It is, therefore, the collective duty of the international community to stand united and support the UN in its efforts to foster peace in regions engulfed by conflict, in this case, Sudan. By actively engaging and assisting the UN, we can contribute to a world that prioritizes peace, justice, and the protection of human rights for all.

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