Sudan’s military regime has demanded the immediate termination of the United Nations political mission in the war-ravaged country, a move that could silence one of the last remaining international voices in an increasingly horrific conflict.
Sudan’s acting foreign minister, Ali Sadeq, called for a swift ending to the UN mission in a letter circulated to the UN Security Council on Thursday. He complained that the mission’s performance had been “disappointing.”
The UN mission in Sudan, known as UNITAMS, was created in 2020 in an effort to support the country’s transition to civilian rule. It has only about 400 civilian employees and little influence over the devastating war that erupted in April, although it works to verify atrocities on all sides. The war between Sudan’s military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has killed thousands of people and forced more than seven million to flee their homes, leaving entire cities in ruins.
There is growing evidence of large-scale massacres, sexual violence and other war crimes in Sudan. This week, UN agencies and Sudanese media provided new details of a massacre in which an estimated 800 to 1,300 civilians were killed by RSF soldiers and their allied Arab militias over a four-day period last week in Ardamata, in the Darfur region.
“Sudan is facing a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions,” the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said in a statement on Friday. “Without urgent international action, this catastrophe could engulf the entire country and region.”
Despite the war spiralling out of control, there has been little action by the international community. This week, the UN Security Council and the African Union’s peace and security department both held high-level meetings to discuss Sudan, but neither announced any specific action.
Instead, several diplomats at both meetings issued vague calls for a ceasefire. But weeks of talks between RSF and Sudanese army officials in Saudi Arabia have failed to produce any agreement on halting the fighting.
“Conflict-related sexual violence – including rape – has been rampant,” the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told the Security Council on Thursday.
“Women and girls are being abducted, chained, and held against their will in RSF-controlled areas in Darfur,” she said. “This is all happening on our watch. And it is a stain on our collective humanity. We said, ‘Never again.’ But so far, these have proven to be empty words. We have failed to hold perpetrators of these evils to account.”
A senior UN official for Africa, Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, pleaded with the Security Council to ensure that “the situation in Sudan does not fall off the international radar.”
After seven months of bloodshed, there is no sign that the fighting is easing, she said. “On the contrary, hostilities have intensified … While both warring parties have declared a readiness to negotiate a ceasefire, their actions on the ground suggest otherwise.”
Sudan is now suffering the world’s largest displacement crisis, with 7.1 million people forced from their homes, she said. This is in addition to nearly four million displaced people in Sudan or outside its borders before the latest war began. In total, about 25 million people – more than half of Sudan’s population – are in need of humanitarian aid, the UN says.
Sudan is the latest African government, after those of Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo this year, to demand the withdrawal of UN missions from its country. In June, Sudan declared the UN special envoy to Sudan, Volker Perthes, persona non grata. He resigned in September and has not been replaced.
Humanitarian agencies have been systematically blocked in their efforts to send aid and relief workers into Sudan. One agency, Médecins Sans Frontières, said in a statement this week that hundreds of people are likely to die in Khartoum because of an “unconscionable” blockade of surgical supplies by Sudan’s army. Medical staff have also been prevented from reaching the city, it said.
Clementine Nkweta-Salami, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Sudan, warned last week that the situation in the country was “verging on pure evil.” But the crisis is still overshadowed by other global conflicts, including in Gaza and Israel. “Sudan has become the most forgotten crisis on the planet,” the World Health Organization said on social media this week.
Canada’s Global Affairs Department, in a social media post on Nov. 8, said it was “deeply disturbed” by the Sudan violence and remained “seized” by the conflict. Since then, it has said little about Sudan, focusing more on the Gaza and Ukraine crises.
In another post on Friday, the department repeated that it was “deeply concerned” about the escalating violence against civilians in Darfur.
Two decades ago, a wave of mass atrocities in Darfur by the Sudanese army and its allied militia, known as the Janjaweed, led to a global campaign of activism among Hollywood celebrities, church leaders, university students and civil society groups. The African Union announced a policy of “non-indifference” to atrocities in Darfur and elsewhere, promising “African solutions to African problems.”
But today’s crisis in Darfur has not generated anything close to the same amount of attention. The Janjaweed, meanwhile, has transformed itself into the RSF, with national power.
The African Union has “largely reverted to its prior position of indifference to mass atrocity in the guise of protecting national sovereignty,” Alex de Waal, a Horn of Africa expert at Tufts University in the United States, said in a commentary this month on the Just Security website.
“The AU’s silence on Darfur today is sadly consistent with its current de facto doctrine of indifference to atrocity crimes, in contradiction of its own foundational position,” he said.