UN human rights chief calls for negotiations to halt fighting in Sudan

220

As opposing sides in Sudan today (Wednesday, 19 April) seemed set for a 24 hour ceasefire a heartfelt plea for them to return to the negotiating table came from United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“Sudan has endured so much pain and suffering. The fighting is born out of power games and personal interests that only serve to alienate the democratic aspirations of the population. Do those responsible not understand the civilian population now only craves a peaceful life,” Volker Türk asked.

The Sudanese army and a rival paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have been locked in intense fighting for at least four days in and around the capital Khartoum.

Unrest erupted as Sudan appeared to be returning toward democratic transition following three decades of military rule.

International media reported the belligerents agreed to a 24-hour ceasefire, set to begin at 6pm, local time yesterday (Tuesday, 17 April).

In the interim, 270 people were killed and 2,700 injured, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), citing Sudanese authorities.

Among the dead are three staff members of the World Food Programme (WFP) in North Darfur, prompting a temporary suspension of activities across the county. UN agencies in Sudan halted most operations.

Most fighting is in Khartoum, where crossfire at the airport reportedly damaged a UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) plane which could seriously affect access to remote areas, where needs are highest.

Almost a third of the Sudanese population – 16 million people – were needed aid at the start of this year.

“Thousands upon thousands of civilians are trapped in their homes, shielding from fighting, with no electricity, unable to venture out and worried about running out of food, drinking water and medicine,” Türk said.

Sudan has a history of instability, a UN report said. The military toppled long-time leader Omar al-Bashir in April 2019 after mass protests. The former president ruled for more than 25 years. The military then overthrew a power sharing government in October 2021, putting two men at the helm – the head of the army and his deputy, who is also the head of the RSF.  They were at odds over restoring civilian rule.

Türk urged the warring sides to remind their fighters of obligations to ensure protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, as stated under international law.

On reports of attempted rape the UN rights chief called for prompt, thorough and independent investigations into the killings of civilians, including WFP staff, along with other reported violations.

“Only a few weeks ago, Sudan appeared to be on the path toward an agreement that would restore civilian rule. Common sense must prevail, and all parties must act to de-escalate tensions. The shared interests of the Sudanese people must come first.” Türk said.

Shelling and insecurity forced closure of nine hospitals in Khartoum and two in Bahri, Khartoum North. Hospitals in the capital report shortages of medical personnel and lifesaving supplies.  WHO (World Health Organisation) distributed supplies to health facilities prior to the escalation, which are now exhausted.

Movement is restricted, making it difficult for health workers and ambulances to reach health facilities, putting further lives at risk. Fuel shortages for hospital generators, as well as water and power cuts also reportedly affect running of hospitals and other health facilities.

WHO teams on the ground will continue to work closely with partners and health authorities to fill gaps in the provision of health care, especially for trauma.

At a briefing in Geneva, UN humanitarian agencies and partners called for an immediate end to hostilities so medical workers and ambulances can deliver assistance to the wounded.

“At the moment it is almost impossible to provide any humanitarian services in and around Khartoum,” Farid Aiywar, Head of Delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said.

“We have thousands of volunteers ready, able and trained to perform humanitarian services. Unfortunately, due to the current situation, they are not able to move. We have ambulances, we have people able to provide first aid, psychosocial support, but that will only be possible once a humanitarian corridor is assured by all parties.”

UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ Special Representative in Sudan, Volker Perthes, remains in Khartoum and continues to engage with rival leaders and key member states.

“Going beyond initial calls for a daily pause in fighting from 4 to 7pm local time to be fully upheld, there are ongoing discussions on an extended ceasefire to ensure civilians, including UN staff, currently under threat can receive assistance, access essential supplies, and evacuate to safer zones where needed,” he said in New York on Tuesday.