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Sudan: there is no more time to lose for the UN Human Rights Council

Sudan: there is no more time to lose for the UN Human Rights Council

States should support the creation of an independent mechanism 

No one can in good faith claim that the Human Rights Council will stop the war in Sudan. But neither can one claim, without a dose of bad faith, that the UN’s top hu­man rights body has no role to play in addres­sing the crisis. 

Mid-October 2023 will mark the end of the Council’s 54th session. It will also mark six months of misery for the Sudanese peo­ple. The conflict shows no sign of abating. With its continuation, horrific reports of vio­lence, inclu­ding sexual and interethnic violence, and of violations of international law by both the Suda­ne­se Armed For­ces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and their allies, multiply. 

Civil society calls for action.[1] Its assess­ment is that the Human Rights Council can and should send a clear mes­sa­ge to those responsible for violations that they are being wat­ched and will be held to account. Failing to send that mes­sa­ge, through the creation of an inde­pen­dent investigative and accountability me­cha­­nism, will embolden perpetrators, en­cou­rage im­pu­nity, and pave the way for further atrocities. 


The need for international action 

Half a year after the outbreak of conflict, the situation in Sudan is nothing short of a disaster. Mediation ini­tia­­tives have failed to produce any concrete results. As we speak, there are no se­rious prospects of a sus­tai­nable cea­sefire, safe humanitarian corridors, and pea­ce talks. In any case, even if successful in the futu­re, mediation ef­forts are unlikely to priori­tise human rights and ac­coun­t­ability. 

In New York, the UN Security Council remains para­ly­sed. It has failed to issue even a modest statement – let alone a resolution. In Addis Ababa, the African Union condemned violations. Elsewhere on the con­ti­­nent, African institutions issued commu­ni­qués and reso­­lu­tions supporting accountability. This is the case of the IGAD Quartet of Coun­tries for the Reso­lu­tion of the Situation in the Republic of Sudan and of the Afri­can Com­mis­sion on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACH­PR). 

But the international community’s failure to unequi­vo­cally make the fight against impunity central to any re­so­­lu­tion of the crisis[2] shows that the main lesson of the past decades has yet to be learned. It is impunity that ena­bled atro­ci­ties to recur in Darfur and through­­­out Sudan. It is impunity that sent war­ring par­­ties the mes­sage that violence was an acceptable means of ad­van­­cing their interests. 

We need to collectively reverse that message. 


Without prospects for accountability, no lasting peace 

Impunity is a key driver of the current conflict, as well as of previous cycles of violence. Unless accountability is made a top prio­rity of, and integrated into, poli­tical efforts at all levels, Sudan will be doomed to failure and violence will recur. What actors with influ­ence over Suda­­ne­se parties should do bilate­rally, and what all states should do at the multilateral level, is to ad­van­ce both political accountability (ex­po­­sing tho­se responsible for atrocities) and cri­minal ac­coun­t­abi­lity (acting in support of legal proceedings). 

There is a path. As the Human Rights Council is meet­ing in Geneva, a draft resolution is on the table. It seeks to establish an independent fact-fin­ding mission (FFM) for Sudan, with a mandate to, among other elements, investigate and establish the facts, cir­cum­stan­­ces and root causes of violations, collect and pre­serve evidence, and identify those res­pon­sible. 

This mechanism will not by itself stop the war. But it will send the right message to tho­se invol­ved and thus contribute to efforts to establish peace and a return to the democratic transition. 


The Human Rights Council should act now 

Setting up a Sudan FFM would be fully in line with the Council’s mandate, which includes addres­sing vio­la­tions of human rights, including gross and sys­tematic violations, and responding promptly to hu­man rights emergencies. 

Sudan is a textbook example. The special session the Council held, on 11 May 2023, was a step in the right direction, but it fell short of civil society expec­ta­tions. More tragically, it failed to send a clear message of solidarity and hope to the Sudanese people. Since then, the human rights and humanitarian situation has continued to deteriorate, threatening to desta­bi­lise the whole region and beyond. At the opening of the 54th session, High Commissioner Volker Türk said that “[t]his catastrophic conflict has broken a nation” and that “[t]he devastating common thread is [the con­flict’s] brutal impact on civilians.” He concluded his up­­date by warning that “[t]his horrific conflict must stop before it is too late to pull Sudan back from dis­as­ter.”[3] 

The international community cannot wait any longer to prioritise accountability. It cannot wait until the next Council session, which will open in five months, in late February 2024. The Council should act now by adopting the draft resolution on Sudan and opera­tio­nalising the FFM immediately. 


Sudan is also an opportunity to address narratives of double standards 

Many crises are on the Council’s agenda. Some are not. By any objective measure, Sudan is one of the most se­rious: it deserves the strongest response. The Council took action last May, but it was not enough. 

States have the opportunity to address narra­ti­ves of double standards that have gained traction consi­de­ring the high level of attention to, among others, the war in Ukraine. States that have spear­headed efforts to shed light on, and advance account­ability for, vio­la­tions stemming from Russia’s aggres­sion against Uk­raine have an opportunity to show that they pay as much attention to other crises – including in Africa – and are ready to address these crises in the same man­ner. 

States that demand that international attention to cri­ses in Africa be as high as the kind of attention Ukrai­ne receives have an opportunity to enhance that atten­tion – and support the Sudanese people. This means backing the HRC54 initiative on Sudan.  

Voting against the draft resolution would be shame­ful. Abstaining is a bare minimum. Voting in favour would go a long way toward formulating an objective, consistent res­pon­se to the world’s most serious hu­man rights crises.  


Hassan Shire
xecutive Director, DefendDefenders
hairperson, AfricanDefenders 

[1] DefendDefenders et al., “Sudan: the Human Rights Council should establish an independent mechanism,” 1 September 2023, 

[2] Hassan Shire, “Only an accountability-centered truce can yield sustainable peace in Sudan,” The Independent Uganda, 15 June 2023,

[3] See OHCHR Media Centre, “Sudan: Türk says conflict must stop before it is too late to pull the country back from disaster,” 12 September 2023,

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