Human Rights Council to hold emergency meeting on Sudan as clashes continue

A man walks by a house hit in recent fighting in Khartoum, Sudan, on 25 April, 2023. (Keystone/AP Photo/Marwan Ali)

The UN’s top rights body will hear about Sudan as a power struggle between two rival generals plunges the Northeastern African country into a humanitarian crisis.

The Human Rights Council is set to hold an emergency session on Sudan on Thursday, where its members will table a proposal to ramp up oversight of the situation as the country teeters on the brink of civil war.

The decision to hold the discussion follows a joint request by the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Norway. In a letter addressed to council president Václav Bálek on 5 May, the four states argue that “a special session is needed because of the urgency of the human rights situation in  Sudan as a result of ongoing hostilities across the country since 15 April 2023”.

The request, which needed the support of 16 of the 47 council members to go through, was backed by 19 of them, as well as 32 other observer states.

The draft resolution, circulated among delegates and seen by Geneva Solutions, appeals to the international community and the Human Rights Council’s role “in preventing the further deterioration of the human rights situation” in Sudan and calls for “an immediate cessation of violence by all parties, without pre-conditions” and “a negotiated resolution to the conflict”.

Negotiations between states on the substance of the text are likely to continue until Wednesday in Geneva. Meanwhile, rival factions have been holding talks since Saturday in the Saudi city of Jeddah, where the warring parties have said they would discuss humanitarian issues.

Seeking broad support

According to Sudan’s health minister, over 500 people have been killed, and nearly 5,000 have been injured since heavy fighting broke out in the Sudanese capital Khartoum between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Aid groups were forced to halt their operations in the country since the first days of fighting as looting and attacks rendered it almost impossible for their staff to work safely.

Thousands of people have fled to neighbouring countries in search of safety, but many are still trapped in the city of five million people with little access to water, food and medical supplies.

Read more:Sudan conflict could plunge Horn of Africa into chaos

Over 100 international and African rights groups published a letter last month calling on the Human Rights Council to hold an emergency debate and appoint an “investigative and accountability mechanism” to address human rights abuses committed in Sudan.

“We’re aware that it won't solve the crisis by itself, but it will contribute to international and African efforts (to do so),” Nicolas Agostini, UN representative in Geneva for Defend Defenders, told Geneva Solutions. The African NGO is among groups leading the call for action.

Agostini said that the aim of such a mechanism would be “to document and expose violations by all parties to the conflict”. But the draft text doesn’t mention a probe mechanism.

Sources close to the matter suggest that proposing such a measure, which is the strongest in the Human Rights Council’s toolbox, would mean risking countries calling for a vote rather than obtaining the intended consensus.

None of the African states signed the letter requesting the session, and Sudan has yet to position itself. The last time Sudan was the focus of an emergency debate in 2021, the state had backed the move, and so had other African states.

Sudan’s permanent mission to the UN in Geneva did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication of this article. Neither did the African Union’s delegation.

What the text says

The document proposes a strengthening of the mandate of the UN’s independent expert on Sudan, Radhouane Nouicer, who was appointed last December to continue the council’s work to oversee the human rights situation since the military coup in 2021.

The proposal would widen Nouicer’s powers to monitor and document rights abuses committed in the context of the ongoing conflict. The former Tunisian diplomat visited Sudan for the first time in February and met with the two now-warring leaders, army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo. He had called for reforms to security services and accountability for those who have abused power.

Read more:UN expert on Sudan calls for end to violent crackdown against protesters

The text also requests the UN human rights commissioner Volker Türk to present a report on human rights violations to the Council at its 55th session in February next year and any additional updates and reports it may deem appropriate as the situation evolves. It urges the UN human rights officials to collaborate with local bodies such as the African Union and the League of Arab States.

Agostini said that while the draft resolution was not “entirely satisfying”, it sent an important political message.

“It will help build the narrative that the international community is responsive to Sudan and in support of the Sudanese people,” he said, noting that it also addresses the issue of double standards. “We've seen a lot of attention to Ukraine, and rightly so. We’re glad to see the same kind of attention to Sudan and the Sudanese people.”