December 14, 2023
IntelBrief: Will Sudan’s Latest Ceasefire Endure?
The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Security Forces (RSF) reportedly agreed to a ceasefire on Saturday that aims to develop a longer-term political settlement to the violent conflict in Sudan, according to East African officials who attended the forum where the deal was reached. The meeting was convened by the African Union and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a trade group currently chaired by SAF chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and populated by eight East African member states. The deal is more ambitious than many of its predecessors – including those negotiated by Saudi Arabia and the United States – whose goals were typically related to improving the humanitarian situation for Sudanese civilians. Despite this progress, the situation on the ground will need to be closely monitored, as prior ceasefires have been routinely violated and failed to significantly improve what the head of UN’s humanitarian and emergency relief arm, Martin Griffiths, has deemed “one of the worst humanitarian nightmares in recent memory.” The heads of the two warring factions reportedly agreed in principle to meet in the next two weeks with hopes of putting the parties on a path toward “the launch of a political process,” according to Alexis Mohammed, an adviser to the president of Djibouti, which hosted the IGAD meeting.
Since the war broke out in April, over 12 thousand people have been killed in Sudan and over 6.5 million have been displaced – more than 10 percent of the national population – according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The conservative death toll is widely considered to be below the true casualty count, as the active conflict and conditions on the ground make it difficult to assess the true extent of the causalities. In addition to the bleak humanitarian situation for civilians in Sudan, international human rights groups have recently confirmed early reports of mass sexual and ethnic violence, particularly in the Darfur region. Six months after UN officials warned of potential ethnic violence and crimes against humanity taking place in Sudan, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated earlier this month that both sides had committed war crimes and that the RSF and its allies had engaged in crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. The former head of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAM), Volker Perthes, warned in June of “an emerging pattern of large-scale targeted attacks on civilians based on their ethnic identities … [which], if verified could amount to crimes against humanity.” The international community’s influence and visibility into the situation in Sudan is set to diminish now that UNITAM has begun a three-month transition to depart the country. The mission’s departure was made official earlier this month when the UN Security Council agreed to terminate the mission per the demands of the Sudanese government.
Sudan now has more displaced people than any other country in the world, with over one million refugees who have fled the country to neighboring states, particularly Chad. One day after the recent ceasefire announcement, a humanitarian convoy evacuating civilians was attacked in Khartoum, apparently by the SAF, killing two and injuring seven people. Among the injured were multiple aid workers, in the latest violence against international aid and healthcare workers in the country, dozens of whom had already been killed during the conflict. The war has also taken a major toll on the country’s food and health systems, contributing to outbreaks of cholera and other diseases. Chronic food insecurity and the disruption to essential services since the war broke out are projected to lead to the deaths of more than ten thousand children under the age of five in Sudan by the end of 2023, more than twenty times the total number of children officially recorded as killed by fighting, according to UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
The RSF was organized out of the former Janjaweed militia, which was comprised of various ethnically Arab groups. Leaders of the Janjaweed, as well as leaders of the anti-government rebel group Resistance Front and Sudanese government officials, including former Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir, have allegedly committed genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in Darfur over the last two decades against the region’s non-Arab/Black African populations. Several have been charged in the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) ongoing investigation of crimes committed in Darfur since 2002. Human Rights Watch reported in 2015 that the RSF had abused civilians through “torture, extrajudicial killings and mass rapes” as well as by displacing communities during a counterinsurgency campaign in Darfur. After a series of battlefield victories, the RSF now controls four of the Darfur region’s five states, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), which says the RSF is “transitioning to the de facto ruling authority in Darfur.” It is in West Darfur, according to ACLED, where ethnic violence has been most concentrated, while the Masalit tribe has been particularly targeted. During one especially deadly event in November, which may represent the highest casualty event of the war thus far, the RSF and allied militias allegedly killed between 800 and 1,300 people during a multi-day rampage in West Darfur after seizing an SAF army base in the area. Over the summer, the governor of West Darfur was killed after calling for international intervention to protect civilians in his province and hours after accusing the RSF of resuming its genocidal activities. While a coalition of non-Arab rebel groups in Darfur originally adopted a neutral stance in the conflict and set up a joint civilian protection force, since November, the SAF has brought several of these groups into their fold to fight the RSF. With North Darfur the last uncontrolled territory of the region, some analysts are anticipating the RSF will next turn its attention to this area.