United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) - Security Council Open VTC

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09-Mar-2021 01:57:57
Sudan faces staggering challenges to democracy despite significant advances on political transition, Special Representative tells Security Council.

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Sudan’s Speaker Highlights Steps to Spur Economic Growth, Safeguard Human Rights

While Sudan is making significant advances in its political transition, the challenges ahead on its road to democracy are “staggering”, the new Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the country stressed in his first briefing to Security Council today, amid calls for the new United Nations Mission there to meaningfully engage the diverse expertise of civil society, particularly outside of Khartoum.

“I am confident that, with the unified support of this Council, we will be able to make a difference,” said Volker Perthes, who is also the Head of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS). To that end, he said that, during his last five weeks in the country, he has met with the transitional Government and the Sovereign Council and heard from a wide range of Sudanese on their aspirations. He also has explained the mandate of UNITAMS and discussed how it can best offer support, on the basis of Council resolution 2524 (2020).

Outlining political progress, he said Sudan’s Sovereign Council was expanded on 4 February to include three signatories to the Juba Peace Agreement. A new Cabinet — formed under Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok on 8 February — took on a political, rather than a technocratic, character, representing a broad coalition built on power-sharing between civilians, the military and armed movements.

While there are diverging views on the capability of this political Government, as it does not include all political forces, he said the representation of various political movements, along with their constituencies, has already allowed it to take difficult decisions — most recently, to float the currency exchange rate. The Government also agreed on five national priorities, he said: addressing socioeconomic conditions; implementing the Juba Peace Agreement and resuming negotiations with the two non-signatories; security sector reform and protection of civilians; international relations; and advancing the democratic transition.

At the same time, milestones envisioned in the Constitutional Document and the Juba Peace Agreement have yet to be reached, he said, notably the formation of the Transitional Legislative Council, with at least 40 per cent representation of women. “The swift formation of a diverse, inclusive and representative Legislative Council is critical to broaden the support for the political transition,” he stressed. Sudanese youth also have expressed frustration over their lack of participation in transitional institutions.

On the economic front, he said economic hardships — compounded by 304 per cent inflation, large trade and fiscal deficits, high unemployment and poverty — are posing a risk to Sudan’s stability. Further, 13.4 million people — one quarter of the population — are projected to require humanitarian assistance, including 2.5 million internally displaced persons, he said, recalling that Sudan hosts 1 million refugees, including 70,000 recent arrivals from Ethiopia. “The need for sustained financial and economic support to Sudan cannot be overstated,” he said.

Turning to the prospects for peace, he said the Government has given priority to advancing the peace process with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North‑Abdel Aziz al-Hilu faction and the Sudan Liberation Movement‑Abdul Wahid al-Nur faction. The recent meeting between the Sovereign Council Chairman, Lieutenant General Abdelfattah Burhan, with Mr. Al-Hilu, and the latter’s declaration to unilaterally extend the cessation of hostilities for five months are clear signals of a common interest in resuming engagement.

The protection of civilians, meanwhile, remains a top UNITAMS priority, he said, especially as intercommunal clashes in El Geneina, West Darfur, in January left 165 people dead and over 100,000 displaced. “Peace will only be sustainable if the root causes and ramifications of the conflicts are addressed,” he observed. Noting that UNITAMS is a small mission with a broad mandate, he said that together with the United Nations country team, it has adopted an integrated approach to maximize efforts and resources. The Sudan Peacemaking, Peacebuilding and Stabilization Programme will soon be launched to jointly implement resolution 2524 (2020).

As for regional engagement, he drew attention to the increasingly complex geopolitical environment — marked by tensions along the border with Ethiopia, and intermittent clashes between the two countries — expressing deep concern over reports of military operations in the border region. It is imperative that the international community build on Sudan and Ethiopia’s stated commitment for a diplomatic solution, he asserted.

Against that backdrop, Atul Khare, Under Secretary-General for Operational Support, reported on the drawdown of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), affirming that the mission is “on track in meeting the request of the Council to complete the withdrawal of all uniformed and civilian personnel by 30 June 2021.” Three of 18 contingents not being considered for a guard unit have been repatriated, while an accelerated drawdown schedule will ensure the departure of all uniformed personnel by end of May, allowing June as a buffer for any unexpected contingencies.

Drilling into specifics, he said that 24 percent of 1,088 civilian personnel who will not be required for the mission’s liquidation have already been separated/repatriated. The international staff footprint is at a minimum, with nearly 70 per cent of the remaining 825 civilian personnel being national staff. UNAMID is seeking the Government’s cooperation in the timely processing of all administrative requirements, such as issuance of visas or customs/export approvals, to meet this aggressive drawdown timeline.

On the Council’s decision to retain a guard unit, he said the proposal for two formed police units takes into consideration the Government’s primary responsibility for the protection of United Nations premises in a post-mandate environment and envisages complementary Sudanese security forces deployment. The unit will be responsible for protecting UNAMID personnel, facilities and assets, strictly within the parameters of its sites. The Secretariat is preparing a detailed concept of operations and costing.

He said 5 of 15 team sites have been handed over to their rightful owners, with team sites — except El Fasher, Khartoum Liaison Office and Port Sudan — handed over by end of May. His visit to Sudan from 26 February to 7 March featured discussions on the handover of Sortony, North Darfur, the future civilian end-use of the Zalengei site with the State authorities, local communities and United Nations family in Central Darfur. He condemned the looting of Saraf Umrah, the first site handed over after the adoption of Council resolution 2559 (2021).

“Closing 14 team sites, separating and repatriating more than 7,000 uniformed and civilian personnel within the drawdown period of six months is in itself a complex task,” he emphasized, one made more challenging by a Government request to delay closure and handover of team sites in Kalma and Sortony planned respectively for 11 and 28 March. He said he remains concerned about the continued presence of uniformed personnel, a formed police unit in Kalma and a military contingent in Sortony, both from Pakistan.

Beyond the drawdown period, after 30 June, he said the outstanding liquidation tasks are no less challenging. The skeletal liquidation team will need to clean up and environmentally restore El Fasher, dispose of any remaining United Nations-owned equipment, close out outstanding contracts and financial commitments, and enable the administrative closure of the mission. He was assured by the leadership of Sudan — both at central and state levels — that all efforts will be deployed to make this drawdown and liquidation an example of effective collaboration between the United Nations and Sudan.

Rounding out the briefings, Kholood Khair, Managing Partner of Insight Strategy Partners, underscored the importance of gaining the buy-in of civil society during Sudan’s political transition. “This transition is not merely about the mechanics of civilian democratization, but about engendering the governance practices necessary for a vibrant democracy,” she stressed.

Over 30 years, the Sudanese people have seen violent and sustained attacks on civil space and attempts to control and coerce. Stressing that transitions “live and die” by the space that diverse civil society actors are able to carve out at national, subnational and local levels, she underscored the importance of engaging civil society intentionally across governance structures as the best chance Sudan has for creating change. “Let’s hope the third time's the charm,” she observed.

Noting that Sudanese civil society comprises a range of actors gathered under a large umbrella — from women’s rights groups to research centres to organizations fighting for justice — she said their reach is often vastly wider than that of the State and significantly deeper than that of national actors. Over the years, Sudan’s civil society has created more opportunity for engagement outside of the aid space and must now be given the room to operate as a key partner in the civilian transition.

Cautioning that UNITAMS has been up and running for just over two months, she drew attention to the potential difficulties it faces in navigating Sudan’s enduring power imbalance between broadly armed and civilian components. Within the unclear terms of engagement between the civilian Government and UNITAMS, due consideration must be given to what impact the Mission will have on civil society and the burgeoning social contract will be. “UNITAMS must learn the lessons of the missions that came before it, the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) and UNAMID,” she said.

Indeed, success will hinge on how UNITAMS will position itself as both a follow-on mission to UNAMID and one with a wholly different mandate, she said, with urgent priority in Darfur; on how it will build consensus across broad Government structures; how it will resist co-optation by various political interest — inside and outside the Government — and generally manage the great expectations placed on it by the Government and the public.

She went on to emphasize that civil society can bolster — even lead — the coordinated efforts to ensure protection for civilians. Meanwhile, crucial State‑building exercises — such as Constitution-making efforts, election-related initiatives and measures to ensure that the peace deal is viable — currently led by international actors, with civil society in a support role “should be the reverse”, she asserted.

For its part, the civilian Government should expand on its transition priorities, she said, and mitigate its capacity issues by working with civil society, particularly outside of Khartoum. It also should rely less on personality-driven politics and allow for greater representation of women, in line with its own quotas. UNITAMS, meanwhile, should consult regularly with diverse civil society actors across the country in its planning and strategizing during the transition. “UNITAMS should be a mission for the entire country,” she said.

In the ensuing dialogue, Council members expressed their support for Sudan’s civilian Government in ushering in a meaningful political transition and encouraged it to work with UNITAMS in identifying the new Mission’s priorities. Many welcomed the formation of a Cabinet and setting of strategic objectives as integral to laying the groundwork for peace and democratic change. Some also pressed armed groups outside the peace process to join these efforts as soon as possible, to maximize the chances for success.

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