UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has proposed a series of benchmarks for Sudan’s transitional government to meet that could lead the UN Security Council to lift the arms embargo and other sanctions it imposed on the country after the conflict in Darfur began in 2003.
His four targets for Sudan to receive sanctions relief include progress on security, as well as political and economic governance issues.
In a 16-page report to the council circulated on Tuesday, Mr Guterres referred to improvements in Darfur largely brought on by protests in December 2018 that led the military to overthrow autocratic president Omar Al Bashir after nearly three decades of rule.
But the slow introduction of a peace agreement signed in October 2020 by the Sudanese government and rebel groups, as well as insecurity in parts of Darfur, also featured in the report.
Mr Guterres said the UN's primary concern was the increasing frequency of intercommunal violence, such as clashes among nomads, herders and farmers.
Clashes in the Jebel Marra region of West Darfur between security forces and a rebel Sudan Liberation Army holdout group led by Abdul Wahid Elnur, and between factions within the rebel group, were also chief concerns.
He also referred to armed groups from other countries using Darfur as a base of operations and militias, some associated with Al Bashir's regime, operating in the region along with criminals.
Concerns about the widespread availability of small arms and light weapons were also raised in the report.
The vast western Darfur region was gripped by violence in 2003 when rebels from the territory’s ethnic central and sub-Saharan African community launched an insurgency against an Arab-dominated government in Khartoum they accused of discrimination and neglect.
The government, under Al Bashir, responded with a scorched-earth assault of bombings and sent nomadic Arab militias known as the Janjaweed, who are accused of mass killings and rape.
About 300,000 people were killed and 2.7 million were driven from their homes.
Since the popular uprising that toppled Al Bashir, Sudan has been on a fragile path to democracy. It is led by a military-civilian government that has been struggling to end the decades-long civil wars in Darfur and elsewhere, and overcome the country’s dire economic conditions.
In June, Sudanese diplomat Ammar Mahmoud told the council the security situation was improving and that the government was introducing the October peace agreement “in co-ordination with all peace partners”.
Authorities were was also collecting unlicensed weapons, adopting measures to prevent intercommunal violence and upholding a national plan to protect civilians, he said.
In light of these developments, punitive measures such as sanctions imposed on Sudan more than 15 years ago “have completely lost their grounds and are no longer justified", he said.
But Mr Guterres said in the report that as a result of insecurity “civilians are still experiencing violent attacks, harassment and intimidation by armed groups and some state security entities".
There were 105 cases of conflict-related sexual violence in 2020, he said.
In response to a request from the council, Mr Guterres proposed four benchmarks with specific targets that could serve to guide its members “to review the measures on Darfur".
They may also contribute to introduction of the October peace deal signed in South Sudan’s capital Juba, as well as a national plan to protect civilians and the government’s weapons collection programme, he said.
The proposed benchmarks
The benchmarks include progress on political and economic governance issues, including broadening and deepening the legitimacy of the transitional government.
The targets include boosting the representation of Darfur’s population, starting to address the drivers of economic conflict in the region and establishing a Transitional Legislative Council that is at least 40 per cent female, including women from Darfur.
Another benchmark refers to progress on transitional security arrangements in Darfur. The target is establishing and putting into operation measures called for in the peace agreement to oversee the introduction and management of issues related to security arrangements.
Progress on the national action plan for the protection of civilians is also among the proposed benchmarks. Mr Guterres said the focus should be on strengthening the civilian-led introduction of a plan that could boost the civilian aspects of security.
He also called for progress on transitional justice and accountability. The parties to the peace agreement recognised the need to address the root causes of the Darfur conflict, he said, including the marginalisation of its people.
The parties must build on the new era of co-operation between the International Criminal Court and the transitional government, he said.
A key target is to put into operation the mechanisms in the Juba deal to provide accountability for crimes and promote reconciliation.