36th HRC Special Session: the alarming human rights situation in Sudan leads to the adoption of Resolution on the country without its consent
The 36th Special Session of the Human Rights Council on the Human Rights Impact of the Ongoing Conflict in Sudan
11th May 2023
By Luísa Barbosa/ GICJ
On the 11th of May 2023, the UN Human Rights Council convened the 36th Special Session on ‘The human rights impact of the ongoing conflict in Sudan.’ The Special Session was held following the request of the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Norway, and Germany after a surge in violence in Khartoum and Dafur since the 15th of April 2023. The request was also supported by 19 member states of the Council and by 33 observer states.
The subject of the Session was the discussion and vote of a draft Resolution - later adopted - A/HRC/36/L.1, which proposed that the mandate of the designated Expert of the High Commissioner on Human Rights in Sudan to be extended to include “detailed monitoring and documentation of, and reporting to the Human Rights Council on, all allegations of human rights violations and abuses since 25 October 2021, including those arising directly from the current conflict.” 
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) stands with the population of Sudan and emphasises the urgent need for unhindered access by humanitarian stakeholders to all Sudanese territory. Civilians are deeply suffering from the situation and should be the primary consideration during the ongoing peace process. GICJ delivered three joint statements at the special session urging a peaceful end to the conflict, restoring peace and stability in Sudan, and protecting the Sudanese people from all types of human rights violations.
The Special Session in question was convened due to the ongoing hostilities occurring in Sudan between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary group Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The conflict, which is entering its fourth week, has already led to hundreds of killings and to a mass influx of civilians fleeing the conflict in Sudan’s neighbouring countries.
The conflict is the result of a power struggle between the two groups who conducted a military coup in February 2021 to oust the transitional government established in 2019, after the Revolution which removed Omar al-Bashir from power. Now, SAF and RSF disagree over who should assume leadership of the newly consolidated military and, thus, exercise the power in the state.
Tensions arose during negotiations to integrate the RSF into the country’s military and culminated in a fight between the two groups for dominance of state power. Since then, there have been reports of hostilities taking place in heavily populated areas, the use of unlawful means of warfare and the targeting of civilians and of civilian infrastructure. Also, the hostilities have led to power outages, lack of access to food supplies, fuel, water and medical care. Lastly, there have been reports of looting of humanitarian aid institutions’ offices, health-care buildings and of UN offices.
Because of the appalling humanitarian situation in Sudan, some states felt that a Special Session was needed to discuss the ongoing human rights violation observed and reported.
The Session was opened by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk. On such an occasion, it was stated that the present conflict shattered the hope of the Sudanese population, which started a movement towards the rule of law and democratic governance in 2019 but is now appalled by yet another cycle of violence. Mr. Türk also reported on the number of civilians dead or injured in Sudan and highlighted that 700,000 people are estimated to be internally displaced within the country already.
Moreover, the High Commissioner remarked that the ongoing hostilities, which are taking place in populated areas, with the targeting of civilian infrastructure and the looting of humanitarian aid institutions, violate the international humanitarian law principles of precaution, distinction, and proportionality. Lastly, it was brought to the attention of the Council the urgent need for both parties to commit to an inclusive political process and to negotiate peace - at the core of which must be accountability and human rights.
Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng, Chair of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, also expressed concern for Sudan's human rights situation. She highlighted the dire consequences of the conflict, which include the lack of access to food, water, electricity, fuel, and health care and reports of sexual and gender-based violence. The Chair also denounced the occurrence of an information blackout due to the targeting of journalists, especially women journalists. Ms. Mofokeng also urged for the de-escalation of the conflict and that neighbouring states maintain their borders open and receive resources to accommodate the influx of civilians fleeing the conflict.
The country concerned by the Resolution, Sudan, through its delegate Mr. Hassan Hamid Hassan, objected to the convening of the Special Session, although he showed appreciation for the interest of the Council in the situation in Sudan. Mr. Hassan remarked that this conflict is the product of a rebellion by the RSF, whose integration into the national armed forces has been one of the main challenges of the transitional period. He argued that the conduct of the Sudanese Armed Forces’ is a constitutional duty common to all armed forces in the world and that the situation under debate is an internal matter of the Sudanese State.
In addition, the delegate listed three reasons why the Session was wrongfully convened. The first is that human rights remain a priority for the government of Sudan, being the right to life emphasised, even under dire circumstances. Secondly, it was highlighted that regional efforts are underway to achieve a cease-fire. Mr. Hassan strongly conveyed that these efforts, which are supported by the African Union and by Western states, such as the UK and the USA, present a positive solution aligned with the principle of ‘African solution for African problems’ and that they should be allowed more time to reach a solution without negative interference. Lastly, the representative of Sudan affirmed that since the rebellion by RSF, the situation in his country is under consideration by the Security Council, the organ that is in charge of the maintenance of peace and security. In addition, Mr. Hassan reminded that Sudan is on the agenda of the 53rd Session of the Human Rights Council, to be held in June, and that a multitude of mandates in one country is more harmful than helpful.
Despite the lack of support from Sudan, the representative of the United Kingdom, Mr. Andrew Mitchell, spoke on behalf of the States proposing the resolution and urged Sudan to revert to the political rather than the conflictual track. The delegate defended that adopting the Resolution would send a message of concern and horror in the face of the human rights violations in Sudan and that it would be a step towards breaking the cycle of impunity in Sudan.
Supporting this view, the representative of Sweden, Ms. Anna Jardfelt, spoke on behalf of the European Union. Ms. Jardfelt echoed the concerns about the impact of the observed human rights violations and implored the parties to observe international humanitarian law and human rights law. She, in solidarity with the people of Sudan, claimed that the Resolution would provide a path for democracy and for rapid and safe access to humanitarian aid for the Sudanese population.
The delegate of Finland, Ms. Kirsti Kauppi, also spoke in the name of the Nordic Countries and called on both parties to agree to a cease-fire to facilitate the immediate return of displaced civilians and unimpeded humanitarian access for civilians within Sudan. It was also brought to the attention of the Council the way in which the conflict was impacting on already vulnerable populations.
The USA also spoke in favour of adopting the Resolution. Its delegate, Ms. Michèle Taylor, argued the Council must ask itself, ‘what can we do to protect the most vulnerable in Sudan?’. She reinforced the calls for respect for international humanitarian law and for access to humanitarian institutions in Sudanese territory. The USA also affirmed its view that the negotiations for a cease-fire can happen at the same time as the discussion in the Human Rights Council, which analyses human rights violations separately. The country was in favour of the Resolution since it would send a message that the world is closely watching the situation in Sudan and that they need to think of civilians first.
The Resolution was generally opposed by the Arab and African States, which argued against the adoption of a country-specific Resolution without the consent of the concerned State. On behalf of the Arab States, the Lebanese representative expressed solidarity with the population of Sudan and conveyed the group’s commitment to supporting the cease-fire and to the provision of humanitarian aid.
He further shared that the States welcomed every international or regional effort to end the conflict, especially the latest mediation initiative led by the US and Saudi Arabia in Jeddah. Furthermore, the Arab States encouraged all the parties in Sudan to participate in the dialogue to achieve a comprehensive political solution focused on peace, democratic transition, and the rule of law. The delegate also welcomed regional initiatives undertaken by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD, composed of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Eritrea and Uganda).
In addition, the representative recalled the importance of strengthening stability during the transition period and proposed free elections under international observation to be held with full respect for territorial integrity of Sudan. The delegate recalled that Sudan must be consulted before any extension of the existing mandate or the establishment of new mechanisms. However, he conveyed the group's complaint of needing more time to examine and debate the draft Resolution in-depth.
On behalf of the African group, the delegate of Côte d’Ivoire , Mr. Allou Lambert Yao, argued for the principle of ‘African solutions for African problems’ and commended the regional and diplomatic efforts already initiated, urging for them to be carried on. Mr. Yao also claimed that while a cease-fire is of the essence for the humanitarian assistance of the Sudanese population, Sudan’s sovereignty and independence must be respected. The delegate also recalled the importance of dialogue in the promotion of human rights and called on other states to support Sudan with political, economic, and technical assistance for the country to overcome difficulties in transitional processes.
The representatives of Paraguay and Argentina expressed their agreement for the adoption of the Resolution, arguing that it was necessary to re-establish peace and the rule of law in Sudan.
On another note, the delegates of Cuba and the Republic of Bolivia argued against the politicisation of human rights and of the Human Rights Council, rejecting the idea of adopting a resolution against the consent of the State concerned.
The representative of China, Mr. Chen Xu, firmly supported Sudan’s sovereignty and called for the international community to do the same. The delegate appreciated the integral role that the Arab League, African Union, and other countries have played. However, given the possible ramifications on the Council’s work in the long term and China’s advocacy for constructive dialogue, the delegate did not favour this special session.
Mr. Khalil ur Rahman Hashmi, Pakistan’s representative, expressed similar concerns. He believed that the session does not conform to the broad parameters in the Institution-Building Package and is contrary to the HRC Resolution 5/1 on exercising restraint in the proliferation of mandates and avoiding duplication of work. The delegate mentioned that this matter would fall under the mandate of the UNSC, in which the situation in Sudan has already been under evaluation. Without the consent of Sudan, the delegate believed that a new resolution, however novel, would not be of much help to the situation.
The representatives of Malaysia, India, Vietnam, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Indonesia voiced their concerns over the conflict. They all called for the cessation of all violent activity and increased humanitarian support. Moreover, the Republic of Korea delegate, Mr. Seong Deok Yun, urged all parties to return to the negotiating table to prevent further escalations. The delegate of Vietnam, Mr. Cung Duc Han, objected to the politicisation of human rights issues and its use as a foreign intervention tool. Furthermore, he also voiced his opposition to country-specific resolutions that do not involve the consent of Sudan. The Indonesian delegate, Mr. Febrian Ruddyard, echoes this with his statement that Sudan’s contribution would greatly benefit the special session. Mr. Ruddyard pledged Indonesia’s support for the people of Sudan in assisting them towards peace and prosperity. The delegate for Japan, Mr Honsei Kozo, also offered his readiness to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to refugees in neighbouring countries and internally displaced persons. The representative for Malaysia, Ms. Rina Hanis Rodzli, also highlighted the need for safe evacuation procedures for all foreign civilians. The representative for India, Mr. Indra Mani Pandey, mentioned India’s contribution to safely evacuating 4,000 citizens of Indian and other foreign nationalities.
Vote on the resolution
Resolution A/HRC/36/L.1 was adopted in a close vote, in which 18 states voted in its favour, 15 against, and 14 abstained. Among the Arab and African Member States which voted against the Resolution were Algeria, Eritrea, Gambia, Morocco, Qatar, Senegal, Somalia, United Arab Emirates.
During the discussion on voting, Sudan expressed, once again, its objections that the 36th Special Session was convened without the support of Arab or African States and that it does not take into account the human rights mechanisms already in place in Sudan or the country’s ongoing cooperation. The delegate also highlighted the content of the Resolution would seek to go beyond the mandate of the designated Expert of the High Commissioner on Human Rights and that it would amount to a de facto mechanism of inquiry into Sudan
Arguing in favour of the adoption of the Resolution, the proposing countries affirmed the necessity to prevent the ongoing catastrophe in Sudan from spiralling further out of control. they further remarked that the purpose of the Resolution was to prioritise the victims and to provide a proportionate and timely response to the tragic crisis currently occurring in Sudan. It was also stated that the adoption of the Resolution would reflect the alarming situation on the ground and be a show of the Council’s condemnation of the human rights violations reported. The delegate of the USA brought highlighted the Resolution would be a measured and appropriate response to the ongoing hostilities and demonstrated how the Resolution was drafted and negotiated in good faith.
It must be noted that the delegate of South Africa justified his country’s abstention vote due to the lack of consensus and acute division within the Council, which can be seen in the result of the vote.
Statements by Non-governmental Organisations and Civil Society Groups
Non-governmental organisations and civil society groups welcomed the convening of the Session and echoed the voices of concern for the appalling situation in Sudan. They called for justice for the victims, the cessation of hostilities and the respect for international humanitarian and human rights law. NGOs and Civil Society Groups also claimed for accountability for the perpetrators of the human rights violations in Sudan and for protection for humanitarian aid institutions and their workers.
Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice
In the Special Session GICJ delivered three joint oral statements with EAFORD, Meezaan and Ma’onah, calling the international community for a ceasefire, protection of civilians and humanitarian assistance.
In the first joint oral statement with the International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD), GICJ insisted on the urgent need of humanitarian assistance for the population. We recalled the alarming testimonies on the ground of people victims of violations, forcibly displaced from their homes, and health facilities being targeted and looted. The UN has recorded more than 15.8 Million people displaced before the spark of violence that broke out in mid-April 2023. Since then, the last few weeks have seen tens of thousands leaving their homes, fearing for their life as fighting took place in urban areas. Both organisations urged the belligerents and the HRC’s Member States to ensure humanitarian access and abide by humanitarian law, especially not to target civilians and civilian facilities.
In the second joint oral statement with Association Ma’onah for Human Rights and Migration, GICJ highlighted that the situation in Sudan is only one example of the rise of militia and paramilitary groups in the region. Worrying situations in which powerful militias compete for and share power with the military, have already been observed in other countries such as Yemen and Iraq. We reiterated our stance, calling for the respect of the rule of law and the independence of national institutions. We also called for the cessation of hostilities and the conduct of a concrete peace process.
In the third joint statement, GICJ and Meezaan Center for Human Rights denounced the violations of international humanitarian law and urged the international community to double its efforts to address the increasing humanitarian situation in Sudan, which will, according to the UNHCR, lead to a massive exodus. We further strongly condemned the lack of access to humanitarian aid to civilians within Sudan and implored all parties to open a humanitarian corridor and allow humanitarian aid institutions to conduct their work and for them to do so in a safe and timely manner.
In conclusion, Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) stands with the people of Sudan and emphasises the urgent need for unhindered access of humanitarian stakeholders to Sudanese territory. Civilians are deeply suffering from the situation and should be the primary consideration during the peace process. Nevertheless, GICJ wished that the Resolution adopted during the 36th Special Special had counted on the support of Sudan and both the Arab and African States in order to secure their cooperation for the rupture of the cycle of violence in the concerned country.
#geneva4justice #gicj #ss36 #sudancrisis #humanrightscouncil #humanrights #sudan