Time to stop the manmade disaster in Sudan

By Josep Borrell Fontelles

The world’s worst, most complex and cruel crisis”, is unfolding in Sudan without making it into onto our prime-time news, according to UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. With nearly 9 million displaced within the country – half of them children – and almost 2 million refugees abroad, Sudan is indeed currently the largest displacement crisis in the world. And the worst is still to come: combat disrupted planting season in Sudan’s most fertile regions. Nearly 20 million people, almost one of two Sudanese, are facing acute food insecurity in a country that used to be a major food producer.

On 15 April Sudan’s war enters its second year. On this day, the EU with France and Germany will host a high-level conference in Paris to plead for additional humanitarian aid and call for an end to this conflict. It must be a wake-up call for Africa, Europe and the whole international community.  

We know who is responsible for this disaster. With their joint military coup in October 2021, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) hijacked the aspirations of the democratic Sudanese revolution. Their coup alliance unravelled and descended into war between them on 15 April 2023.

The two belligerents decided to wage war, not only against each other, but also against Sudan and its people. In Darfur, the genocidal atrocities against civilians based on their ethnicity that put Sudan in the headlines in 2003 have resumed. Throughout the country, aid is being deliberately withheld and humanitarian workers are being denied access. Hundreds of thousands Sudanese have fled to neighbouring countries, notably Chad and South Sudan, two countries already facing their own humanitarian and food security crises. The suffering is entirely manmade and could be stopped today.

External sponsors, bringing in cash and weapons, fuel the fighting. Players like Iran are delivering arms, including drones, to the SAF. The United Arab Emirates have also direct leverage on the RSF that they should use to end the war. Russia plays both sides in the hopes to get access to strategic infrastructure and resources, including with mercenary PMCs, which are mainly after gold and minerals. The Red Sea is Europe’s most important maritime connection to Asia and the Pacific and Sudan could become a revolving door for human trafficking, radical fighters, weapons and all kinds of illicit trade between the Sahel, North and Sub-Saharan Africa. Europe’s security is at stake.

Before the war, during the victorious popular uprising against a brutal dictatorship, the many young activists, women’s rights defenders and community leaders have shown to the world their will and determination to build a democratic and peaceful Sudan. Ever since, the EU and its Member States have stood firm in their view: the only side we take in this conflict is the side of civilians and the hope they have for their country.

We will continue to engage with the belligerents from a neutral position that puts peace and respect for civilian’s lives and rights front and centre. 15 April in Paris must become a joint rallying cry for peace. It has to be the on-ramp for more comprehensive, concerted and consequential action of Europe, Africa and the international community on Sudan.

Chief among the goals of today must of course be to avert the looming famine in Sudan and to support the countries and communities that have taken in people fleeing war. The available aid held up by the belligerents on political calculus must reach the people in need, wherever they are. Such war tactics violate international law and may amount to war crimes. We expect also the two leaders of the belligerent parties, Generals Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo Hemedti, to finally heed the calls to stop this carnage and come to the negotiating table. Failure to do so would have consequences.

Our action on Sudan is not isolated: in Sudan as in Ukraine or elsewhere democratic aspirations should not be fought through the barrel of a gun. The Sudanese people have demanded no less since they took over the streets of Khartoum five years ago. This is why we are tirelessly calling for a ceasefire without delay, unfettered access of aid and the return to the path of a democratic transition in Sudan. We always favour African solutions to African problems. As Sudan enters the second year of its most fateful war, we look to the region to take responsibility. Alongside our regional and international partners, we stand ready to help Sudan in its darkest hour.

Josep Borrell Fontelles is High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission and Janez Lenarčič, European Commissioner for Crisis Management

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