Ceasefire urgently needed in Sudan or millions will suffer from lack of aid and escalating violence
News of fighting between the two military factions in Sudan is heart-breaking. It has been strongly condemned by leaders from across the African continent and the international community, as well as MPs from all sides of the United Kingdom Parliament.
People in Sudan are already in an extremely precarious situation. At least 15 million people, or around one third of the population, were already facing food insecurity before this latest violence. I have seen with my own eyes how vital the World Food Program’s efforts are to local communities. Last weekend three of their aid workers were killed. Unless a ceasefire is achieved rapidly, millions are likely to suffer through lack of access to humanitarian aid.
Fighting and atrocities in Sudan is not new. This year brings the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Darfur. Systemic attacks led to over 2.5 million people being displaced and at least 400,000 people died.
We must not give up on bringing General Bashir to the International Criminal Court
In 2008, Sudan’s former president Omar al-Bashir became the first sitting president to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), and the first person to be charged by the ICC for the crime of genocide. However, the warrant has not been enforced and he is still not in ICC custody.
The overthrow of Bashir in 2019 brought a brief window of hope of a transition towards democracy. On a visit to the country in 2021, I met civil society leaders and women’s groups who told me of their passion for a new era of freedom. I met businesses excited about new plans to create jobs and prosperity, a wonderful grandmother who was leading real action to end FGM.
As the UK government minister at the time, I also met the two military generals Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti. I recall a deep sense of evil in the room, and a feeling of doom as it became clear that they had no intention of listening to our pleas for a peaceful move towards civilian leadership. A military coup followed. Since then, even more people have been displaced, more have died, not only in the capital of Khartoum but targeted attacks against civilians in Darfur also persist.
Russian malign actors are present. The Wagner Group has historic links to the military. Sudan’s wealthy gold mines are controlled by Russian owners and a deal has just been signed for a new Russian naval base. We have been told that Wagner were active prior to the 2021 coup in promoting misinformation and disinformation promoting a de-democratisation agenda. General Hemedti is known to have strong links with Moscow.
Without stability, more people will be displaced, leading to further migration. This will impact on Western Europe and the UK. The Refugee Council analysis shows that 1,704 Sudanese people came to the UK on small boats in 2022. Home Office Data reports that Sudan was the third most common country of origin for those settled last year with four per cent of resettlements (after Afghanistan with 80 per cent and Syria with 10 per cent).
We should not give up hope. The international community continues to make the case for a peaceful and democratic future. As penholder at the UN, the UK plays a key role. Our diplomats work closely through a Tripartite of the UN, African Union and IGAD, a Troika that includes the UK, United States and Norway as well as the Quad group of the UK, US, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
We must also not give up on bringing General Bashir to the International Criminal Court. If he continues to avoid justice, then others believe they can conduct war crimes with impunity.
The All-Party Group for Sudan and South Sudan’s report on Darfur is due to be launched in Parliament on Wednesday 26 April. Members of both Houses are welcome to attend.
Vicky Ford, Conservative MP for Chelmsford, former foreign office minister and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Sudan and South Sudan
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