Africa

WAR IN AFRICA OP-ED

It’s time to put an end to the humanitarian disaster in Sudan

It’s time to put an end to the humanitarian disaster in Sudan
Sudanese refugees and ethnic South Sudanese families who have fled from the war in Sudan line up while waiting to board a truck to go to a Transit Centre for refugees after crossing the border at the Joda Border Crossing Point, near Renk, on February 14, 2024.More than 550,000 people have now fled from the war in Sudan to South Sudan since the conflict exploded in April 2023, according to the United Nations. South Sudan, that has itself recently come out of decades of war, was facing a dire humanitarian situation before the war in Sudan erupted and it is feared to not have the resources to host displaced people. The war-torn country of Sudan is currently ravaged by internal fighting between the Sudanese Army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). (Photo by LUIS TATO / AFP)

On 15 April, Sudan’s war will enter 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.

“The world’s worst, most complex and cruel crisis”, is unfolding in Sudan without making it on to our primetime news, according to the 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 has the largest displacement crisis in the world. And the worst is still to come: combat disrupted the planting season in Sudan’s most fertile regions. Nearly 20 million people, almost one in two Sudanese, are facing acute food insecurity in a country that used to be a major food producer. 

On 15 April, Sudan’s war will enter 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.  

famine sudan

A South Sudanese returnee and her daughter prepare a meal as they stay at the transit area set up by the UNHCR in the Upper Nile State town of Renk, South Sudan, 15 May 2023. (Photo:EPA-EFE / Amel Pain)

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 of Sudanese have fled to neighbouring countries, notably Chad and South Sudan, two countries already facing humanitarian and food security crises. The humanitarian suffering 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 has direct leverage with the RSF that it should use to end the war. Russia plays both sides, hoping to get access to strategic infrastructure and resources, including with mercenary private military companies, 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. 

Popular uprising

Before the war, during the victorious popular uprising against a brutal dictatorship, the many young activists, women’s rights defenders and community leaders showed 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 civilians’ lives and rights front and centre. Monday, 15 April, in Paris must be a day for 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 must be to avert the looming famine in Sudan and to support the countries and communities that have taken in refugees fleeing the 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 Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, aka Hemedti, to finally heed the calls to stop this carnage and come to the negotiating table.  

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 to aid and a 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. DM 

Josep Borrell Fontelles is the high representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and vice-president of the European Commission. Janez Lenarčič is the European commissioner for crisis management.

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