African Union (AU): Roll Out Civilian Protection Mission, Ensure Sudan Probe

The African Union (AU) should work with the United Nations to deploy a civilian protection mission to address ongoing atrocities across Sudan, notably in Darfur, and act to ensure strong human rights investigations, Human Rights Watch said today. The AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) member states meeting on June 21, 2024, should commit to concrete steps to keep civilians safe and ensure accountability as the risk of further atrocities against civilians in El Fasher, North Darfur’s capital, and other conflict-affected areas of the country keep rising.

“The AU Peace and Security Council’s recent request for actions by other AU bodies is a long-awaited positive step to addressing one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises,” said Allan Ngari, Africa advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “At its next meeting, the Peace and Security Council should spell out what urgent steps it plans to take to ensure the deployment of a United Nations-backed civilian protection mission and to support investigations by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.” 

The June 21 heads-of-state meeting takes place as the devastating war between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and their allies has now gone unabated for 14 months. Both parties have been responsible for serious international humanitarian law violations, including obstruction of aid and sexual abuse. In addition, the RSF and allied forces have carried out deliberate attacks on civilians which amount to crimes against humanity and widespread war crimes against the ethnic Massalit and other non-Arab communities in West Darfur state. As the conflict rages, civilians in other parts of the country are also facing widespread violations. On June 5, an RSF attack on a village in Central Sudan reportedly killed dozens of people, including children. Approximately 10 million people have been displaced due to the conflict, according to the UN

On May 21, the Peace and Security Council requested that the High-Level Panel on the Resolution of the Conflict in Sudan collaborate with the new AU special envoy for the prevention of genocide, H.E. Adama Dieng, to develop a strategy to stop atrocities and protect civilians. It also expressed grave concern over events in El Fasher, sounding the alarm about the “imminent danger that the escalating conflict poses to civilians, including the increasing likelihood of grave atrocities.” It called on warring parties to lift the siege on the city and guarantee humanitarian access. 

At its June 21 meeting, the Peace and Security Council should follow up on requests to and commitments by AU entities. Additionally, it should commit to regular meetings on the situation in Sudan to ensure a prompt development and rollout of a civilian protection plan and investigations by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), a quasi-judicial mechanism tasked with promoting and protecting human and collective rights in Africa. The council should prioritize engagement with the UN secretary-general, in accordance with the June 13 UN Security Council resolution 2736 on Sudan, which requested that he, in “consultation” with “regional stakeholders … make further recommendations for the protection of civilians in Sudan.” 

Given the scale and nature of the abuses in Darfur, the AU should urgently work with the UN to deploy a civilian protection mission, Human Rights Watch said. Such a mission should be mandated to protect civilians, monitor human rights and international humanitarian law violations, including obstruction of humanitarian aid, and facilitate the safe return of displaced people. The mission should also include a robust and mobile policing unit to focus on locations where civilians are most at risk of deliberate attacks, including in Darfur. 

At a June 14 meeting, the Peace and Security Council discussed avenues for funding protection of civilians efforts under the yet-to-be-utilized facility created by UN Security Council resolution 2719, which allows the UN to consider requests from the AU to cover up to 75 percent of an AU-led peace support operation’s annual budget on a case-by-case basis. UN Security Council resolution 2736, which demands that the RSF halt the siege on El Fasher and that all parties ensure civilians are protected, should be translated into immediate concrete collaborative actions with the AU, including supporting the deployment of a civilian protection mission. 

The Peace and Security Council also requested the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights  to investigate the human rights situation in El Fasher and other areas of Darfur and to propose recommendations to pursue accountability. The ACHPR should urgently act on this and set up an investigation team with the necessary and relevant expertise. The conflict in Sudan has triggered one of the world’s worst displacement crises and has witnessed widespread sexual and gender-based violence. The ACHPR mandate-holders on refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons and migrants in Africa and the rights of women in Africa should bring their thematic expertise to investigation efforts.  

The Peace and Security Council and other AU organs should give the investigation team significant financial and high-level political backing to ensure it has the resources and legitimacy to speak authoritatively on the human rights situation in Sudan, Human Rights Watch said.

The AU and international partners should also publicly support the African Commission’s investigations in Sudan and press Sudanese authorities, warring parties, and neighboring countries’ governments to allow investigators to work freely. 

Deploying a civilian protection mission and the investigators’ role should be at the heart of discussions when members of the Peace and Security Council  travel to Port Sudan to meet with stakeholders as they planned to do on April 18.

The African Commission should coordinate closely with the UN-mandated Independent International Fact-Finding Mission for the Sudan to ensure complementarity and maximize investigation capacities. It should also consider providing the UN Human Rights Council with an update on its work at the September 2024 session, including recommendations to address atrocities. The AU Peace and Security Council should invite the Fact-Finding Mission for a brief over the rights situation in Sudan alongside the ACHPR.

African Commission members should present a public timeline for their investigation work, and regularly report to the Peace and Security Council on its action on Sudan. Its investigation reports should be made public. It should also seek to collaborate with Sudanese civil society, including Sudanese human rights investigators, to provide recommendations on accountability and build on existing investigation efforts. 

“The African Union response has failed to mirror the magnitude of events unfolding in Sudan, and yet it has all the tools at its disposal to act to protect civilians,” Ngari said. “AU leaders should demonstrate that they are committed to preventing further atrocities against civilians on the continent.”

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Human Rights Watch (HRW).

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