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Distant hopes for peace in Sudan

It is the fifth week of the war in Sudan, and prospects for a permanent ceasefire seem as distant as ever. Each of the warring sides, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), believes it can win the conflict militarily. But this is unattainable as past weeks have resulted in nothing but death and destruction on both sides.

Large numbers of civilians and fighters have lost their lives, and Sudan’s heavily populated capital of Khartoum has been the centre of the fighting, with large areas destroyed.

The clashes have also spread to West Darfur and North Kordofan, even as the Sudanese are hoping that the negotiations in Jeddah sponsored by the US and Saudi Arabia will lead to a comprehensive ceasefire and a dialogue that solves the problems of Sudan.

A few days ago, a bombing claimed the life of budding Sudanese artist Shaden Hussein in her home in Omdurman, leading many to mourn the loss of an artist renowned for her profound artistic works.

Hussein espoused a message of love and peace, striving to forge connections between disparate social and cultural groups. Her reputation was cemented through her melodious renditions of traditional songs, in addition to her vocal support for the Sudanese Revolution, which resonated deeply with the nation’s youth.

Her death is but one of many in a conflict that has wrought havoc upon Sudan, transforming daily lives into a living hell. The number of killed, wounded, or displaced is now in the hundreds, thousands, and hundreds of thousands, respectively.

Rawan Khalil, a Sudanese national employed by an international aid organisation, told Al-Ahram Weekly that “the magnitude of the disaster in Sudan is far larger than the official statistics regarding the number of fatalities and casualties. The situation is particularly dire in Al-Geneina in West Darfur and Khartoum.”

“Despite the horrors the refugees and displaced experience, they are lucky to have escaped the destruction caused by this war in which no party has moral or ethical restraints,” she said.

Attia Abdullah Attia, secretary of the Sudan Doctors Syndicate, said the military operations are expanding in Sudan and the humanitarian situation is getting worse despite the ongoing negotiations. “Without real guarantees on the ground, they are nothing but propaganda to serve the two warring parties,” he told the Weekly.

The military escalation increased after the two parties started to negotiate, as if the two sides wanted to raise the cap. They are both using the humanitarian conditions to serve their purposes in the negotiations, Attia added.

Attia said that 67 per cent of hospitals near the clashes are out of service, and that out of 88 hospitals in Khartoum itself, 59 are out of service, while 29 are fully or partially operating, though some are providing first aid services only and are also threatened with closure as a result of shortages of medical staff, medical supplies, water and electricity.

He added that all the health facilities in the city of Al-Geneina are out of service after they had been attacked and looted. The central drug store, doctors’ residence, Red Crescent office, and only kidney centre in the city met the same fate.

Seventeen hospitals have been bombed, 20 have been subjected to forced eviction, and six ambulances have been attacked and prevented from transporting patients and delivering aid.

The recent clashes and tribal fighting in the city of Kosti have resulted in the deaths of 25 and the injury of more than 50, Attia said, noting that these clashes are part of the larger war engulfing all of Sudan.

He said that the Sudan Doctors Syndicate had called on the Sudanese people and civil society organisations to organise initiatives calling for peace and warning against giving in to hate speech targeting the unity of the Sudanese.

There have been reports of rape, as well as of the targeting of Coptic churches in Khartoum and Omdurman, where armed groups shot at worshippers at the Mar Guirguis Church in the Al-Masalma neighbourhood of Omdurman, injuring a number of worshippers and assaulting the priest.

A mosque in Al-Azhari City was bombed and another in Borri was shelled, leading to the death of a worshipper.

The majority of the factions in the country have refrained from aligning with either of the two warring parties and have remained neutral.

Arko Minawi, leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement and governor of the Darfur region, opted to withdraw his troops and relocate to Darfur, for example. Jibril Ibrahim, head of the Justice and Equality Movement and minister of finance, travelled to Port Sudan to distance himself from mounting pressure to take part in the ongoing conflict.

In a bid to convey a message to both domestic and international parties that the RSF are a renegade militia, Lieutenant General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan, the commander of the SAF, has taken steps to freeze the bank accounts of the RSF and prevent the disbursement of funds or resources.

RSF Commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, aka Hemedti, appeared on satellite TV channels amid news of his death, denying the news and saying that he is moving to Khartoum and taking part in the battles.

The Jeddah Declaration, forged between the SAF and the RSF on 11 May, stipulated the upholding of Sudan’s sovereignty and the safeguarding of its unity and territorial integrity, prioritising the welfare and safety of the Sudanese and ensuring the protection of civilians and facilitating their safe passage from areas ravaged by conflict.

It promises the evacuation of the injured without discrimination and the access of humanitarian organisations to affected populations. It prohibits the recruitment and use of children in hostilities.

According to the Saudi Foreign Ministry, the declaration will serve as a guide for the two forces, with the aim of facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid, reinstating essential services, withdrawing troops from healthcare facilities, and affording the deceased dignified burial.

The negotiations in Jeddah will concentrate on effecting a viable ceasefire for a duration of roughly 10 days to facilitate these measures. To ensure the safety of civilians during this period, a ceasefire monitoring mechanism, supported by the US, Saudi Arabia, and the international community, will be instituted, the ministry added.

The declaration has garnered widespread acclaim from various factions within Sudan, as well as regional and international entities, which hope it will be a step towards a comprehensive and sustainable ceasefire and initiate a genuine dialogue aimed at restoring peace and resolving differences.

But the Arab Organisation for Human Rights, a NGO, released a statement saying that while the declaration has commendable provisions related to the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, it does not introduce measures beyond those dictated by international humanitarian law.

Its commitment to the establishment of humanitarian corridors for the safe passage of civilians from conflict zones and the unhindered delivery of aid is a positive step, but its implementation is contingent upon practical arrangements to be determined in the future, the organisation said.

Sudanese political analyst Osman Mirghani told the Weekly that the “Jeddah Declaration is a positive step, but it is a declaration of principles not an agreement. Its most important condition is allowing civilians to get out of conflict areas.”

Zuhal Al-Amin, an expert in constitutional and international law in Sudan, told the Weekly that the declaration stresses that the two parties observe their obligations under international humanitarian law. It does not define the duration of the agreement nor the entities that would observe it, she said.

The ongoing negotiations in Jeddah are reportedly focused on pinpointing safe passages and devising mechanisms to monitor the compliance of the two parties, who have accused each other of violating the ceasefire. The participation of regional and international organisations in these efforts is crucial, necessitating the engagement of multiple parties, including neighbouring nations such as Egypt, the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the Arab League.

The plight of civilians in Sudan remains dire, and with each passing day of the conflict, the likelihood of its escalation and the involvement of external parties both within and outside Sudan only increases.

The pressure should continue on both sides to enforce an immediate, comprehensive, and enduring ceasefire, followed by a political process that will secure the country’s future.

A version of this article appears in print in the 18 May, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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