The final report of the United Nations Panel of Experts appointed on Sudan established pursuant to Resolution 1591 (2005), has made significant revelation about the situation of the country and the spirited efforts of the Sudanese government to adhere to the peace plan.
Following its appointment by the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 7 October 2016, the Panel of Experts on the Sudan spent close to five weeks, from 24 October to 25 November 2016, monitoring the implementation of the relevant resolutions of the Security Council on Darfur. The Panel conducted 10 regional and international missions to gather information relevant to its mandate. In its work, the Panel acted with independence, transparency, objectivity and impartiality.
The Panel was unable, however, to travel to the Sudan during the reporting period owing to the non-issuance of visas but it is prepared to travel to the Sudan as soon as the relevant authorities issue visas to its members.
The Panel discovered that during the mandate, discussions on the Darfur peace process have continued. The status of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur has remained a bone of contention between the Government and the main non-signatory armed groups — the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the Sudanese Liberation Army led by Minni Arkou Minawi (SLA/MM), and the Sudanese Liberation Army led by Abdul Wahid al-Nour (SLA/AW) — which have repeatedly refused to recognize it as a basis for peace in Darfur.
The conflict between the Government and armed groups in Darfur has been limited to the Jebel Marra area, where SLA/AW continues to control pockets of territory. The fighting has resulted in the significant displacement of civilians. Analysis of the information available to the Panel from 2016 has highlighted the use of extensive offensive military overflights in Jebel Marra by the Sudanese Armed Forces to conduct aerial bombardments with a variety of air-to-ground weapons.
Further investigation is required before the Panel can draw conclusions with regard to potential violations of the prohibition on offensive military overflights and the arms embargo. The Panel is aware of allegations of violations against civilians committed during the fighting in the Jebel Marra area, which it intends to investigate to establish potential violations of international humanitarian law.
While the conflict has remained circumscribed geographically to the Jebel Marra area, localized intercommunal violence, militia activity and banditry have continued unabated in the five states of Darfur, posing a threat to internal security and stability. Sexual and gender-based violence remains a serious concern, in particular for vulnerable populations at camps for internally displaced persons, and the perpetrators continue to operate in a climate of impunity.
The Sudanese authorities also welcomed the Panel’s intended visit and the date of the visit according to the authorities, would be determined through diplomatic channels. The Panel was also informed through the secretariat, that the visa requests would be processed only after further instructions had been received from the capital. However, at the time of reporting, the panel members’ visas had not been granted. The panel had also received another note verbale from the permanent mission indicating that it was awaiting the reconstitution of the national mechanism for resolution 1591(2005) before determining the date of the Panel’s visit to the Sudan.
In addition to requesting the issuance of visas, the panel has requested the cooperation of the government of Sudan in granting its members travel permits to Darfur in order to monitor the situation on the ground, as well as in granting access to areas affected by the conflict.
The United Nations and its partners continue to face access restriction in providing humanitarian assistance in different regions of Darfur, in particular in the areas of Jebel Marra affected by the 2016 crisis. Personnel and property of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), as well as humanitarian workers, continue to be targeted by different armed groups, although with less frequency than in previous years. The Panel will continue to monitor these issues.
Lastly, the Panel continues to investigate the non-compliance with the travel ban and asset freeze in relation to the designated individuals.
The Panel discovered yet that SPLA/MM and JEM now operate mostly in Libya and South Sudan, where they are engaging in mercenary activities and, allegedly , in criminal activities (such as looting, kidnapping for ransom and trafficking). They have seemingly adopted a waiting strategy regarding Darfur.
Away from the military pressures of the government of the Sudan, the rebels aim to rebuild their capability using the revenues obtain from their current mercenary and criminal activities. They assess that the regional environment may evolve favorably in the short to medium term and provide them with new opportunities to re-engage in Darfur with strengthened military capabilities. Over time, however, if they remain engaged in fighting and criminal activities abroad, they risk losing their political agenda and their relevance in Darfur.
In early January 2016, the Government launched a large-scale offensive on SLA/AW in Jebel Marra, involving a combination of the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces. In previous years, given the mountainous nature of the terrain, government forces had been unable to dislodge SLA/AW fighters from Jebel Marra and take full control of the area.
In 2016, government forces carried out operations to encircle the group and cut off its supply networks and its links with the local communities. Government forces took control of some key routes to Jebel Marra, while an armed group of Rizeigat herders reportedly blocked the strategic Sortony-Kabkabiyah road in North Darfur.
Government security forces have taken control of villages considered to be SLA/AW strongholds, such as Sarong, south-east of Golo, Fanga Suk and Rockero. They also have made it more difficult for SLA/AW to access supplies, medicine and ammunition.
– Sallam is a public Affairs Analyst based in Abuja, Nigeria