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Sudan declared independence in 1956, having previously been under joint Anglo-Egyptian governance for the first half of the twentieth century. President Omar al-Bashir has ruled Sudan since taking power in a coup in 1989. The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for the President for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

A two-decade long civil war was brought to a formal end in 2005 with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The CPA paved the way for a referendum in southern Sudan on independence in January 2011. South Sudan subsequently declared independence on 9 July 2011 and became the most recent country to join the United Nations. South Sudan has since become embroiled in civil war.

Political and security situation

While the civil war has formally ended peace within Sudan remains elusive. There are a myriad of armed groups with different motives, support bases and allegiances within Sudan. Unilaterally declared ceasefires by the Government of Sudan and most armed groups has significantly reduced the level of fighting in the main conflict areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile (collectively referred to as the Two Areas) and Darfur. An African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID) peacekeeping mission has been present in Darfur since 2007.

International peace efforts to bring a complete end to hostilities in Darfur and the Two Areas has been led by the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel. This resulted in the Government of Sudan and opposition groups signing the Roadmap Agreement in 2016. However efforts to implement the Roadmap have stalled.

There has also been no progress in implementing a 2011 agreement regarding Abyei, the disputed area which borders Sudan and South Sudan.

A ‘National Dialogue’ led by the Government resulted in a range of recommendations on domestic issues but was criticised for lacking in inclusivity and a failure to implement the recommendations.

International dimensions

The UK is among a number of countries, and NGOs, who are pressing the Sudanese Government to enable humanitarian access. There are thought to be 3.3 million internally displaced persons and an estimated 4.8 million needed humanitarian assistance in 2016.

Sudan’s relations with western countries has improved in recent years. The EU has prioritised migration and Sudan is part of the ‘Khartoum Process’ aimed at preventing migration at source in the Horn of Africa. At the request of the Government of Sudan, the UK launched the UK-Sudan strategic dialogue in 2016 covering a range of bilateral issues. The UK continues to issue statements on Sudan with its Troika partners: the US and Norway.

In October 2017 the United States lifted economic sanctions in recognition of Sudan’s efforts to maintain ceasefires, improve humanitarian access and cooperate on counter-terrorism efforts. A UN arms embargo on Darfur remains in place, as does an EU arms embargo on Sudan.

Sudan’s foreign policy has in recent years noticeably shifted way from is long-time ally, Iran, towards the Gulf States. President al-Bashir visited Russia in 2017.

Related library briefing papers

Library briefing paper Sudan: 2003-2009, provides a detailed background to Sudan including events leading up to and subsequent to the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord; the conflict in Darfur; unrest in Eastern Sudan. Sudan: peace or war, unity or secession?, RP10-40, 2 June 2010, looked at events in 2010. 

This briefing paper focuses on Sudan rather than South Sudan. Information on developments in South Sudan can be found in:

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