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Sudan is in the process of transitioning to civilian rule after the three-decade rule of President Omar al-Bashir was brought to an end by the army in April 2019. A recently signed peace agreement between the transitional leadership and some of Sudan’s armed groups promises to bring an end to years of brutal conflict in Darfur and other conflict-afflicted regions in Sudan.

Coup and transitional government

In April 2019 the Sudanese army forcibly removed President Omar al-Bashir from power. The move followed months of protests against Bashir’s rule. Jeremy Hunt, then the Foreign Secretary, called for a swift move to an inclusive, representative, civilian leadership.

In early August the ruling military council agreed a power-sharing deal with the main opposition coalition. The Constitutional Declaration (summary available from the Library of Congress) set out a three year transitional period led by a civilian/military governing council. Abdalla Hamdok, a former economist with the UN, was sworn in as Prime Minister in mid-August 2019.

June 2019 killings

However, the period between the coup and the agreement was scarred by the killings of over one hundred protestors on 3 June by members of the security forces at a camp in the capital.

The UK, alongside its Troika partners the US and Norway, condemned the attacks. Harriet Baldwin, then Minister for Africa, discussed the “sickening and brutal attacks” in response to an urgent question on 13 June. Members also discussed the killings and the political situation in Sudan in a Westminster Hall debate on 20 June 2019.

The Constitutional Declaration (para 16) commits to establishing an independent committee to investigate violations committed on 3 June 2019. James Duddridge, Minister for Africa, says the UK supports the establishment of this inquiry and has repeatedly made clear to the Sudanese government the need for justice and accountability for atrocities committed.

“Historic” peace deal

Since taking power, Hamdok has sought to resolve the devastating conflicts in Darfur and the southern states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile (sometimes referred to as the Two Areas). These negotiations resulted in an initial agreement between the transitional government and some of the most prominent rebel groups in late August 2020. The UN Secretary-General described it as a “historic achievement” towards lasting peace.

On 3 October the government and rebel groups signed the peace agreement at a ceremony in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, which had been mediating the talks. Guarantors of the deal from Chad, Qatar, Egypt, the African Union, European Union and United Nations also put their names to the agreement.

The peace agreement seeks to address the fundamental issues in Darfur and the Two Areas and covers a number of complex issues. Proposals include the devolution of power and resources, resource sharing, a pathway for the safe return of internally displaced persons and refugees, and courts to bring war crimes suspects to justice.

The agreement also extends the transitional period to 2023 and incorporates armed movements into a new power-sharing agreement. Soldiers from the Sudan Revolutionary Front (rebel groups from Darfur and the Two Areas) will be absorbed into government security forces.

The international response has been overwhelmingly positive.

The UK government, along with the US and Norway, called the agreement “an important step” and emphasized their support for the realisation of a lasting peace in Sudan.

The EU echoed the UN Secretary-General’s earlier description of the agreement being a “historic achievement”. Both the UK and EU called on the rebel groups who have not yet joined to engage in negotiations with the transitional government to achieve a comprehensive peace.

Dame Rosalind Marsden, a former EU Special Representative for Sudan and former UK Ambassador to Sudan, now at Chatham House, says the agreement gives hope that Sudan can turn the page on decades of war. Reasons for hope, she says, is that the agreement was negotiated between the Sudanese themselves, and the transitional government’s aspirations align with those of the revolution. Alex de Waal and Edward Thomas also suggest the two holdout rebel groups are likely to come round, although they warn the peace agreement comes with a big price tag, given Sudan’s designation as a ‘state sponsor of terrorism’ by the US.

Lifting US and other sanctions?

Pressure has been building on Washington to remove Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism ever since Bashir’s removal last year. Doing so would lift restrictions on US foreign assistance and allow Sudan to access debt relief and financing from the IMF and World Bank.

In autumn last year the UN Secretary General called on the international community to support Sudan’s transition by lifting economic sanctions. A senior US State department official said removing Sudan’s designation is a process with conditions: “it’s not flipping a light switch”. Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, discussed Sudan’s removal from the terror list during a visit to Khartoum on 25 August.

Sudan is also subject to EU and UN sanctions. In March 2020, the UK Government was asked about what multilateral discussions they have had about lifting or easing economic sanctions on Sudan. Baroness Sugg, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, replied:

Sudan is not subject to multilateral economic sanctions. The multilateral sanctions in force are those by the UN and EU focused on Darfur, covering arms embargoes and targets sanctions on individuals associated with human rights abuses. The US lifted bilateral economic sanctions on Sudan in October 2017. Sudan does however remain on the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. The UK is working with the Government of Sudan and international partners to help address Sudan’s severe economic challenges as an important part of supporting the transition to democracy agreed in 2019.[1]

The Sudan (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 put in place sanctions measures to ensure the UK continues to meet its obligations under the UN sanctions regime.

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