Protection of Sudanese civilians must be international community’s priority
Tackling the humanitarian situation in Sudan ought to be a priority for the international community. The setting up of a ceasefire monitoring mechanism and distinguishing between combatants and civilians are critical to the protection of ordinary people.
The humanitarian aspect of the conflict continues to be alarming. So far, as a result of the battle for power between the country’s military, the Sudanese Armed Forces, and the Rapid Support Forces, an independent armed militia, thousands of people have been injured and more than a thousand people have been killed.
One of the consequences of the conflict is the deprivation and hunger it has brought upon people of all ages. A group of independent UN-appointed human rights experts this month released a statement deploring the human rights abuses that are being committed, which include “sexual assault and gender-based violence, and shortages of food, water and healthcare.” They also “expressed alarm at the shelling of a shelter for girls with disability in Khartoum, as well as other attacks on healthcare, on humanitarian workers and on human rights defenders.”
The second issue is the massive displacement that such a conflict can cause. So far, more than 1 million people have fled their homes to seek safety, mostly elsewhere within Sudan, but a significant number have also left the country as refugees. In other words, the escalation of the conflict in Sudan could have severe repercussions not only for the Sudanese people, but also for the stability and security of several other nations in the region.
It is important to point out that such a large number of refugees is going to have a massive impact on many countries in the region and beyond. The first impact is usually felt by the countries that share borders with the conflict-ridden state; in this case, Libya, Egypt, Chad, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Unfortunately, the countries receiving the Sudanese refugees are generally not fully prepared for such an influx and are already struggling with their own socioeconomic challenges. It is worth noting that refugees can have a significant impact on the social, economic, political and even environmental landscapes of host countries. The hosts tend to face more political and economic strain if not prepared for the situation.
As Patrick Youssef, the regional director for Africa at the International Committee for the Red Cross, pointed out this month: “The humanitarian situation in this region is complicated. It can be difficult for communities from Sudan’s neighbors to welcome people seeking refuge if those communities themselves are already in a vulnerable situation. That means it’s even more vital that humanitarian assistance reaches those now fleeing Sudan.”
This means that any crisis in the region will only be exacerbated as refugees from Sudan continue to pour into neighboring countries that do not have the resources to deal with this tragic situation.
Sudan has unfortunately been prone to domestic wars. And since the conflict there is multifaceted and complex and it will take time to find a permanent resolution.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Sudan has unfortunately been prone to domestic wars. And since the conflict there is multifaceted and complex and it will take time to find a permanent resolution to the crisis, the international community first ought to chart a path toward a temporary cessation of hostilities. It can then go on to find a sustainable mechanism that will lead to a permanent resolution.
The benefit of a temporary resolution is that it will open humanitarian corridors to allow humanitarian and medical assistance to enter the affected areas and permit the evacuation of civilians from the conflict zone.
Unfortunately, without a temporary resolution, the continuation of the conflict could cause the total collapse of the healthcare system in Sudan. Less than 20 percent of hospitals are currently functional in the capital Khartoum and many doctors are risking their lives to save patients’ lives and treat various kinds of medical issues, including bullet wounds, injuries and people giving birth.
One doctor, Houida El-Hassan, said: “We just took the risk and went out to do this job. People are dying every day, and they need our help. We haven’t left the hospital since (the third day of fighting). We are extremely tired, exhausted, we don’t know if we can continue like this. Sometimes I say I’d prefer to die from a rocket strike rather than failing to help a patient who dies due to lack of access to medicines.”
In addition, the international community ought to concentrate on creating a ceasefire monitoring mechanism that primarily focuses on protecting civilians. One of the critical initiatives launched in response to the humanitarian disaster in Sudan is the Jeddah Declaration of Commitment to Protect the Civilians of Sudan. Saudi Arabia has been playing a key role as mediator. Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said that protecting civilians was a first step and “other steps will follow … The most important thing is to adhere to what was agreed upon, and the Kingdom will work until security and stability return to Sudan and its brotherly people.”
The importance of the Jeddah Declaration is that it is anchored in international human rights law, which focuses on making a distinction between civilians and combatants, ensuring the safe passage of civilians, protecting medical personnel, allowing humanitarian relief to reach the population, and preventing the recruitment of children as soldiers in the war.
In a nutshell, it is necessary for the international community to prioritize the humanitarian situation in Sudan by setting up a ceasefire monitoring mechanism that will primarily ensure the safety of civilians. A permanent solution to Sudan’s multifaceted conflict can follow later.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist.