Eritrean diplomat asks: ‘Why is the Sudan conflict not an important issue’ for the UN?

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Updated 29 September 2023

Eritrean diplomat asks: ‘Why is the Sudan conflict not an important issue’ for the UN?

Eritrean diplomat asks: ‘Why is the Sudan conflict not an important issue’ for the UN?
  • Permanent Representative to UN Sophia Tesfamariam urges Africans to strengthen institutions, find own solutions in interview with Arab News
  • Discussed challenges facing continent, underscores need for reforms to make UN more effectual organization

NEW YORK CITY: Even as the 78th session of the UN General Assembly came to an end on Tuesday, it was clear that the curtain was not about to come down on the conversations about the tensions between the Global North and the Global South, the UN’s role in an emerging multipolar world order, and the stubborn persistence of conflicts and inequalities worldwide.

In a candid interview on the sidelines of the event in New York, Sophia Tesfamariam, the permanent representative of Eritrea to the UN, shared with Arab News her insights on the current state of affairs in the world, with a particular emphasis on the situation in violence-torn Sudan and the dynamics of African diplomacy.

Sophia Tesfamariam, Eritrea's ambassador to the UN, believes the internecine conflict in Sudan is not just due to the big egos of rival warlords but also a result of "external interventions, historical and more recent, often driven by military and economic interests." (Arab News photo)

A seasoned diplomat, she pulled no punches in discussing the myriad challenges facing her region and the wider world, while underscoring the need for reforms to make the UN a more effectual institution, for the forging of true partnerships that respect African voices, and for African nations to take charge of their own destinies.

Tesfamariam also offered her perspective on the origins and consequences of the conflict in Sudan, Eritrea’s neighbor to the west, which continues to escalate and shows no sign of abating amid continual reports of atrocities and human rights violations, including sexual violence and the disposal of corpses in mass graves.


Eritrea, which gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, occupies a strategically important area in the Horn of Africa.

The country’s representative to the UN, Sophia Tesfamariam, wants UN chief Antonio Guterres to be vocal about African issues.

The conflict in the country between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces has so far killed more than 4,000 people and wounded at least 12,000. It has displaced 5.3 million within Sudan and sent a human tide of refugees into neighboring countries, including Eritrea. In the western Darfur region, the scene of a genocidal campaign in the early 2000s, the conflict has morphed into ethnic violence, with the UN and rights groups reporting that the RSF and allied Arab militias are attacking African tribes and clans.

This picture taken on September 1, 2023 shows a view of destruction in a livestock market area in al-Fasher, the capital of Sudan's North Darfur state, amid the war between the Sudan Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Security Forces. (AFP)

Tesfamariam described the shock that was felt in the region as Sudan descended into turmoil, saying it was something “that should have never happened” because it goes contrary to “the culture of the Sudanese people, their history, their background.”

She added: “For Sudanese people to have warring in the middle of their towns, the middle of the cities, this urban warfare is new. It’s not something that anybody can get used to.”

A handout picture taken on April 19, 2023 and obtained from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on April 21 shows a crowded ward at a hospital in El Fasher in Sudan's North Darfur region, where multiple people have been wounded in ongoing battles there. (Photo by Ali Shukur/MSF/AFP)

The crisis cannot be attributed solely to a battle of egos between the leaders of the two military forces, Tesfamariam said. Rather, she believes “this final act” is the result of the external interventions, historical and more recent, often driven by military and economic interests, that have hindered the ability of the Sudanese people to take charge of their own destiny and development since gaining independence.

Although the Sudanese people initiated the revolution that led to the overthrow of President Omar Bashir in April 2019, their aspirations were seemingly hijacked by various external interests, regional and international, which contributed to the ongoing clashes between factions within the country, according to Tesfamariam.

This picture taken on September 17, 2023 shows a raging fire at the Greater Nile Petroleum Oil Company Tower in Khartoum amid fighting between the regular army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. (AFP)

“And this, to me, looks like what triggered these two sides (the SAF and RSF) to finally see who gains an upper hand,” she said.

“If you’re going to peel back the pieces like an onion to see where the source of this conflict is, at the source of all this you will find intervention to be the culprit.”

The conflict, which began on April 15, came on top of an already dire humanitarian crisis that has been ravaging Sudan for decades. Things have become so desperate that about 25 million people need aid just to survive, but humanitarian agencies are hamstrung by lack of access, precarious conditions on the ground, and bureaucratic restrictions on their movement both into Sudan and then to the places where the needs are most acute.

Tesfamariam highlighted the historical relationship between her country and Sudan. There was a time, for example, when Sudan was a welcoming host of refugees from Eritrea, during the latter’s struggle for independence from Ethiopia, which lasted for decades and ended in 1991.

An Ethiopian woman walks carrying packages on her back in the border town of Metema in northwestern Ethiopia on August 1, 2023. (AFP/File Photo)

“We don’t do refugee camps,” she said. “These are Sudanese. This is their home. They can come any time. And if they need to take refuge in Eritrea today, the communities of Eritrea will welcome them as one of their own as they welcomed us when we were going to Sudan.

“So, the humanitarian situation for us is something of a historical necessity, almost, an opportunity to pay back the Sudanese people for what they did for us and are continuing to do for us all these years.”

As for the international community, Tesfamariam voiced disappointment about its failure to force the feuding factions to agree to a lasting truce, despite many attempts.

“24-hour ceasefire, 48-hour ceasefire — what do these mean?” she said. “How does it give you hope as a person living in a city to know that the guns are going to stop for 24 hours? And then what happens after 24 hours?

“So, these meaningless, endless ceasefire negotiations that go nowhere tell me the international community is not serious about bringing an end to the conflict in Sudan, and the warring parties are not serious in their commitments to their people.”

A convoy of the World Food Programme (WFP) are seen in the village of Erebti, Ethiopia, on June 9, 2022, on their way to Tigray, where hundreds of thousands of people were displaced from their homes by war. (AFP/File Photo)

Tesfamariam reflected on what she described as “the total ineptitude and total failure” of the UN system, including the Security Council, where, in her view, double standards are now the order of the day.

“Where is the interest?” she asked. “There are people dying on the streets of Sudan. But you have spent many, many meetings, and even many General Assembly meetings, on Ukraine. Why is Sudan not an important issue for you?

“I think this total lack of interest says a lot about the UN and its structures, and the way it works and its failures and its inadequacies to resolve issues for which it has been created.

“(The total lack) of any credible action by the (Security) Council tells me that it may not be what we think it is — this governing body that can bring peace and security to all of us — and maybe they’re leaving us to our own devices. And that’s a dangerous way to go.

“What exactly is the UN here for? It makes me wonder. So this continuous call for reform of the Security Council, reform of the General Assembly and what it can do and what is viable to do, I think, will continue. And these will be the examples that we will raise in the future to say, ‘Where was the UN?’ And I am sure future generations will also be inquiring about that.”

Eritrea's UN envoy Sophia Tesfamariam laments “the total ineptitude and total failure” of the UN system in seeking a solution to the Sudan crisis. (AFP/File photo)

Tesfamariam called on Antonio Guterres, the UN’s secretary-general, to “pay attention” and be vocal about African issues.

“Right now, there is no voice for Africa,” she said. “Yes, it is good they tell you ‘African solutions for African problems.’ But when you come right down to it, if there’s no third party involved, nothing happens. Nothing moves.”

While there is indeed a growing sense that African issues should primarily be addressed by the African Union and sub-regional organizations, Tesfamariam said she has noticed a big discrepancy between theory and reality.

Despite the rhetoric of “African solutions for African problems,” she contended, the AU does not seem to be afforded the same weight or resources as its European counterparts, including the EU.

US Secretary-General Antonio Guterres should “pay attention” and be vocal about African issues, according to Eritrean Ambassador Tesfamariam. (AFP)

“Is the AU office here (at the UN) as fortified and given all the resources and attention and ability, and even the mandate, to interact with the UN the same way as the EU is?” she asked.

“I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s there. But can we just blame it on the EU or the UN and others for not taking an interest? What are Africans doing, also?”

She continued: “Why is it that when the AU meets every year, the first wave of people who come in, sit down to listen to your discussions are the Europeans and the Americans? Do you get the same respect and luxury to go and sit in the EU meetings in Europe to find out what they are discussing? No.

“So why do you continuously relegate yourself to these kind of positions for Africans? But when you cannot pay your own bills, when everybody else is funding every single project that you have all over the place, he who pays the piper picks the tune.

“How do you say no to the largesse that’s coming from EU, from the UN and other agencies that will dictate what should be done with your agency? Why does finance have to be the center of it all? I think if Africans come up with the solution, they will also find ways to finance the projects and initiatives they are trying to push.” 

Leaders of African Union member states join a family photo session during a recent assembly  in the city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Union needs to strengthen itself, grow more assertive and become a vocal advocate of African interests, says Eritrean Ambassador Sophia Tesfamariam (AFP/File photo)

To start with, according to Tesfamariam, the AU needs to strengthen itself, grow more assertive and become a vocal advocate of African interests. Next, she underscored the need for Africans to take responsibility for their own issues, strengthen regional and continental institutions, and find their own solutions to problems.

She criticized the current financial dependency in Africa on external entities, arguing that it often leads to the dictation of terms by donors that might not align with Africa’s interests.

“Africans themselves have got to take responsibility,” said Tesfamariam. “We need to start looking at ourselves, to do some soul-searching and say, why are we not doing more to strengthen our own regional and continental institutions?

A file photo shows Eritrea's UN Ambassador Sophia Tesfamariam speaking during a UN General Assembly meeting. (AFP/File photo)

“These institutions can’t just be a talking shop anymore. In practical terms, what are we doing to respond to the needs of our people, of our region? How do we form partnerships — not ‘who-gives-and-who-receives’ kind of partnerships but real partnerships, where we share interests and then do things together for the benefit of global security?”

While conceding that efforts to make a dent in the “entrenched” international architecture is still “a work in progress,” Tesfamariam added: “We are not giving up now.”

She pledged to continue to work to amplify Africa’s voice in international forums, taking heart from the fact that “over the years we’ve been able to find more like-minded people.”

She added: “I am not here alone. If I felt alone before, I now have a mutual grievance society at the UN whose members feel exactly the way Eritrea feels — that same frustration with the UN and its ineptitude in some of the things, and with our failure to coalesce as a group to make a difference, to bring change to some of the issues that we have raised here.”


Israeli strike destroys prestige Qatar-funded Gaza complex

Israeli strike destroys prestige Qatar-funded Gaza complex
Updated 03 December 2023

Israeli strike destroys prestige Qatar-funded Gaza complex

Israeli strike destroys prestige Qatar-funded Gaza complex
  • The Gaza health ministry said at least 193 Palestinians had been killed since the truce ended on Friday, adding to the more than 15,000 Palestinian dead since the start of the war
  • Israel said it had recalled a team from Qatar, host of indirect negotiations with Hamas, accusing the Palestinian faction of reneging on a deal to free all the women and children it was holding

KHAN YUNIS, Palestinian Territories: At almost exactly the same time Israeli negotiators pulled out of deadlocked truce talks in Qatar on Saturday, Israeli jets sent a prestige Doha-funded housing development in the Gaza Strip up in smoke.
Hamad City is named for the former emir of the Gulf petro-state, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, who laid the foundation stone on a visit 11 years ago.
Inaugurated in 2016, it was still among the newest projects in the Gaza Strip, the housing complex in the city of Khan Yunis boasting an impressive mosque, shops and gardens.
The first flats — more than 1,000 of them — were provided to Palestinians whose homes were destroyed in the war between Israel and Hamas two years earlier.
On Saturday it happened again, a day after a Qatar-brokered pause in the current war between Israel and Hamas expired.
First their phones pinged around noon with an “immediate” evacuation order SMS sent by the Israeli army, which says the system is aimed at minimizing civilian casualties.
Around an hour later, five Israeli air strikes rained down on the neighborhood in the space of just two minutes.
Bombs slammed into the pale apartment blocks one by one, reducing them largely to rubble and sending a huge pall of black smoke into the sky, as people fled and cries of ‘help!’ and ‘ambulance!’ rang out.
“At least we got through it,” 26-year-old Nader Abu Warda told AFP, amazed he was still alive.

The Israeli military has divided the Gaza Strip into 2,300 “blocs” and is now sending SMS messages to residents telling them to leave before they launch the strikes which they say will “eliminate Hamas.”
Around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, died in the Islamist movement’s October 7 assault on southern Israel and some 240 were taken hostage, according to Israeli authorities.
The Hamas-led Gaza Strip government says Israel’s campaign has killed more than 15,000 people, also mostly civilians, since it was launched eight weeks ago.
The United Nations humanitarian agency, OCHA, has highlighted that the warning messages do not indicate where the recipients should go.
Ibrahim Al-Jamal, a civil servant in his 40s, said he does not have any “Internet, any electricity or even a radio to receive information” and that he has “never seen this map” setting out the different blocs.
“Many people in Gaza have never heard of it and it wouldn’t matter anyway as the bombings are taking place everywhere,” he said.
Humanitarian bodies say the most vulnerable in Gaza are the estimated 1.7 million displaced people.
Many of them do not have access to phones and have to rely on warning leaflets dropped by planes, not visible from inside an apartment.

According to the Gaza Strip’s Civil Defense emergency and rescue organization, in recent weeks “hundreds of displaced families” had been taking refuge in 3,000 apartments at Hamad City.
Mohammed Foura, 21, already displaced once from Gaza City, told AFP that half an hour before the strike he had been warned by other residents to flee.
They shouted “get out, get out,” he said, as families piled their belongings into cars or carried them away in enormous bundles.
Nader Abu Warda fled Jabalia, near Gaza City, at the start of the war and no longer knows which way to go or what to do.
He, his wife and three children had been staying in a friend’s apartment in the complex.
“They told us ‘Gaza City is a war zone’, now it’s Khan Yunis,” he said. “Yesterday, they were saying ‘evacuate the east of Khan Yunis’. Today, they say ‘evacuate the west’,” he added, visibly exasperated.
“Where are we going now, into the sea? Where are we going to put our children to bed?“


UAE leader meets US vice president, other leaders on sidelines of COP28 in Dubai

UAE leader meets US vice president, other leaders on sidelines of COP28 in Dubai
Updated 03 December 2023

UAE leader meets US vice president, other leaders on sidelines of COP28 in Dubai

UAE leader meets US vice president, other leaders on sidelines of COP28 in Dubai
  • Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Kamala Harris discuss areas of cooperation
  • Sheikh also meets leaders of Italy, Poland, Albania

LONDON: UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed held talks with US Vice President Kamala Harris on Saturday on the sidelines of COP28 in Dubai, state news agency WAM reported.

During the meeting, the officials stressed the importance of the conference in fostering cooperation to combat climate change worldwide and highlighted their countries’ collaborations on renewable energy and sustainable development.

The meeting also looked at the wider US-UAE relationship and explored ways to advance ties in various fields. A number of regional and international issues of mutual interest were also discussed, including the latest developments in the Palestinian territories.

“The importance of working toward a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, protecting civilians, providing secure channels to deliver humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza without obstruction, preventing their displacement and identifying a clear political horizon based on the two-state solution to achieve regional stability and peace were also highlighted,” the WAM report said.

Sheikh Mohammed also held individual meetings with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Polish President Andrzej Duda and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama.

The leaders discussed ways to increase cooperation between their respective nations as well as regional and international issues of mutual interest.

Sheikh Mohammed also stressed the need for collective action to achieve practical results with regard to tackling climate change.

The heads of several foreign delegations commended the UAE president’s initiative, launched at COP28, to create a $30 billion fund to tackle the funding gap in global climate action.

GCC foreign ministers to hold preparatory meeting ahead of leaders’ summit in Doha

GCC foreign ministers to hold preparatory meeting ahead of leaders’ summit in Doha
Updated 03 December 2023

GCC foreign ministers to hold preparatory meeting ahead of leaders’ summit in Doha

GCC foreign ministers to hold preparatory meeting ahead of leaders’ summit in Doha
  • 158th ministerial meeting will be chaired by Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman

RIYADH: Gulf ministers are set to gather on Sunday to hold a preparatory meeting in Qatar’s capital Doha ahead of the 44th Gulf Cooperation Council Summit, the bloc said in a statement on Saturday.
GCC Secretary-General Jasem Albudaiwi said the bloc’s 158th ministerial meeting will be chaired by Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman — whose country is also the current president of the ministerial council — and will be attended by member states’ foreign ministers.
Albudaiwi said the meeting is a continuation of the preparations underway for the launch of the 44th session of the GCC Supreme Council, scheduled to be held on Tuesday in Doha in the presence of Gulf leaders.
He added that during the ministerial meeting, several reports will be discussed regarding the implementation of decisions issued by the Supreme Council at the 43rd summit in the Saudi capital Riyadh last year, as well as memoranda and reports submitted by the ministerial and technical committees and the General Secretariat.
The meeting will also cover topics related to dialogues and strategic relations between GCC states and other countries and international blocs, in addition to the latest regional and international developments.

US VP Harris calls for restraint as Israel strikes southern Gaza

US VP Harris calls for restraint as Israel strikes southern Gaza
Updated 03 December 2023

US VP Harris calls for restraint as Israel strikes southern Gaza

US VP Harris calls for restraint as Israel strikes southern Gaza
  • Jordan’s King Abdullah II and the US Vice President Kamala Harris meet in Dubai on the sidelines of COP28
  • King Abdullah stressed the need for the US to play a leading role in pushing for a political horizon for the Palestinian issue to reach peace on the basis of the two-state solution

GAZA/CAIRO: US Vice President Kamala Harris said too many innocent Palestinians had been killed in Gaza as Israeli war planes and artillery bombarded the enclave on Saturday following the collapse of a truce with Hamas militants.
Speaking in Dubai, Harris said Israel had a right to defend itself, but international and humanitarian law must be respected and “too many innocent Palestinians have been killed.”
“Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering, and the images and videos coming from Gaza, are devastating,” Harris told reporters.
On the sidelines of COP28, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and the US Vice President met in Dubai, reported the Jordan News Agency.
King Abdullah stressed the need for the US to play a leading role in pushing for a political horizon for the Palestinian issue to reach peace on the basis of the two-state solution, during his meeting with Harris.
The King called for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and protecting civilians, warning of the repercussions of the continued war on international peace and security, including further violence and conflict that could plunge the entire region into a catastrophe.
The two sides reaffirmed their rejection of any attempts of forced displacement of the Palestinians internally or outside Gaza, or attempts to re-occupy any parts of the Strip, reported Petra.
King Abdullah also stressed the importance of maintaining the uninterrupted delivery of sufficient aid, including food, water, fuel, and electricity, without any impediments, warning against the targeting of hospitals and hindering the delivery of medical supplies.
Meanwhile, Harris thanked King Abdullah for his continued leadership in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for Jordan’s leadership in providing vital humanitarian assistance to Gaza, including its three airdrops of medical supplies to the field hospital that it has established in Gaza.
She discussed the importance of the recent pause in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, and the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to supporting efforts to reach a new deal. She also discussed the US ideas for post-conflict planning in Gaza, including efforts on reconstruction, security, and governance.
The US vice president emphasized that these efforts can only succeed if they are pursued in the context of a clear political horizon for the Palestinian people, toward a state of their own led by a revitalized Palestinian Authority and backed by significant support from the international community and the countries of the region.
In a news conference in Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said later on Saturday that Israel was continuing to work in coordination with the US and international organizations to define “safe areas” for Gaza civilians.
“This is important because we have no desire to harm the population,” Netanyahu said. “We have a very strong desire to hurt Hamas.”
Harris also sketched out a US vision for post-conflict Gaza, saying the international community must support recovery and Palestinian security forces must be strengthened.
“We want to see a unified Gaza and West Bank under the Palestinian Authority, and Palestinian voices and aspirations must be at the center of this work,” she said, adding that Hamas must no longer run Gaza.
The Western-backed Palestinian Authority governs parts of the occupied West Bank. Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ mainstream Fatah party and has ruled the enclave ever since.

* With Reuters 

Families of Bedouin hostages wait for news as Gaza fighting resumes

Families of Bedouin hostages wait for news as Gaza fighting resumes
Updated 03 December 2023

Families of Bedouin hostages wait for news as Gaza fighting resumes

Families of Bedouin hostages wait for news as Gaza fighting resumes
  • “There were tough times, we always had hope”
  • Bedouin Arabs make up about 4 percent of Israel’s population

TIRABIN AL SANA, Israel: The family members of four Bedouin Arabs taken hostage on Oct. 7 during the assault on southern Israel by Hamas gunmen have welcomed the return of two of the captives but wait for news of the others as fighting resumes in the Gaza Strip.
Yosef Hamis Ziadna, his sons Hamza and Bilal and his daughter, Aisha, were working on the Holit farm on Israel’s border with Gaza when they were seized by the gunmen along with more than 200 other Israelis and foreigners.
Aisha and Bilal were handed over during the seven-day truce between Israel and Hamas that ended on Friday morning but Yosef and Hamza are still being held, along with two other Bedouins, Farhan Al-Qadi and Samer Al-Talalqa.
“There were tough times, we always had hope,” said their cousin Kamel Al-Ziadna. “We want the release of Yousef and Hamza and all those held hostages, and Samer and Farhan, may God bring them back to their families.”
Bedouin Arabs make up about 4 percent of Israel’s population, living mainly in the southern Negev desert and in northern Israel.
Kamel said the families were urging Hamas to release their hostages. “They are Arab, Muslim youth,” he said.
While they wait, like the families of other hostages released during the week-long pause, their emotions are mixed.
When the news came through that Aisha and Belal were to be released, there was a large gathering of family and friends that celebrated through the night.
“It was nice moments, but the happiness was missing something, so until the whole family is reunited with Hamza and Yousef, then we will hold a huge party, and we will gather with friends and family and all those who shared these difficult times with us,” he said.