Crisis in Sudan

Updated 5/24/2023

The Unfolding Unrest

After weeks of talks, the latest ceasefire aimed at ending the conflict in Sudan appears to be largely holding in the capital, with only sporadic breaches of the truce in Khartoum and across the River Nile in Bahri and Omdurman.

On April 15, 2023, fighting erupted in Sudan. More than 550 people have since been killed, including two Americans, with 5,000 more injured nationwide.

On one side of the unrest is the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), led by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. On the other side is the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group headed by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemeti. Once loosely allied, the groups overthrew Sudan’s longtime dictator, Omar al-Bashir, in April 2019, after months of citizen protests. Since then, a power struggle has divided the alliance, with Burhan (SAF) viewing Hemeti and his RSF forces as an undisciplined “gang” from Darfur, and Hemeti believing that it’s time for Darfur to lead the nation. Tensions reached a fever pitch prior to the violence as the country neared its transition from military to civilian-led government. Specifically, a controversial provision in the transition that urged unification of the SAF and RSF met an impasse.

To the Generals: “You must issue clear instructions, in no uncertain terms to all those under your command, that there is zero tolerance for sexual violence… civilians must be spared and you must stop this senseless violence now.”

Volker Türk, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (5/24/23)

The conflict has alarmed the country’s neighbors, sparking a scramble to keep the turmoil from spilling across borders and destabilizing the region. The International Rescue Committee anticipates “a secondary humanitarian crisis,” with more than 100,000 civilians already fleeing into neighboring countries. Satellite images showed long bus convoys at the Egyptian border. And the UN said at least 20,000 people have fled into Chad, 4,000 into South Sudan, 3,500 to Ethiopia, and 3,000 to the Central African Republic.

Sudan currently hosts 1.1 million refugees, one of the largest refugee populations in Africa. South Sudanese represent more than 70% (800,000) of the refugees in Sudan, followed by 126,000 Eritrean refugees (11%). The country also counts more than 3 million internally displaced persons, mostly in the Darfur region that has experienced a volatile security situation for almost two decades. The World Food Programme estimates that one third of Sudan’s population (15 million people) face acute food insecurity.

Other Highlights Since The Violence Began
  • President Biden signed an executive order authorizing future sanctions against individuals determined to be destabilizing Sudan and “undermining Sudan’s democratic transition.”
  • The WHO warned of a high risk of a biological hazard in the Sudanese capital following the seizure of the National Public Health Laboratory in Khartoum, which contained dangerous pathogens such as measles and cholera.
  • A wanted Sudanese war crimes suspect, Ahmed Haroun, has confirmed that he and other members of the former regime ousted in 2019 have escaped from prison during recent fighting. SAF also confirmed that that they are holding the country’s deposed president Omar al-Bashir at a military hospital. Bashir, who ruled Sudan for three decades, is wanted by the international criminal court (ICC) for genocide and other crimes during the conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur region in the 2000s.
  • USAID deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to coordinate the humanitarian response both within and outside of Sudan. The DART will be operating out of Kenya for the initial phase of the response, working with the international community and partners to identify priority needs and safely deliver assistance to those who need it most. The U.S. has been the largest provider of humanitarian assistance to Sudan for more than a quarter century.
  • Internal UN documents report a “nightmare scenario.” A security report describes looting and a series of attacks on UN staff, mainly by RSF personnel, in Khartoum and elsewhere. The report said one Japanese woman had been raped and another woman sexually assaulted, while two Nigerian staff members were abducted. Armed men were also stealing vehicles, firing at security guards, and had taken over private homes of UN staff members and other international workers to use as bases. A compound housing UN offices came under attack by snipers, although no staff members were hurt, the report added. Staff have also had projectiles and rocket-propelled grenades hit their homes. A UN Humanitarian Air Service plane was set ablaze at the Khartoum airport.

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Learn more by visiting UN news on Sudan