Background: From Chronic Instability to a Hard-Won Transition to Civilian Rule
Since independence in 1956, Sudan has experienced chronic instability in both the capital and the marginalized peripheries, mostly due to the same underlying causes that, to date, have yet to be addressed. Calls for an inclusive government and a fair power- and wealth-sharing system that take account of the country’s ethnic and cultural diversity without discrimination have remained unanswered for decades.
Sudan was torn apart by two civil wars between the North and South, in 1955-1972 and again in 1983-2005. In both, atrocities against civilians were committed, including systematic violence against women. The wars left more than 2 million people dead and over 4 million displaced, primarily in Southern Sudan. War officially ended in 2005 when the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. As part of this agreement, the South held a referendum on self-determination in January 2011, in which voters overwhelmingly opted for independence.
In 2003, conflict broke out in Sudan’s western Darfur region. For years, government forces and militias have fought against two rebel groups: the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement. The government recruited local tribal militias to lead joint scorched-earth attacks against the rebels’ communities. Mass atrocities were repeatedly perpetrated with total impunity. An estimated 300,000 people were killed, and 2.5 million displaced to refugee camps. Levels of violence have decreased in recent years, mostly as a result of a massive military offensive that has severely weakened armed groups. While human rights abuses continue, Darfur has now evolved into a post-conflict setting.
Deeming that the situation in Darfur posed serious threats to international peace and security, the UN Security Council referred the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2005. Between 2007 and 2010, the ICC issued four arrest warrants and three summonses to appear. Two of the arrest warrants were for former President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. He has yet to face trial for these crimes.
In 2011, conflict then broke out in the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile between government forces and fighters from the SPLM-North. Lack of humanitarian access during the peak of the conflict has made an assessment of casualties difficult, but it is estimated that several hundred thousand people were displaced as a result of the fighting.
On April 11, 2019, following months of peaceful protests, which security forces brutally suppressed, a Transitional Military Council (TMC) deposed and arrested President Bashir. In December, he was sentenced to two years in detention for corruption and illegal possession of foreign currency. On August 17, 2019, the TMC and the opposition coalition Forces of Freedom and Change signed a landmark Constitutional Declaration that envisages a timeline for the transition to civilian rule and elections. The declaration provides for the establishment of an independent commission on transitional justice and requires state agencies to implement transitional justice and accountability measures for crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Following the signing of the declaration, the TMC was replaced by the Sovereign Council comprising military and civilian members. Sudan’s new cabinet, the first led by a civilian in 30 years, took oath on
September 8, 2019. In line with the provisions of the constitutional declaration, a comprehensive peace agreement was signed between the Sudanese government and the Sudan Revolutionary Front in Juba on October 3, 2020. The agreement aims to achieve sustainable peace and inclusive development by addressing the root causes of the country’s multiple conflicts.