The conflict in Sudan continues to escalate, spreading to more cities. The capital Khartoum has also become an urban battleground, making it extremely urgent to reach a resolution and bring an end to the devastating war.
One of the most important issues to address is how the war is affecting ordinary people. The escalation of the conflict is significantly exacerbating the humanitarian situation, particularly in El-Obeid in North Kordofan, Khartoum and other nearby cities, as well as some areas of the Darfur region, especially in the western part of Darfur. This has led UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk to warn that the “disastrous, senseless war in Sudan, born out of a wanton drive for power, has resulted in thousands of deaths, the destruction of family homes, schools, hospitals and other essential services, massive displacement, as well as sexual violence, in acts which may amount to war crimes.”
To put it in perspective, since the conflict erupted between the Sudanese Army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, more than 4 million people have been forced to flee their homes. Nearly 1 million refugees and asylum seekers have fled to neighboring countries, while about 3 million people are currently internally displaced.
Another alarming fact is that the brutal war has significantly damaged the healthcare system in Sudan. In a war, hospitals and doctors are often targeted as a military strategy — a tool to carry out political retaliation, to impose fear on society and punish doctors and health workers for protecting and treating casualties of war.
The continuation of the conflict could cause the total collapse of the healthcare system in Sudan
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Healthcare workers are risking their safety to save patients’ lives and treat various medical issues, including bullet wounds, all kinds of injuries and women giving birth. A nurse with Doctors Without Borders reflected on her experience working in a hospital in Khartoum, writing: “The entire time we were working we could hear the sounds of war outside. There were planes circling. They would fly over and within a few minutes or within an hour, the bombing would start. Between the explosions, there were sounds of gunshots from the streets. If it was very close, you could feel the walls shake, the windows too. There was smoke all around the hospital. Several times, members of the team lost family members in the bombing. We didn’t sleep a lot. Some nights we didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t because our dreams and reality started to blur.”
Without a resolution or intervention by the international community, the continuation of the conflict could cause the total collapse of the healthcare system in Sudan. Nearly two-thirds of hospitals are currently out of service in areas that have been affected by the conflict, with less than 20 percent of hospitals in Khartoum being operational.
It is worth noting that attacking hospitals, schools and healthcare workers in a conflict zone is considered to be a violation of international law. It is one of the six grave violations identified by the UN Security Council in its resolution 1998, which was passed in 2011.
The UN has a responsibility to act in such a crisis. Unfortunately, no concrete action has been taken in spite of the severity of the situation. Before the spread of social media and 24-hour news outlets, the UN could argue that it was unaware of human rights violations in the country. But there is currently no excuse for the UN not to act forcefully. While some parties in the war may not give much significance to the UN and its resolutions, any action taken by the international organization to hold the perpetrators accountable would be a blow to their global image and prestige.
The international community can take several steps, most importantly to set up an investigative mechanism
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
The international community can take several steps, most importantly to set up an investigative mechanism. It ought to prioritize and reveal to the world the deteriorating human rights situation in Sudan and how some parties are committing crimes against humanity. The UN must also pressure both sides to cooperate with its Human Rights Council investigation. This includes allowing investigators to enter Sudan, interview people and witness the situation on the ground.
If the warring parties refuse to work with the UN Human Rights Council, its case ought to be immediately referred to the UNSC. This would be a significant warning due to the fact that the council can trigger the rule of “responsibility to protect.” This “embodies a political commitment to end the worst forms of violence and persecution … It seeks to narrow the gap between member states’ preexisting obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law and the reality faced by populations at risk of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.” The responsibility to protect has previously been invoked in more than 80 UNSC resolutions.
A second solution would be to urgently bring both sides of the conflict to the negotiating table. In order to accomplish this objective, the international community can use its political leverage in order to impose diplomatic and economic pressure on the parties involved.
In a nutshell, the UN must act immediately and establish a credible mechanism to investigate the situation in Sudan in order to address the humanitarian crisis and protect people who have been impacted by the civil war.