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Sudan: Joint Letter Calling for Independent UN Mechanism To Advance Accountability For International Crimes

The Human Rights Council should establish an independent mechanism on Sudan

 Smoke billowing in Khartoum North amid ongoing fighting in Sudan, July 18, 2023.  © 2023 AFP via Getty Images

To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (Geneva, Switzerland)


Following the outbreak of armed conflict in Khartoum and other areas of Sudan, on April 15, 2023, over one hundred civil society organisations called on States to convene a special session of the UN Human Rights Council and to establish an inde­pendent mechanism tasked with investigating human rights vio­lations and abuses com­mitted by all parties and advancing accountability in Sudan.[1]

During a special session held on May 11, 2023, the Council adopted resolution S-36/1,[2] which enhanced the mandate of the designated Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Expert on Sudan. The resolution also enhanced monitoring and documentation of human rights violations and abuses committed since the October 25, 2021 military takeover, including those arising directly from the current conflict, as well as reporting to the Council.

Since the Council acted, however, violence has continued to escalate. Fighting between the Su­danese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) shows no sign of abating.[3] Human rights vio­la­tions and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict have had a serious impact on civilians, with thousands now reported dead, injured, or missing.[4] Actual figures are likely to be much higher.[5] Millions are experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity.[6]

In West Darfur, the violence has taken on an increasingly inter-ethnic dimension that is reminiscent of the crimes com­mitted twenty years ago, some of which may amount to crimes under international law.[7] The RSF and their allied Arab militias have deliberately targeted non-Arab communities, notably the Massalit ethnic group, and destroyed displacement camps and sites, killing, and injuring civilians, including those who were flee­ing to Chad. Assailants also raped and gang raped dozens of women and girls,[8] while also targeting human rights defenders, including lawyers.[9] Civilian casualties are also reported in other parts of Darfur, inc­luding South and North Darfur, where the risk of further harm to displaced communities inhabiting the area warrants greater attention.

The Council’s call in May for a cessation of violence, the establishment of full, safe, and unhindered hu­man­itarian access, the rehabilitation of basic infrastructure, a negotiated resolution of the conflict, and a recommit­ment to Sudan’s civilian-led transition[10] remains unheeded. Civilians, in particular women and girls, who are at signi­ficant risk of sexual and gender-based violence throughout the country,[11] continue to bear the brunt of the conflict.

Impunity is at the heart of the current crisis, and addressing it should be a priority. The failure of the in­ter­national community to hold accountable those responsible for international crimes in Darfur decades ago has sent a dangerous message to all parties that they can continue to commit crimes with impunity. Though the UN Security Council referred the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC),[12] the Council’s passivity in the face of Khartoum’s obstruction to the investigation sharply limited progress on cases, especially enforcing the arrest warrants issued by the ICC and gaining custody of fugitives, including former president Omar al-Bashir.

~     ~     ~

The UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, the OHCHR, and the UN Special Representative for Sudan have all emphasised the preventive value of holding perpetrators to account, with the former stressing that “[w]hen perpetrators of past atro­cities are not held accountable for their action, we are doo­med to see history repeat itself. We need to un­equi­vocally support accountability processes as we witness the resumption of violence across Sudan, including in Darfur, Blue Nile, and North and South Kordofan states.”[13]

African bodies and mechanisms made strong pronouncements in support of investigations and account­ability for grave violations. These include the Intergov­er­n­mental Au­thority on Develop­ment (IGAD), the African Union (AU), and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). In a Com­muniqué, the IGAD Quartet Group of Countries for the Reso­lu­tion of the Situation in the Republic of Sudan said it was “[a]ppalled by the reports of widespread serious human rights abuses including sexual violence targeting girls and women” and “[committed] to work closely with the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity to put in place a robust monitoring and accountability mecha­nism that will be ins­tru­mental in bringing perpetrators to justice.”[14]

In a statement to the AU Peace and Security Council, the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, warned that “the risk of ethnic and racial tension and conflicts between local communities around the country is great” and that “[t]he longer the fighting continues, the greater the risk of a complete collapse of Sudan.” Regarding protection of civilians, he added: “We should coordinate the recording of any breaches […] and warn all parties about the risks they are exposing themselves to, in case of esta­bli­shed violations.”[15]

Last, in a resolution adopted at its 76th session, the ACHPR said it was “[a]larmed by the many violations taking place in the country, including excessive use of force, extrajudicial, arbitrary or summary exe­cu­tions, unlawful killings, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, ill-treatment and enforced disappearance, sexual and gender-based violence, violations of freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, economic and social rights, as well as inter-communal violence” and called on the African Union to take urgent measures to put an end to the conflict in Sudan and restore peace and stability, including, “[putting] in place a mechanism for monitoring, documenting and reporting on the perpetration of human rights and international humanitarian law violations by the warring parties inclu­ding with particular attention to the situation in Darfur.”[16]

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In this context, and in line with the Council’s mandate to prevent violations and to respond promp­tly to human rights emer­­gen­cies, the Human Rights Council should strengthen its action on Sudan. At its upcoming 54th session (11 September 11 - October 13, 2023), it should adopt a resolution establi­shing, without fur­ther delay, an independent mechanism with a mandate, among other ele­ments, to:

(a) Undertake a thorough investigation into all alleged violations and abuses of international hu­man rights law, violations of international humanitarian law and related crimes in Sudan, inclu­ding those constituting crimes under international law;

(b) Esta­blish the facts, circumstances, and root causes of any such violations and abuses;

(c) Col­lect, con­­so­lidate, analyse and preserve evidence, including of sexual and gender-based vio­lence and eth­nic vio­lence, with a view to ending impunity and supporting future legal proceedings;

(d) Identify, where possible, those individuals and entities responsible; and

(e) Provide guidance on justice, inc­lu­ding criminal accountability, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence.

As has been the case with other Council-established mechanisms, the mechanism on Sudan should be provided with all the administrative, technical, and logistical support and person­nel necessary to ena­ble it to carry out its mandate, in particular in the areas of fact-finding, legal ana­lysis, trans­lation and interpretation, and evidence-collection and preservation, including regar­ding sexual and gender-based violence and specialized ballistic and forensic expertise.

The mecha­nism should integrate a gender perspective and a survivor-centred approach throughout its work and ensure the complementarity and coordination of its effort with other efforts of the Uni­ted Na­tions, the African Union, and other appropriate regional and international entities.

We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information as required.


  1. Act for Sudan
  2. ActionAid
  3. Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture in the Central African Republic (ACAT-RCA)
  4. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
  5. African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS)
  6. AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
  7. Algerian Human Rights Network (Réseau Algérien des Droits de l’Homme)
  8. Amnesty International
  9. Angolan Human Rights Defenders Coalition 
  10. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  11. Atrocities Watch Africa (AWA)
  12. Beam Reports – Sudan
  13. Belarusian Helsinki Committee
  14. Belgrade Centre for Human Rights
  15. Borderline-Europe – Menschenrechte ohne Grenzen e.V.
  16. Burkinabè Human Rights Defenders Coalition (CBDDH)
  17. Burundian Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (CBDDH)
  18. Cabo Verdean Network of Human Rights Defenders (RECADDH)
  19. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  20. Cameroon Women’s Peace Movement (CAWOPEM)
  21. Central African Network of Human Rights Defenders (REDHAC)
  22. Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) – Mozambique 
  23. Centre de Formation et de Documentation sur les Droits de l’Homme (CDFDH) – Togo
  25. Coalition of Human Rights Defenders-Benin (CDDH-Bénin)
  26. Collectif Urgence Darfour
  27. Confederation of Sudanese Civil Society Organizations
  28. Consortium of Ethiopian Human Rights Organizations (CEHRO)
  29. CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide)
  30. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  31. EEPA – Europe External Programme with Africa
  32. Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Center (EHRDC)
  33. FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights)
  34. Forum pour le Renforcement de la Société Civile (FORSC) – Burundi
  35. Gender Centre for Empowering Development (GenCED) – Ghana
  36. Gisa Group – Sudan
  37. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect 
  38. Gulf Centre for Human Rights
  39. Horn of Africa Civil Society Forum (HoA Forum)
  40. Human Rights Defenders Coalition Malawi
  41. Human Rights Defenders Network – Sierra Leone
  42. Human Rights House Foundation
  43. Human Rights Watch
  44. Institut des Médias pour la Démocratie et les Droits de l’Homme (IM2DH) – Togo 
  45. International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI)
  46. International Commission of Jurists
  47. The International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Africa
  48. Interfaith International
  49. International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI)
  50. International Service for Human Rights
  51. Ivorian Human Rights Defenders Coalition (CIDDH)
  52. Jews Against Genocide
  53. Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) – Sudan
  54. Justice Africa Sudan
  55. Justice Center for Advocacy and Legal Consultations – Sudan  
  56. Libyan Human Rights Clinic (LHRC)
  57. Malian Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (COMADDH)
  58. MENA Rights Group
  59. Mozambique Human Rights Defenders Network (MozambiqueDefenders – RMDDH)
  60. NANHRI – Network of African National Human Rights Institutions 
  61. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Kenya
  62. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Somalia
  63. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders-Uganda (NCHRD-U)
  64. Network of Human Rights Journalists (NHRJ) – The Gambia
  65. Network of the Independent Commission for Human Rights in North Africa (CIDH Africa)
  66. Never Again Coalition
  67. New Sudan Council of Churches
  68. Nigerien Human Rights Defenders Network (RNDDH)
  69. Pathways for Women’s Empowerment and Development (PaWED) – Cameroon
  70. PAX Netherlands
  71. PEN Belarus
  72. Physicians for Human Rights
  73. POS Foundation – Ghana
  74. Project Expedite Justice
  75. Protection International Africa
  77. Regional Centre for Training and Development of Civil Society (RCDCS) – Sudan
  78. Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme (RADDHO)
  79. Réseau des Citoyens Probes (RCP) – Burundi
  80. Rights Georgia
  81. Rights for Peace
  82. Rights Realization Centre (RRC) – United Kingdom
  83. Salam for Democracy and Human Rights
  84. Society for Threatened Peoples
  85. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (Southern Defenders)
  86. South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network (SSHRDN)
  87. Stop Genocide Now
  88. Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA)
  89. Sudanese American Medical Association (SAMA)
  90. Sudanese American Physicians Association (SAPA)
  91. Sudanese American Public Affairs Association (SAPAA)
  92. Sudanese Defenders Center for Legal Aid
  93. Sudanese Human Rights Initiative (SHRI)
  94. Sudanese Human Rights Monitor (SHRM)
  95. Sudanese Lawyers Democratic Front
  96. Sudanese Women Rights Action
  97. Sudan Evangelical Community Council   
  98. Sudan Human Rights Hub
  99. Sudan NextGen Organization (SNG)
  100. Sudan’s Doctors for Human Rights
  101. Sudan Social Development Organisation
  102. Sudan Unlimited
  103. SUDO UK
  104. The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)
  105. Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC)
  106. The Institute for Social Accountability (TISA)
  107. Togolese Human Rights Defenders Coalition (CTDDH)
  108. Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH)
  109. Waging Peace
  110. Women Civil & Political Groups (Mansam)
  111. World Council of Churches
  112. World Evangelical Alliance
  113. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
  114. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights


[1] See DefendDefenders et al., “Sudan: Urgently convene a special session of the Human Rights Council and establish an investigative mechanism,”  April 26, 2023,;  Hilary Power, Floraine Borel, “UN Human Rights Council Should Respond to Sudan Crisis,”  April 28, 2023, (accessed on 24 August 2023).

[2] Human Rights Council, “36th special session of the Human Rights Council on the human rights impact of the ongoing conflict in the Sudan - 11 May 2023,” Resolution S-36/1,

[3] Sudan Tribune, “Clashes escalate as Sudanese army and RSF vie for armoured corps control,” August 22, 2023, (accessed on 24 August 2023).

[5]  “Sudan war’s death toll in Khartoum is double official figures, independent tallies show,” Reuters, July 28, 2023, (accessed on 24 August 2023). See also African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS), “Urgent call to Sudanese authorities, RSF and SAF to account for thousands of citizens who have gone missing since the armed conflict erupted,” June 28, 2023, (accessed on 24 August 2023).

[6] France 24, “More than six million people ‘one step away from famine’ in Sudan,” August 3, 2023, (accessed on 24 August 2023). For an overview of the humanitarian situation see, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “Sudan,” (accessed on 24 August 2023).

[7]“Darfur: Rapid Support Forces, Allied Militias Rape Dozens,” Human Rights Watch news release, August 17, 2023, ; Al Jazeera, “Is history repeating itself in Darfur?” July 6, 2023, (accessed on 24 August 2023).

[8] Amnesty International, “Sudan: ‘Death came to our home’; War crimes and civilian suffering in Sudan,” August 3, 2023, ; Human Rights Watch, “Darfur: Rapid Support Forces, Allied Militias Rape Dozens,”.

[9] Radio Dabanga, “DBA: Four lawyers slain in West Darfur ‘deliberately targeted’,” June 21, 2023, (accessed on August 24 2023).

[10] Human Rights Council, “36th special session of the Human Rights Council on the human rights impact of the ongoing conflict in the Sudan - 11 May 2023,” Resolution S-36/1, para 2.

[11] UN News, “Rape by Sudan’s RSF militia used to ‘punish and terrorise’ warn rights experts,” August 17, 2023, (accessed on 24 August 2023).

[12] With resolution 1564 (2004), the UN Security Council requested, inter alia, that the Secretary-General establish an international commission of inquiry to investigate reports of violations of [international law] in Darfur by all parties; United Nations Security Council, “ Resolution 1564 (2004) / adopted by the Security Council at its 5040th meeting,” adopted September 18, 2004, ; International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur, “Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur to the United Nations Secretary-General,” . In 2005, the Security Council referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC. See ICC, “Darfur, Sudan: Situation in Darfur, Sudan ICC-02/05,” 2005,
The Human Rights Council held a special session on 12-13 December 2006 and adopted decision S-4/101, which mandated a High-Level Mission to assess the human rights situation in Darfur and the needs of the Sudan in this regard.  Human Rights Council, “4th Special session of the Human Rights Council on the human rights situation in Darfur, Geneva, 12- 13 December 2006,”

[13] “Protect civilians and respect international humanitarian law, says UN Special Adviser as she raises alarm on Sudan conflict: Statement by Alice Wairimu Nderitu, United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, on the conflict in Sudan,” United Nations Press Release, June 13, 2023, (accessed on 28 August 2023).

[14] IGAD, “Communiqué of the 1st Meeting of the IGAD Quartet Group of Countries for the Resolution of the Situation in the Republic of Sudan,” July 10, 2023, 

[15] African Union, “Statement of H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the Commission, on the Situation in the Sudan,” May 27, 2023, (accessed on 24 August 2023). Also see the “Communiqué of the 1156th meeting of the PSC, held at the level of Heads of State and Government, on 27 May 2023, on the Situation in Sudan,” May 29, 2023, (accessed on August 24 2023).
On 19 June 2023, during the Human Rights Council’s 53rd session, High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said that “[t]he people of Sudan were suffering, immeasurably” and that “[t]he reckless, senseless conflict was taking place in a context of total impunity.” He added that Sudan faced “a human rights and humanitarian crisis […] unfolding at an alarming rate, on a devastating scale and with a complexity not seen before in Sudan”. OHCHR, “High Commissioner for Human Rights: the Reckless, Senseless Conflict in Sudan Has Resulted in a Human Rights and Humanitarian Crisis that Is Unfolding at an Alarming Rate and on a Devastating Scale,” June 19, 2023, (accessed on 23 August 2023).

[16] ACHPR, “Resolution on the serious deterioration of the human rights situation in the Republic of the Sudan as a result of the continuation of the war that broke out on 15 April 2023 – ACHPR/Res.563 (LXXVI) 2023,” August 2 2023, available at:

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