The African Union logo outside the AU headquarters building in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (Credit: REUTERS)

HRW urges AU to roll out civilian protection mission, ensure Sudan probe

The African Union (AU) should work with the United Nations to deploy a civilian protection mission to address ongoing atrocities across Sudan, notably in Darfur, and act to ensure strong human rights investigations, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday.

According to a statement extended to Radio Tamazuj, the rights body said the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) member states meeting on June 21, 2024, should commit to concrete steps to keep civilians safe and ensure accountability as the risk of further atrocities against civilians in El Fasher, North Darfur’s capital, and other conflict-affected areas of the country keep rising.

“The AU Peace and Security Council’s recent request for actions by other AU bodies is a long-awaited positive step to addressing one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises,” said Allan Ngari, Africa advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “At its next meeting, the Peace and Security Council should spell out what urgent steps it plans to take to ensure the deployment of a United Nations-backed civilian protection mission and to support investigations by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.” 

According to the statement, the June 21 heads-of-state meeting takes place as the devastating war between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and their allies has now gone unabated for 14 months. Both parties have been responsible for serious international humanitarian law violations, including obstruction of aid and sexual abuse. In addition, the RSF and allied forces have carried out deliberate attacks on civilians which amount to crimes against humanity and widespread war crimes against the ethnic Massalit and other non-Arab communities in West Darfur state. 

“As the conflict rages, civilians in other parts of the country are also facing widespread violations. On June 5, an RSF attack on a village in Central Sudan reportedly killed dozens of people, including children. Approximately 10 million people have been displaced due to the conflict, according to the UN,” the statement read in part. “On May 21, the Peace and Security Council requested that the High-Level Panel on the Resolution of the Conflict in Sudan collaborate with the new AU special envoy for the prevention of genocide, H.E. Adama Dieng, to develop a strategy to stop atrocities and protect civilians.”

“It also expressed grave concern over events in El-Fasher, sounding the alarm about the ‘imminent danger that the escalating conflict poses to civilians, including the increasing likelihood of grave atrocities.’ It called on warring parties to lift the siege on the city and guarantee humanitarian access,” it added. 

HRW said that at its June 21 meeting, the Peace and Security Council should follow up on requests to and commitments by AU entities. Additionally, it should commit to regular meetings on the situation in Sudan to ensure a prompt development and rollout of a civilian protection plan and investigations by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), a quasi-judicial mechanism tasked with promoting and protecting human and collective rights in Africa. The council should prioritize engagement with the UN secretary-general, following the June 13 UN Security Council resolution 2736 on Sudan, which requested that he, in “consultation” with “regional stakeholders … make further recommendations for the protection of civilians in Sudan.” 

Given the scale and nature of the abuses in Darfur, the AU should urgently work with the UN to deploy a civilian protection mission, Human Rights Watch said.

“The African Union response has failed to mirror the magnitude of events unfolding in Sudan, and yet it has all the tools at its disposal to act to protect civilians,” Ngari said. “AU leaders should demonstrate that they are committed to preventing further atrocities against civilians on the continent.”