On October 25, 2021, Sudan’s military seized power from Prime Minister Hamdok, by means of a military coup, dissolved civilian rule, arrested political leaders, and declared a state of emergency. Furthermore, armed forces detained Sudan’s Prime Minister, over his refusal to support the military coup, after weeks of tensions between military and civilian figures in the Sovereign Council.
The military coup jeopardized the years-long transition to civilian-led democracy that began after al-Bashir, whose 30 years rule was marked by famine and alleged war crimes in the country Darfur’s region, was pushed out of power by his own military in 2019.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of the capital Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman to protest against the military coup on 25 October 2021 and protests have been ongoing ever since. People in Sudan have been holding demonstrations to protest against the military’s detention of civilian leaders, including Prime Minister Hamdok. At least four people were killed, and gunfire was used against the civilians.
The relationship between the military generals and Sudanese pro-democracy groups has deteriorated in recent weeks over the country’s future.
Internet and telecoms services have been cut and roads and bridges connecting with Khartoum, the capital, blocked off. Security forces occupied the headquarters of Sudan’s state TV station in the city of Omdurman.
What has been the recent political situation in Sudan?
Military and transitional civilian authorities have ruled together since April 2019 in Sudan, when President Al Bashir was arrested. He is now behind bars in Khartoum`s high-security Kober prison. He is facing the International Criminal Court (ICC) charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sudan`s Darfur region.
A transitional government was set up, called the Sovereign Council, composed of both military and civilian groups after a power-sharing agreement was signed. They have been ruling the country together since April 2019. The country was going through a transitional period until new elections, which were due to take place in early 2023, and the power was then supposed to go back to civilian rule. This transitional period was meant to set the country on the right path.
In recent weeks, with divisions within the military, the deal has encountered several obstacles. A failed military coup in September 2021, which was attributed to al Bashir, caused distrust between the military and civilian groups who were meant to be sharing power in the Sovereign Council. It also encouraged extreme conservative groups who wanted a pure military government.
The Juba Agreement for Peace in Sudan is at stake
The first anniversary of the Juba Peace Agreement, which was signed on August 31, 2020, happened just a few weeks before the military coup undermined the peace process in Sudan, and the generals illegally seized power from the constitutional leader, Prime Minister Hamdok. It is necessary to understand what is at stake in Sudan after the military takeover of power.
The Sudan Troika, composed of the United States, the United Kingdom and Norway, had expressed their serious concerns about the delays in the implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement just two weeks before the military coup took place in Sudan. This included establishing a Peace Commission, a Monitoring and Evaluation Mechanism, a Transitional Legislative Assembly, and establishing the Darfur Security Keeping Forces and the JPA Security arrangements.
Less than 1 percent of the Juba Peace Agreement has been implemented one year after it was signed, this was the statement issued by the Darfur displaced people on the first anniversary of the Juba Peace Agreement. More resources are required for the implementation.
More needs to be done in terms of the security arrangements, the extradition of wanted persons to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the return of the Darfur displaced and refugees to their places of origin. The most important clauses of the agreement represented in the security arrangements have not been implemented and towns and villages in the region remain unsafe until now. The most crucial part is the demilitarization of the many armed groups in the area, which has not begun yet. There has been a delayed start to the transitional justice program and the voluntary return program for the displaced people and refugees, which involves reconstructing the many destroyed villages and removing the foreign settlers from the lands. The ongoing insecurity is still preventing people from cultivating their farms and leaving their villages.
After the military coup on 26 October 2021, everything is at stake and the transitional process towards democracy and new elections seems seriously in peril. Sudan has made great progress in moving in the right direction with the support of the international community, however the unexpected military coup is having a negative impact on the efforts of the Sudanese people as well as on the peace process.
If you want to read more about the Juba Peace Agreement for Peace in Sudan, from a constitutional law point of view, I recommend this excellent paper to you, prepared by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance and funded by the European Union. https://www.idea.int/sites/default/files/publications/the-juba-agreement-for-peace-in-sudan-en.pdf.
What are the immediate financial consequences of the military coup in Sudan?
The United States cut off $700 million in emergency assistance to Sudan immediately after the military coup was announced. The State Department announced it was pausing the $700 million in direct economic support funding to Sudan’s government. This amount, which Congress approved in a budget bill last year, was “intended to support the country’s democratic transition, and has not been distributed yet.”
The State Department also did not rule out imposing sanctions against military leaders if needed, and said that the Biden administration may need to reevaluate “our entire relationship with this entity in Sudan”.
The U.S. Government is legally required to cut off foreign aid to countries where the military wrest power from an elected leader. Sudan is already subject to coup-based restrictions on foreign aid, dating back to Al-Bashir’s seizure of power in 1989.
Relations between the United States and Sudan have gradually improved over the last year. The Trump Administration removed Sudan from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, allowing it to access international loans and assistance and, in exchange, the Sudanese government paid $335 million to victims of al-Qaeda terror attacks on U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1988. Sudan had been on the list of state sponsors of terrorism for 27 years, after al-Bashir allowed refuge to Osama bin Laden in Sudan in the 1990s.
What has the international reaction been to the new military coup in Sudan?
UN Secretary-General, António Gueterras condemned the ongoing military coup in Sudan, saying Prime Minister Hamdok and all other officials “must be released immediately”. He further called for the “immediate reconstruction” of the government that was due to guide Sudan through to democratic elections. Prime Minister Hamdok is now under house arrest, while the other civilian leaders remain in detention.
The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted and published a statement on October 29, 2021, and called upon the Sudan’s military authorities to restore the civilian-led transitional government on the basis of the Constitutional Document and the Juba Peace Agreement, which underpin Sudan’s democratic transition. The Security Council expressed its “serious concern about the military takeover in Sudan”. The Security Council also called for the “immediate release of all those who have been detained by the military authorities” and states that it “took note of the reported return of Prime Minister Hamdok to his residence” although he is still under house arrest and his freedom of movement has been seriously restricted.
The United Nations Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to Sudan, and Head of the UNITAMS Peacekeeping Operation in Sudan, Volker Perthes, called the detention of civilian leaders, including Prime Minister Hamdok, “unacceptable”, “and all parties must immediately return to dialogue and engage in good faith to restore the constitutional order.”
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, also condemned the military coup. She stated that “these actions threaten the Juba Peace Agreement and jeopardize the important progress made towards democracy and respect for human rights.” She further called on the military authorities to abide by the constitutional order and international law, withdraw from the streets, and resolve any differences with civilian leaders serving on the Transitional Council through dialogue and negotiation.
Friends of Sudan, composed of France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Italy, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, Canada, the European Union, and the United Nations, also strongly condemned the ongoing military takeover. They called for the release of illegally detained officials and for the restoration of transitional arrangements and institutions as stipulated in the Constitutional Document.
The EU Foreign Affairs Chief, Josep Borrel, said that he was following events in the northeast African national with the “utmost concern”.
The Arab League expressed “deep concern” about the military coup. Ahmed About Gheit, the Secretary General of the Arab League, urged all parties to “fully abide” by the constitutional declaration signed in August 2019, which aimed for transition to civilian rule and new elections.
Sudan has started down a dangerous path. The country is one of the poorest countries in the world, with one of the highest inflation figures of 382 per cent, and the economy will likely get even weaker. Having succeeded in unblocking debt relief, Prime Minister Hamdok had hoped that further reforms would bring in investment to help reduce mass unemployment among the Sudanese youth. Now this hope is gone. There was also hope for a better future, based upon the Juba Peace Agreement and the transitional period for democracy. Sudan has barely known peace since its independence in 1956, in part to due efforts by the center to exercise absolute control over a very diverse country.
This is a dangerous moment not only for Sudan but also for its neighbors. One of Africa’s largest countries, Sudan borders seven other states and has geopolitical importance when it comes to accessing the Horn of Africa, North Africa and the Sahel. Its geopolitical importance is growing among rival military powers along the Red Sea and Islamist military groups in the Sahel. An unstable Sudan would be a further setback for the region. All efforts should be made to stop this from happening.
To sum up, much is at stake.