Damaged buildings are seen following clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in South Khartoum locality – Reuters

Sudan: Urgently convene a special session and establish an investigative mechanism

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program, United Nations Human Rights Council by CIHRS

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


In light of the unfolding human rights crisis in Sudan, and notwithstanding efforts to stop the fighting by the African Union (AU), the Intergov­er­n­mental Authority on Development (IGAD) and other regional and international actors, we, the un­der­­signed non-gov­ern­­men­tal organisations, are writing to urge your dele­gation to address the hu­man rights dimensions of Sudan’s crisis by supporting the convening of a spe­cial session of the UN Human Rights Council.

In line with the Council’s mandate to prevent violations and to respond promptly to human rights emer­­gen­cies, States have a res­ponsi­bility to act by convening a special session and establishing an investigative and account­ability mechanism into all alle­ged human rights violations in Sudan.

We urge your delegation to support the adoption of a resolution that requests the UN High Com­mis­­sio­ner for Human Rights to urgently organize an independent mecha­nism to investi­gate human rights violations and advance accountability in Sudan, whose work would complement the work of the designated Expert on Sudan.

On 15 April 2023, explo­sions and gunfire were heard as violence erupted in Khartoum and other Sudanese cities between the Sudanese Ar­med Forces (SAF) led by Sudan’s current head of state as Chairperson of the Sovereign Council (SC), Ge­neral Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, and a paramilitary group, the Ra­pid Sup­port Forces (RSF), led by General Moha­med Hamdan Dagalo (also known as “Hemedti”).

As of 25 April 2023, at midnight, a 72-hour ceasefire has been announced. The death toll, however, is estimated at over 400 civi­lians, with thousands injured. Actual figures are likely to be much higher as most of Khar­toum’s hospitals have been forced to close[1] and civilians injured during the crossfire can­not be rescued. Millions of residents are trapped in their homes, running out of water, food and medical sup­­plies as electricity is cut and violence is raging in the streets of Khartoum. Banks have been closed and mobile money services severely restricted, which limits access to cash, including salary and remit­tan­ces. Diplomats and humanitarians have been attacked.[2] The fighting has spread to other cities and regions, including Darfur, threat­ening to esca­late into full-blown conflict.[3]

In a Com­mu­niqué, the AU Peace and Security Council noted “with grave concern and alarm the deadly clashes […], which have reached a dangerous level and could escalate into a full-blown conflict,” “strongly condemned the ongoing armed confrontation” and called for “an immediate ceasefire by the two parties without conditions, in the supreme interest of Sudan and its people in order to avoid further bloodshed and harm to […] civilians.”[4]

In light of these developments, we urge your delegation to support the adoption of a resolution du­ring a spe­cial session on the unfolding human rights crisis in Sudan, which, among other actions:

  • Requests the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to urgently organize on the most expe­ditious basis possible an independent investigative mechanism, com­pri­sing three exis­ting international and regional human rights experts, for a period of one year, rene­wable as necessary, and complementing, conso­lida­ting and building upon the work of the desi­gnated Expert on Human Rights in the Sudan and the country office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, with the following mandate:
    • To undertake a thorough investigation into alleged violations and abuses of inter­na­tional hu­man rights law and violations of international humanitarian law and related crimes committed by all parties in Sudan since 25 October 2021, including on their possible gender dimensions, their extent, and whether they may constitute international crimes, with a view to preventing further deterioration of the human rights situation;
    • To establish the facts, circumstances and root causes of any such violations and abu­­ses, to collect, consolidate, analyze and preserve documentation and evidence, and to iden­tify, where possible, those individuals and entities responsible;
    • To make such information accessible and usable in support of ongoing and future account­ability efforts, and to formulate recommendations on steps to be taken to gua­ran­tee that the authors of these violations and abuses are held accountable for their acts and to end the cycle of impunity in Sudan;
    • To provide guidance on justice, including criminal accountability, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence;
    • To integrate a gender perspective and a survivor-centred approach throughout its work;
    • To engage with Sudanese parties and all other stakeholders, in particular United Nations agencies, civil society, refugees, the designated Expert on Human Rights in the Sudan, the field presence of the Office of the High Com­missioner in Sudan, African Union bodies and the Intergovernmental Authority on Deve­lop­ment, in order to provide the support and exper­tise for the immediate impro­ve­ment of the situation of human rights and the fight against impunity; and
    • To ensure the complementarity and coordination of this effort with other efforts of the United Nations, the African Union and other appropriate regional and international en­tities, drawing on the expertise of, inter alia, the African Union and the African Com­mission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to the extent practicable;
  • Decides to enhance the interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, cal­led for by the Human Rights Council in its resolution 50/1, at its 53rd session so as to include the participation of other stakeholders, in particular representatives of the African Union, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and civil society;
  • Requests the independent investigative mechanism to present an oral briefing to the Human Rights Council at its 54th and 55th sessions, and a comprehensive written report at its 56th ses­sion, and to present its report to the General Assembly and other relevant international bodies; and
  • Requests the Secretary-General to provide all the resources and expertise necessary to enable the Office of the High Commissioner to provide such administrative, technical and logistical support as is required to implement the provisions of the present resolution, in particular in the areas of fact-finding, legal analysis and evidence-collection, including regarding sexual and gender-based violence and specialized ballistic and forensic expertise.

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


  1. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
  2. African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS)
  3. AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
  4. Algerian Human Rights Network (Réseau Algérien des Droits de l’Homme)
  5. Amnesty International
  6. Beam Reports
  7. Burkinabè Human Rights Defenders Coalition (CBDDH)
  8. Burundian Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (CBDDH)
  9. Cabo Verdean Network of Human Rights Defenders (RECADDH)
  10. Cameroon Women’s Peace Movement (CAWOPEM)
  11. Centre de Formation et de Documentation sur les Droits de l’Homme (CDFDH) – Togo
  13. Coalition of Human Rights Defenders-Benin (CDDH-Bénin)
  14. Collectif Urgence Darfour
  15. CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide)
  16. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  17. EEPA – Europe External Programme with Africa
  18. Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Center (EHRDC)
  19. FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights)
  20. Forum pour le Renforcement de la Société Civile (FORSC) – Burundi
  21. Gisa Group – Sudan
  22. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  23. Horn of Africa Civil Society Forum (HoA Forum)
  24. Human Rights Defenders Network – Sierra Leone
  25. Institut des Médias pour la Démocratie et les Droits de l’Homme (IM2DH) – Togo
  26. International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI)
  27. International Commission of Jurists
  28. International Service for Human Rights
  29. Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) – Sudan
  30. Justice Africa Sudan
  31. Justice Center for Advocacy and Legal Consultations – Sudan
  32. Libyan Human Rights Clinic (LHRC)
  33. MENA Rights Group
  34. NANHRI – Network of African National Human Rights Institutions
  35. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Kenya
  36. Network of Human Rights Journalists (NHRJ) – The Gambia
  37. Network of the Independent Commission for Human Rights in North Africa (CIDH Africa)
  38. Never Again Coalition
  39. Nigerien Human Rights Defenders Network (RNDDH)
  40. Pathways for Women’s Empowerment and Development (PaWED) – Cameroon
  41. Physicians for Human Rights
  42. Project Expedite Justice
  44. Regional Centre for Training and Development of Civil Society (RCDCS) – Sudan
  45. Réseau des Citoyens Probes (RCP) – Burundi
  46. Rights Realization Centre (RRC) – United Kingdom
  47. Salam for Democracy and Human Rights
  48. Sudanese American Medical Association (SAMA) – USA
  49. Sudanese American Public Affairs Association (SAPAA)
  50. Sudanese Women Rights Action
  51. Sudan Human Rights Hub
  52. Sudan NextGen Organization (SNG) – USA
  53. The Institute for Social Accountability (TISA)
  54. Togolese Human Rights Defenders Coalition (CTDDH)
  55. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
  56. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

Annex: Key human rights issues in Sudan, pre-15 April 2023

Sudan’s human rights situ­ation has been of utmost concern for decades. In successive letters to Per­ma­nent Missions to the UN Human Rights Council, Sudanese and international civil society groups highlighted out­stan­ding human rights concerns dating back to the pre-2019 era, including near-complete impunity for grave human rights violations and abuses, some of which amounting to crimes under international law.

Civil society organisations also attempted to draw attention to post-2019 human rights issues, including the brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters during and after the 2018-2019 pea­ceful popular protests and after the military coup of 25 October 2021. They repeatedly called for ongoing mul­­ti­­lateral action, stress­ing that as the UN’s top human rights body, the Council had a responsibility to en­sure scrutiny of Sudan’s human rights situ­a­tion and to support the Sudanese people’s demands for free­­dom, justice, and peace.[5]

During a special session held on 5 November 2021, the Council adopted a resolution re­ques­ting the High Commis­sioner to designate an Expert on Human Rights in the Sudan. As per resolution S-32/1, which was adopted by consensus, the Expert’s mandate will be ongoing “until the restoration of [Sudan’s] civi­lian-led Govern­ment.” [6] As per Council resolution 50/1, also adopted by consensus, in July 2022,[7] the Council requested the presentation of written reports and the holding of additional debates on Sudan’s human rights situation.

The violence that erupted on 15 April 2023, which resulted from per­sisting disagreements regarding secu­rity and military reforms and unaddressed issues of ac­count­ability of secu­rity forces and lack of security sector reform,[8] came against a backdrop of severe restrictions on human rights and fundamental free­­doms.[9]

Prior to 15 April 2023, observers’ and civil society actors’ fears of a deterioration of the situation, inc­lu­ding in the form of an in­­ten­­sified crackdown on peaceful protesters in Khartoum and violence in the capital and in the conflict areas of Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan, as well as in Eastern Sudan, were well founded. These fears were made credible by the history of vio­lence and abuse that charac­terises Sudan’s armed and security forces, including the SAF, the RSF, and the General Intelligence Service (GIS) (the new name of the infamous Natio­nal Intelligence and Security Service (NISS)).

Since the 25 October 2021 coup, de facto authorities systematically used excessive and sometimes lethal force, as well as arbitrary detention to crack down on public assemblies.[10] The situation was par­ticularly dire for women and girls, who face discriminatory laws, policies, and prac­tices, as well as sexual and gen­der-based violence, inc­lu­ding rape and the threat of rape in relation to protests and con­flict-related sexual violence in Sudan’s conflict areas.

National investigative bodies, such as the committee set up to investigate the 3 June 2019 massacre in Khartoum,[11] had failed to publish any findings or identify any perpetrators.

The situation in Darfur, 20 years after armed conflict broke out between the Sudanese government and rebel groups,[12] remained particularly concerning.[13] Intercommunal and localised violence in Darfur, South Kordo­fan, and Blue Nile had escalated since October 2021, resulting in civilian casualties, des­truction of property and human rights violations. Emergency laws and regu­la­tions remained in place, stif­ling the work of inde­pen­dent ac­tors. In Blue Nile State, fighting had increased in scope and expanded to new areas.[14]

Cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments that were common in the Al-Bashir regime were still being handed out by the courts of laws.[15] Through­out the country, the Hu­ma­nitarian Aid Com­mis­sion (HAC) continued to unduly restrict the ope­rations of civil society orga­ni­sa­tions, including through burdensome regis­tration and re-registration requirements, res­tric­tions to movement, and surveil­lance.

These added to long-standing, unaddressed human rights issues UN actors, experts, and independent hu­man rights orga­nisations identified during the three decades of the Al-Bashir regime. Among these issues, impu­nity for grave human rights violations and abuses remains near-complete.[16]

As of early April 2023, the country was in a phase of political dialogue. On 5 December 2022, the Suda­­nese military and ci­vi­lian representatives, including the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), which played a key role in the 2018-2019 revolution, signed a preliminary agreement, known as the Political Frame­work Agree­ment. The agreement was supposed to be a first step in paving the way for a compre­hen­sive agree­ment on the transition, which was supposed to be led by civilians and lead to the holding of elections at the end of a two-year period. The agreement, however, excluded key issues such as jus­tice and account­abi­lity.[17] Strong disagreements persisted regarding key security and military reforms. Influential actors, inc­lu­ding major political parties and the resistance committees, rejected the deal al­together.

The political stalemate and mounting tensions also threatened the implementation of the Juba Peace Agree­ment, signed on 3 October 2020 between the then Transitional Government and parties to the peace process, including armed groups that were involved in the conflicts that have affected several of Sudan’s regional States in the last three decades.

[1] BBC, “Sudan fighting: Diplomats and foreign nationals evacuated,” 24 April 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-65363586 (accessed on 24 April 2023). See also RFI, “Dozens dead in Sudan as army factions struggle for control of Khartoum,” 17 April 2023, https://www.rfi.fr/en/africa/20230417-dozens-dead-in-sudan-as-army-factions-struggle-for-control-of-khartoum (accessed on 24 April 2023).
[2] African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS), “Update on the armed conflict between Rapid Support Forces and Sudanese Armed Forces in Sudan,” 23 April 2023, http://www.acjps.org/update-on-the-armed-conflict-between-rapid-support-forces-and-sudanese-armed-forces-in-sudan/ (accessed on 24 April 2023).
[3] See Annex for an overview of Sudan’s human rights situation prior to 15 April 2023.
[4] PSC/PR/COMM.1149 (2023), available at: https://www.peaceau.org/en/article/communique-adopted-by-the-peace-and-security-council-psc-of-the-african-union-au-at-its-1149th-meeting-held-on-16-april-2023-on-briefing-on-the-situation-in-sudan (accessed on 25 April 2023).
[5] For an overview of long-standing, unaddressed human rights issues in Sudan, see civil society letters, including: DefendDefenders et al., “Sudan: Ensure continued public debates on the human rights situation,” 19 May 2022, https://defenddefenders.org/sudan-public-debates-on-the-human-rights-situation-are-needed/; “Sudan: The UN Human Rights Council should act urgently and hold a special session,” 28 October 2021, https://defenddefenders.org/sudan-the-un-human-rights-council-should-act-urgently-and-hold-a-special-session/; “The Human Rights Council should extend its support to, and scrutiny of, Sudan,” 10 September 2021, https://defenddefenders.org/the-human-rights-council-should-extend-its-support-to-and-scrutiny-of-sudan/; “The Human Rights Council should support systemic human rights reforms in Sudan,” 9 September 2020, https://defenddefenders.org/the-human-rights-council-should-support-human-rights-reforms-in-sudan/; “Sudan: Ensuring a credible response by the UN Human Rights Council at its 42nd session,” 3 September 2019, https://defenddefenders.org/sudan-ensuring-a-credible-response-by-the-un-human-rights-council/; “Killings of Peaceful Sudanese Democracy Protesters Demand Accountability: Urgent International Action Needed to Prevent Further,” 6 June 2019, Violence https://defenddefenders.org/sudan-urgent-international-action-needed-to-prevent-further-violence-ensure-accountability/; “Addressing the serious human rights and humanitarian situation in Sudan,” 4 September 2018, https://defenddefenders.org/hrc39-addressing-the-serious-human-rights-and-humanitarian-situation-in-sudan/ (all accessed on 13 April 2023).
[6] DefendDefenders, “The UN Human Rights Council takes a step to address the crisis in Sudan,” 5 November 2021, https://defenddefenders.org/the-un-human-rights-council-takes-a-step-to-address-the-crisis-in-sudan/ (accessed 13 April 2023). HRC resolution S-32/1 is available at https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G21/319/08/PDF/G2131908.pdf (see operative paragraphs 15 and 17).
[7] HRC resolution 50/1, available at https://www.ohchr.org/en/hr-bodies/hrc/regular-sessions/session50/res-dec-stat (see operative paragraphs 1 and 2).
[8] UN Human Rights, “Sudan: UN Human Rights Chief alarmed by rising tensions, urges intensified efforts to restore civilian-led Government,” 8 April 2023, https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2023/04/sudan-un-human-rights-chief-alarmed-rising-tensions-urges-intensified; United Nations Sudan, “UN rights expert Radhouane Nouicer’s statement at end of first official visit,” 2 February 2023 https://sudan.un.org/en/217504-un-rights-expert-radhouane-nouicer’s-statement-end-first-official-visit (both accessed on 13 April 2023).
[9] These include restrictions on freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and movement. See Amnesty International, Annual report 2022, “Sudan,” https://www.amnesty.org/en/location/africa/east-africa-the-horn-and-great-lakes/sudan/report-sudan/; CIVICUS, https://monitor.civicus.org/country/sudan/ (both accessed on 25 April 2023).
[10] As of 15 April 2023, at least 124 persons had been killed in rela­tion to anti-coup protests, including 20 mi­nors. Over 5,000 persons had been injured, some suf­fer­ing serious injuries that will leave them disa­bled for life. Hundreds of human rights defenders, jour­na­lists, and other citizens demanding a return to the 2019 transitional process or full civilian rule, including mem­bers of resistance committees, had been detai­ned, some for prolonged pe­­riods without charge, and many had been subjected to threats, beatings, torture, and disappearances.
See ACJPS, “Update on Anti-Coup Protest in Sudan,” 19 March 2023, http://www.acjps.org/update-on-anti-coup-protest-in-sudan-excessive-use-of-force-and-arbitrary-arrest-and-detention-of-protesters-during-the-14th-march-anti-coup-rallies/; Sudanese Archive, “Patterns of violence against protesters in the year since Sudan’s coup,” https://sudanesearchive.org/en/investigations/coupfilesreport; REDRESS, SOAS Centre for Human Rights Law, and Sudan Human Rights Monitor (SHRM), “Your Life Isn’t Worth the Price of a Bullet,” June 2022, https://redress.org/publication/your-life-isnt-worth-the-price-of-a-bullet-briefing-on-serious-human-rights-violations-in-sudan/ (all accessed on 13 April 2023).
[11] Human Rights Watch, “‘They Were Shouting ‘Kill Them’: Sudan’s Violent Crackdown on Protesters in Khartoum,” 17 November 2019, https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/11/18/they-were-shouting-kill-them/sudans-violent-crackdown-protesters-khartoum (accessed on 13 April 2023).
[12] Al Jazeera, “20 years since war began in Sudan’s Darfur, suffering continues,” 26 February 2023, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/2/26/20-years-since-war-began-in-sudans-darfur-suffering-continues (accessed on 13 April 2023).
[13] Following the UN Security Council’s decision to ter­minate the mandate of the African Union-UN hybrid mission (UNAMID), violence, including inter­com­munal conflicts, had led to a deteriorating security situation marked by attacks against civilians, re­ven­ge kil­lings, looting, and displacement.
ACJPS, “Sudan: Inter-tribal conflicts resulted into the death of three Sudanese citizens, looting of property and displacement of over 10,000 people in West Darfur,” 10 April 2023, http://www.acjps.org/sudan-inter-tribal-conflicts-resulted-into-the-death-of-three-sudanese-citizens-looting-of-property-and-displacement-of-over-10000-people-in-west-darfur/ (accessed on 13 April 2023).
[14] Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, “Sudan,” https://www.globalr2p.org/countries/sudan/ (as of 13 April 2023).
[15] In June 2022, in White Nile State, a young woman was sentenced to death by stoning for an alleged adultery following an unfair trial. Although the sentence was later commuted after re-trial, she was unfairly sentenced to six months imprisonment by a court that did not have jurisdiction to convict her (see ACJPS, “20-year-old woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery in sudan”, 21 October 2022, https://www.acjps.org/20-year-old-woman-sentenced-to-death-by-stoning-for-adultery-in-sudan/; “Update: Six-months imprisonment for a 20-year-old woman previously sentenced to death by stoning for adultery,” 16 December 2022, https://www.acjps.org/update-six-months-imprisonment-for-a-20-year-old-woman-previously-sentenced-to-death-by-stoning-for-adultery/ (accessed on 17 April 2023)).
In 2023 alone, at least four men have been sentenced to hand amputation for various offen­ces following trials tainted with irregularities (see ACJPS, “Sudanese man at risk of court-ordered right-hand amputation for theft in Omdurman,” 3 March, 2023, https://www.acjps.org/sudanese-man-at-risk-of-court-ordered-right-hand-amputation-for-theft-in-omdurman/; “Khartoum: Three Sudanese men sentenced to hand amputation for theft in Omdurman,” 9 February 2023, https://www.acjps.org/khartoum-three-sudanese-men-sentenced-to-hand-amputation-for-theft-in-omdurman/ (accessed on 17 April 2023)).
In addition, in Darfur, four men were arrested and charged with apostasy despite its removal from the statute book. The case was eventually dismissed; however, the men suffered cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment while in detention (see CSW, “Four Men Charged with Apostasy,” 8 July 2022, https://www.csw.org.uk/2022/07/08/press/5766/article.htm; “Apostasy case dismissed by prosecutor,” 9 September 2022, https://www.csw.org.uk/2022/09/09/press/5812/article.htm (accessed on 23 April 2023)).
[16] After a preliminary dialogue initiated with the Inter­national Criminal Court (ICC) in 2019, talks have stalled. Sudan’s authorities still refuse to hand over suspects for whom the ICC has issued arrest warrants, including former President Al-Bashir, to fully cooperate with the ICC’s inves­ti­ga­tion teams, and to provide the ICC with access to the former regime’s archives. Abusive laws, inc­lu­ding provisions gran­t­ing immunity to armed and security forces, such as provisions in the Armed Forces Act (2007), Police Act (2008), and National Security Act (2010), remain in place and constitute major obstacles to account­ability and non-recurrence.
See Amnesty International, “Sudan: New conflict escalation exacerbates 20 years of suffering for civilians in Darfur,” 24 April 2023, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2023/04/sudan-new-conflict-escalation-exacerbates-20-years-of-suffering-for-civilians-in-darfur/ (accessed on 25 April 2023).
[17] Human Rights Watch, “Sudan: Pact Omits Key Justice Reforms,” 13 December 2022, https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/12/13/sudan-pact-omits-key-justice-reforms (accessed on 11 April 2023).

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