Suffering in silence no longer – How to bring Sudan’s humanitarian crisis to the forefront of the AU and international community’s attention

(By Rachel Greenwood)


When Sudan’s recent crisis broke out in April, it was a harrowing sign of the humanitarian disaster that was to follow. Now, after months of violence, displacement, food insecurity, destroyed passports, and more, many of the concerns that experts had in April have come to fruition and have been even more troubling than expected.


There is much to say about what has happened and continues to happen in Sudan. This article cannot address all of it, but it will try to shed light on the human experience of survivors who persist amidst ongoing military power struggle between the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and Sudan Armed Forces (SAF). Another dimension it will focus on is the African Union’s (AU) lackluster response to the crisis. Indeed, the AU has refused to take an assertive stance on Sudan and has left a gap that has been filled by regional or international efforts. In addition, the United States government, which has played a key role in Sudan since the 1990s, has also been notably unresponsive. We call on the AU and US government to act with conviction in Sudan by holding the Generals accountable, supporting the transition to a civilian-led government, and addressing the humanitarian crisis facing civilians, particularly women and children.



As violence has escalated in Sudan, the horrors are unspeakable and mounting rapidly. The atrocities are also happening in places that are no stranger to such things. For instance, as violence has increased in Darfur, members of its Western region have experienced ethnically targeted attacks and violence that has led to a massive refugee flow into Chad. Community members recently discovered a mass grave in a nearby forest. The bodies were left unidentified and their families and loved ones will never know what happened to them. Finally, they were left by an RSF truck that made no effort to disguise what they had done.


Soldiers have also not shied away from violence against women and children. Indeed, in Darfur and other parts of Sudan, the conflict has left women and children increasingly vulnerable. Sudanese refugees, fleeing violence and facing death, are often subjected to further violence at the hands of soldiers. Rape perpetrated by the RSF has been well-documented across Sudan and refugees and internally displaced women have been disproportionately targeted. Teenage girls, in particular, are being sexually assaulted and raped by armed combatants in increasing numbers. This rise has led some parents to marry off their daughters to try to protect them from further abuse.


These atrocities are only a piece of the larger story of the humanitarian crisis in Sudan. More than 2.9 million people have been uprooted by the conflict, including 700,000 who fled into neighboring countries. As the conflict continues and the rainy season begins, there is concern about an increased risk of disease outbreaks, compounded by lack of access to health care in many parts of the country.



The stories of human suffering in Sudan are deeply troubling and it is disappointing to watch key stakeholders, like the AU and US government, look on while the crisis rages. In addition, Sudan’s Generals have for too long benefitted from a culture of impunity, in which the AU has been complicit or has, at best, overlooked. Without accountability for the mass atrocities, creating a path forward will be very difficult and fraught. 


The reputation of the AU has suffered tremendously in recent years and its inaction in Sudan has continued its decline. Indeed, the AU’s response to recent crises on the continent, particularly in Tigray, was met with scrutiny and left many questioning whether the AU was still an effective institution. For instance, it took the AU two years to bring the relevant parties in Tigray to the negotiating table and some also expressed concern about whether the ceasefire agreement would bring a lasting peace and address the conflict’s underlying causes. 


The AU’s recent ineffectiveness certainly raises concern about its response in Sudan. While the conflict enters its fourth month, the crisis appears to have no end in sight, and the AU and US government, so far, appear unprepared for rising to the moment. Kenya took the lead negotiator role but was scrutinized by the RSF and the SAF recently turned to Egypt to become the key mediator. In addition, the US government – joined by Saudi Arabia – has helped mediate the ceasefire agreements, notably without the AU’s presence. However, the ceasefire talks have been unsuccessful and much more needs to be done to ensure accountability and the protection of civilians. Below is an overview of the AU and US government responses.




The AU has a number of relevant mechanisms that could aid in the protection of Sudanese civilians:



The Kampala Convention is a legal instrument that addresses the specific needs and rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) on the continent. It provides a framework for preventing displacement, protecting IDPs during displacement, and supporting their voluntary return, resettlement, and reintegration. Importantly, the Convention calls for cooperation between states, regional organizations, and non-state actors to effectively address displacement situations, and places the primary responsibility for the protection and assistance of IDPs on the affected state. Sudan has signed but not ratified the Convention.



The Maputo Protocol is a human rights instrument specific to women’s rights. It focuses on eliminating discrimination against women and ensuring their full participation in all spheres of life. Article 10 addresses the issue of women’s rights in relation to peace and security. It recognizes the impact of armed conflicts on women and calls for measures to ensure their protection, participation, and representation in issues of peace and security. It also acknowledges that women are disproportionately affected by armed conflicts and emphasizes the need for their protection. Article 11 calls on state parties to protect asylum-seeking women, refugees, returnees, and IDPs against all forms of violence, rape, and other forms of exploitation. However, like the Kampala Convention, Sudan has signed but not ratified the Protocol.



The Constitutive Act of the AU provides additional key provisions that are relevant to the ongoing conflict in Sudan. For example, Article 3 outlines AU objectives to include international cooperation and to promote peace, security, and stability on the continent. In addition, Article 4 provides the right of the Union to intervene in a Member State in special circumstances, like war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. It also promotes gender equality, the right of member states to request AU intervention, and condemnation and rejection of unconstitutional changes of governments. 


Below is a shortened timeline of the AU’s response to the recent crisis in Sudan:



Finally, the AU has also called for a shift to include Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in the peacebuilding process. 



The US government has played a key role in Sudan for a while, though its relationship has at times been tense throughout the years. In the 1990s, the US government designated Sudan a state sponsor of terrorism and led to economic sanctions and a breakdown in diplomatic ties. Later, in the 2000s, the United States imposed additional sanctions on Sudan because of the situation in Darfur and pushed for international intervention. More recently, the United States moved to normalize its relations with Sudan and showed support for democratic reforms after 2019. It also removed Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism in 2020. However, it has not done enough to support civilians in the country and the transition to democratic leadership.


Below is an abbreviated timeline of recent US government interventions:




Recommendations provided for the AU and US government.





US government:



Calls to action:


There are ways that anyone can get involved in supporting Sudan. Some possible opportunities include:


Verified by ExactMetrics