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Protection Approaches raises alarm of mass atrocities in Sudan

Protection Approaches - July 7, 2023


Since 15 April 2023, violence has exploded in Sudan with new reports of atrocities including likely crimes against humanity rising each day. In an attempt to reimpose military dictatorship, both the Sudanese Armed Forces and Rapid Support Forces have deployed a spectrum of violence and oppression in efforts to seize political control. The city of el-Geneina, which has been experiencing a communications blackout for weeks, has been a focal point of attacks by pro-Arab armed groups linked with the RSF against the non-Arab Masalit tribespeople. Local activists say that at least 1,100 people have been killed and more wounded during attacks in el-Geneina that began shortly after the start of the violence, and warn that, if left unchecked, the current cycle of violence could become worse than the Darfur genocide which left 300,000 dead and displaced 2.5 million.


Last month, on 20 June 2023, the Foreign Affairs Committee conducted an emergency inquiry session on the grave situation in Sudan and to scrutinise the UK government’s failure to heed the repeated warnings of what was coming. Dr. Kate Ferguson, Co-Executive Director of Protection Approaches gave oral evidence to the Committee alongside Maddy Crowther, co-Director of Waging Peace, and Bushra Rahama, founder of HUDO Centre and member of the Waging Peace network.


Dr Ferguson told the Committee 'ultimately, in the past few years, what we have seen is trust from this Government in the men with guns, and not listening to the civilian experts, whether they are in Sudan or here in the UK.' Maddy Crowther of Waging Peace, a longstanding member of the UK Atrocity Prevention Working Group, said: "We had people tell us in the weeks before 15 April they were leaving Khartoum because they could smell war in the air. I don't see how the Foreign Office and the Embassy in particular couldn't feel that and couldn't see the warning signs when they were so clear." You can watch the Foreign Affairs Committee session here.


Protection Approaches has repeatedly warned of rising risks of mass atrocity crimes in Sudan and called upon the UK government to take appropriate measures to prepare for and help mitigate violence. As convenor of the UK Atrocity Prevention Working Group, Protection Approaches has led the call along with NGOs, academics and international actors for the UK to institute a dedicated atrocity prevention strategy, and rapidly bolster the Sudan team’s tools and capabilities to address rising atrocity risks. As far back as 2019, Dr Kate Ferguson and Maddy Crowther warned in the Guardian of the rising risks of identity-based violence and atrocities in Sudan – warnings that were not heeded. In 2021, the UK Atrocity Prevention Working Group raised concerns ‘that the UK’s systems, capabilities and policies towards Sudan still lack[ed] a focus on atrocity prevention, grievance, and political marginalisation.’ On 20 June, as the violence continued to spread across Sudan, the UK Atrocity Prevention Working Group published a joint letter on the crisis addressed to the Minister for Africa and Development, Andrew Mitchell MP, welcoming his long-standing commitment to atrocity prevention and offering support to the FCDO’s new atrocity prevention hub and Sudan Country team. The letter raised collective and repeated warnings over four years to His Majesty’s Government of increasing risks of mass atrocity crimes in Sudan and the pressing need for the United Kingdom’s Sudan policy, resourcing, and diplomatic priorities to fully acknowledge and contribute to confronting these risks. The Guardian’s Diplomatic Editor, Patrick Wintour, covered the story, quoting Dr Ferguson: “The UK’s lack of preparedness led to a botched evacuation process where British nationals and Sudanese to whom the UK government owes a responsibility were left in chaotic limbo and the opportunities to help mitigate violence to prioritise protection of vulnerable people across Sudan were missed. Even the most fundamental lessons of Afghanistan have evidently not been learned.” As demands for answers on Sudan grew, The Mirror covered the Foreign Affairs Committee session, highlighting Dr Ferguson’s recommendations and reporting that repeated warnings about the deteriorating situation in Sudan weren't acted upon: "Country teams, the Foreign Office and other offices don’t have in place the required early warning systems in their infrastructure - including for Sudan…I don't think they were adequately resourced. There was no communication protocol in place, there was no preparedness strategy and there was no central guidance coming from Whitehall, which makes it very difficult for the embassy." Spotlighting long-standing Protection Approaches recommendations, the letter was raised in the Chamber during an Urgent Question by Vicky Ford MP two days later, as MPs from all major parties and representing the Foreign Affairs and International Development Committees supported our calls, pleading with the government to pivot from its broken Sudan policy, prioritise atrocity prevention, reverse aid cuts and demonstrate UK leadership as the penholder on Sudan at the UN. Lyn Brown MP, Shadow Minister for Africa asked, “Why did we not better anticipate and prepare? What does it say about our atrocity prevention strategy, the priority that we place on raising the alarm early?” Protection Approaches continues to stand ready, alongside members of the Atrocity Prevention Working Group, to support the UK government in addressing the very real challenges the deteriorating situation in Sudan present: “We ask the UK’s Sudan team to meet again with our Working Group with the explicit objective of how our collective expertise can help HMG to unlock opportunities to mitigate violence, stand in solidarity with the people of Sudan, and look ahead to risks coming down the tracks. The ingredients are there for a descent into large-scale violence, including widespread systematic identity-based violence breaching thresholds of crimes against humanity and genocide….but pathways to mass atrocity crimes can be identified, interrupted, and rerouted. Even in this dire moment for the people of Sudan, nothing is inevitable. The UK is well placed to help build an alternate route away from violence and authoritarianism.” Three things you can do: 1. Read and share our letter to the minister 2. Support our work and our friends at Waging Peace 3. Learn more about the UK Atrocity Prevention Working Group

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