The Government of Sudan is involved in separate non-international armed conflicts against a number of non-state armed groups, notably two factions of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) in Darfur, at least two factions of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army–North (SPLM-North), and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
A number of parallel non-international armed conflicts are taking place in Sudan.
- In Darfur, the Government of Sudan is party to parallel non-international armed conflicts against, at least, two factions of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army–Abdel Wahid (SLM/A–AW): the SLM/A–AW and the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army–Minni Minnawi (SLM/A–MM).
- In Kordofan and Blue Nile states, Sudan is party to a non-international armed conflict against, at least, two factions of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army–North (SPLM–North), namely one in the Nuba Mountains led by Abdel Aziz al-Hilu, and the other in White Nile state led by Malik Agar.
- Since April 2023, the government of Sudan has been engaging in a NIAC against the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
Two criteria need to be assessed in order to answer the question of whether a situation of armed violence amounts to a non-international armed conflict:
• First, the level of armed violence must reach a certain degree of intensity that goes beyond internal disturbances and tensions.
• Second, in every non-international armed conflict, at least one side in the conflict must be a non-state armed group that exhibits a certain level of organization in order to qualify as a party to the non-international armed conflict. Government forces are presumed to satisfy the criteria of organization. For further information, see ‘Non-international armed conflict' in our Classification section.
Various indicative factors are used to assess whether a given situation has met the required intensity threshold, such as the number, duration and intensity of individual confrontations; the types of weapons and military equipment used; the number of persons and types of forces participating in the fighting; the number of casualties; the extent of material destruction; the number of civilians fleeing and the involvement of the United Nations Security Council. For further information, see ‘Non-international armed conflict – Intensity of violence’ in our Classification section.
In Darfur, fighting broke out in 2003, when a number of non-state armed groups took up arms against the government in order to obtain greater autonomy. Notably, the rebel groups accused the Government of Sudan of oppressing and discriminating against non-Arab groups in the region. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), ‘Sudan (Darfur, Blue Nile and S. Kordofan)’, Armed Conflict Database; ‘Q&A: Sudan's Darfur Conflict’, BBC News, 23 February 2010. Since then, fighting between Sudan and a number of armed groups, in particular the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army–Abdel Wahid (SLM/A–AW), has been constant in Darfur.
The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)
The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) was established in 2003, when it started fighting for national reform and regime change under Omar al-Bashir. Since then, the groups has engaged in intense armed violence against the government. Human Security Baseline Assessment (HSBA) for Sudan and South Sudan, ‘Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) (AKA JEM-Jibril)’, Small Arms Survey; ‘Factbox: Sudan’s rebel groups’, Reuters, 31 August, 2020.
Over the years, the government and the JEM have signed several ceasefire agreements. For instance, a Humanitarian Ceasefire Agreement was concluded in 2004 under the auspices of the African Union. Agreement with the Sudanese Parties on the Modalities for the Establishment of the Ceasefire Commission and the Deployment of Observers in the Darfur, 28 May 2004. Furthermore, as violence continued to affect the region, in 2013 the Government of Sudan and the JEM signed a new ceasefire agreement in Doha. Ceasefire Agreement between the Government of Sudan and the Justice and Equality Movement-Sudan (JEM), 10 February 2013. Since 2017, the Government of Sudan and JEM had adopted unilateral ceasefires, which have been constantly renewed. ‘Armed Groups Renew Unilateral Ceasefire in Darfur’, Sudan Tribune, 3 February 2018. On 6 December 2018, the JEM and the government signed a pre-negotiation agreement, in which the parties declared that peace negotiations will resume in Doha over the following months. ‘JEM, SLM-MM Sign Pre-Negotiation Agreement With Sudan Govt in Berlin Today’, Dabanga, 6 December 2018. It is worth recalling that the existence of a ceasefire agreement does not in itself put an end to a non-international armed conflict: violence frequently continues after the conclusion of such agreements. Indeed, a non-international armed conflict ends in the case of a 'lasting cessation of armed confrontations without real risk of resumption'. ICRC, ‘Article 3: Conflicts Not of an International Character’, ICRC, 2016 Commentary on Art 3 of the First Geneva Convention, §491.
Since 2018 violence has steadily decreased. On 3 October 2020, JEM signed the Juba Agreement for Peace in Sudan (Juba Agreement). Furthermore, on 19 February 2023, the JEM recommitted to the Juba Agreement by signing an implementation matrix along with other signatory armed groups and the transitional government. In light of these recent developments, the conflict can be declassified. Z. Al-Ali, ‘The Juba Agreement for Peace in Sudan’, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2021; ‘Sudan, armed groups sign new implementation agreement for Juba peace agreement’, Sudan Tribune, 19 February 2023.
The SLM/A-AW, took part to the armed conflict in the Western region in Darfur that began 2003. This rebellion was met by a counter-insurgency strategy under the Government of Omar al-Bashir. D. Camillo Casola, ‘Sudan: The Roots of the Conflict, and Those of the Peace Process’, Italian Institute for International Political Studies, 22 May 2020. Since then, armed violence between the Government of Sudan and the SLM/A–AW has not ceased, though it has reduced significantly.
Following the coup in April 2019, SLM/A-AW refused to join the talks. However, it adopted a ceasefire on 30 March 2020. This ceasefire did not last, as clashes between the SLM/A-AW and security forces resumed in early July. In early December 2020, the continued clashes between the SLM/A-AW and government forces in Central and South Darfur states resulted in over 27.000 displaced and 2 children dead. In North Darfur state, the SLM/A-AW and the government clashed again in late January 2021 when the group reportedly repulsed the attack that resulted in 17 deaths. Again, the SLM/A-AW “…said it had repelled attack by “govt militias” in Rukona area, killing 24 and capturing one.” Clashes continued in the Jebel Marra area between the Sudanese Armed Forces and SLM/A-AW on 24 and 31 of January 2021 which led to 14 deaths, 10 injuries, and around 22.000 people displaced. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch: Sudan.
Between 16 February and 1 May 2021, a lull in hostilities took place between the SLM/A-AW and the Government. Between 2 May and 20 August 2021, there were several clashes between Sudanese State security actors and SLM/A-AW factions. For example, the Rapid Support Forces and SLM/A-AW factions clashed in May, causing the displacement of 1.284 people; in July, the SLM/A-AW briefly took control from the Sudanese Armed Forces before retreating from the area on 17 July. S/2021/766, ‘Situation in the Sudan and the activities of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in the Sudan Report of the Secretary General’, United Nations Security Council, 1 September 2021.
In October 2022, clashes between the SLM/A-AW and security forces occurred in Central Darfur and continued into December with clashes in Darfur between government forces and suspected SLM/A-AW. In March 2023, SLM/A-AW leader, Abdul Wahid Mohamed al Nur, engaged in peace talks in Juba. Nevertheless, SLM/A-AW remains one of the most active groups in Sudan. S/2022/898, ‘Situation in the Sudan and the activities of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in the Sudan Report of the Secretary-General’, United Nations Security Council, 1 December 2022; S/2023/154, ‘Situation in the Sudan and the activities of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in the Sudan Report of the Secretary-General’, United Nations Security Council, 28 February 2023; ‘Juba mediator Mathok says that Sudan’s JPA implementation faces many challenges’, Radio Dabanga, 7 March 2023.
Following the split from SLM/A in 2005, the SLM/A-MM has continued fighting the al-Bashir government autonomously. Although the SLM/A-MM signed the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement, in December 2010 clashes resumed between SLM/A-MM and Sudanese troops. A. Abdelrahim, ‘Mosaic of armed groups in Sudan’, Anadolu Ajansi, 28 December 2019; ‘Timeline: Sudan battles former peace partner SLM-Minawi’, Radio Dabanga, 26 December 2010. Since then, the group has engaged in armed violence against the government.
I July 2020, the SLM/A-MM reached an agreement with the Government and signed the official Juba peace agreement, which was formalized in October 2020. As part of the Juba Agreement, on 10 August 2021, Minni Minawi of the SLM/A-MM was sworn in as governor of Darfur region. On 14 September 2021, a Joint Force was established to protect civilians and is comprised of the police, army, RSF, and armed groups who signed the Juba Agreement. Nevertheless, the agreement did not succeed in putting an end to hostilities. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch: Sudan.
According to ACLED, from 8 April 2022 to 7 April 2023, the two SLM factions ‘have been the most active rebel groups in Sudan, being involved in over 60% of all political violence involving rebel groups in the country.’ ‘Sudan: Political Process to Form a Transitional Civilian Government and Shifting Disorder Trends’, ACLED, 14 April 2023.
Kordofan and Blue Nile states
A myriad of armed groups is currently active in Kordofan and Blue Nile states. Among them, the most prominent is the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army–North (SPLM-North), which splintered into two factions: one led by Abdel Aziz al-Hilu (SPLM-North Hilu) and based in the Nuba Mountains; the other led by Malik Agar (SPLM-North Agar) and based in White Nile state. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), ‘Sudan (Darfur, Blue Nile and S. Kordofan)’, Armed Conflict Database. Despite the fact that the non-state actors and the government have declared unilateral ceasefires, the violence has not decreased. For instance, in July 2017 the Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir, adopted a unilateral ceasefire in Darfur and, a few months later, this was followed by the SPLM/-North Hilu. Nevertheless, armed confrontations did not cease between the government armed forces and the two non-state actors. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), ‘Sudan (Darfur, Blue Nile and S. Kordofan)’, Armed Conflict Database. Indeed, in September 2017 the government attacked the SPLM-North Agar in the Ingessana Hills area of Blue Nile state, which is considered a strategic area in light of its proximity to the capital of Blue Nile state. ‘SPLM-N Agar Reports New Clashes with Sudanese Army in Blue Nile State’, Sudan Tribune, 21 September 2017.
In February 2018, the SPLM-North Hilu started peace talks with the government, while the Agar faction was excluded from the negotiations by the African Union. The Agar faction heavily criticized the decision to prevent them from participating in the talks. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), ‘Sudan (Darfur, Blue Nile and S. Kordofan)’, Armed Conflict Database. This further exacerbated tensionThis further exacerbated tensions and fuelled violence between the two factions. In February 2018, deadly clashes between the SPLM-North Hilu and the SPLM-Nroth Agar caused the displacement of at least 9,000 individuals. ‘Agar, al-Hilu Fighters Clash Again in Blue Nile: Spokesperson’, Sudan Tribune, 19 February 2018; ‘“9,000 displaced” by Deadly Clashes Between SPLM–N Factions in Blue Nile’, Dabanga, 23 February 2018. Nevertheless, from the information available it is not clear whether the clashes between the two armed groups reach the necessary level of violence for a NIAC to exist.
Following the 2019 coup, SPLM/North Agar, under the SRF alliance signed the Juba peace agreement and “Malik Agar…called on his comrades still fighting to lay down their arms” and end the war. ‘Sudan reaches historic peace deal with rebel groups’, France 24, 31 August 2020. Although the SPLM/North Hilu participated in the talks, the SPLM/North Hilu did not sign the Juba Agreement in October 2020. Instead, on 28 March 2021, a Declaration of Principles was signed between the SPLM/North Hilu and the President of the Sovereignty Council and Commander of the Sudan Armed Forces. ‘Sudan’s Umma Party and SPLM-N El Hilu sign agreement in Juba’, Dabanga, January 2023. Albeit the fact that peace talks between SPLM/North Hilu and the government stalled in 2021, the Head of the Sovereign Council in January 2022 renewed their unilateral ceasefire. ‘Sudan’s Govt, SPLM-N adjourn peace talks for further consultations’, Sudan Tribune, 15 June 2021; ‘Sudan extends ceasefire with holdout groups’, Sudan Tribune, 23 January 2023. In December 2022, the leader of SPLM/North Hilu expressed his willingness to resume peace talks. S/2023/154, ‘Situation in the Sudan and the activities of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in the Sudan Report of the Secretary-General’, United Nations Security Council, 28 February 2023.
Following the second coup, which took place in July 2021, SPLM/North Agar forces began to integrate into the regular armed forces through training pursuant of the Juba Agreement. S/2022/667, ‘Situation in the Sudan and the activities of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in the Sudan Report of the Secretary-General’, United Nations Security Council, 2 September 2022. While the SPLM/North Hilu continued to hold out on signing any peace agreement, the SPLM/North Agar renewed their commitment to implement the Juba Agreement by singing the implementation matrix in February 2023 with other signatory armed groups and the transitional government. ‘Sudan, armed groups sign new implementation agreement for Juba peace agreement’, Sudan Tribune, 19 February 2023.
Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF)
On 11 November 2011, the four major Sudanese rebel groups – SPLM-North, SLM/A–AW, SLM/A-MM, and JEM – formed an alliance: the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), with the aim of overthrowing president al-Bashir. Since 2012, the SRF had conducted joint military operations against the governmental forces, while the armed groups member of the alliance continued fighting independently as well. One major victory took place on 27 April 2013, when SRF’s joint force attacked Um Ruwaba, in North Kordofan and then took control of Abu Kershola, South Kordofan, after intense fighting against the governmental forces. According to the Sudanese government, the SRF forces comprised: 400 JEM soldiers in 55 ‘heavily military equipped Toyota 4WD land cruisers’; 200 SLA-AW soldiers with 22 Technicals; 200 SLA-MM soldiers with 22 Technicals; and an SPLM-North battalion (750–1,000 soldiers) with 25 Technicals. The attack was particularly significant inasmuch as it highlighted the rebels’ capacity to work together. Sudan’s letter to the UN Security Council dated 13 June 2013; A. McCutchen, ‘The Sudan Revolutionary Front: Its Formation and Development’, Small Arms Survey, 2014.
As explained in the next section, following the overthrow of president al-Bashir, the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) agreed on a Draft Constitutional Declaration, which requires the conclusion of a peace deal to put an end to the conflicts in Darfur and in Kordofan and Blue Nile states withing the first 12 months from the adoption of the constitutional agreement. Draft Constitutional Charter for the 2019 Transitional Period. Accordingly, in late 2019 the transitional government of Sudan started engaging in peace talks with the SFR, which led to the conclusion of a peace agreement on 31 August 2020. The agreement addresses key issues regarding ‘security, land ownership, transitional justice, power sharing and the return of people who fled their homes due to war,’ as well as ‘the dismantling of rebel forces and the integration of their fighters into the national army.’ In May, the SLM/A–MM left the SFR alliance but did not abandoned the negotiations. Nevertheless, not all armed groups member of the SFR have accepted the deal. Specifically, the SLM/A–AW and the SPLM/North Hilu refused to sign it. ‘Sudan rebels agree key peace deal to end 17-year conflict: Report’, Al Jazeera, 31 August 2020; ‘Sudan peace talks continue despite split in rebel alliance’, Dabanga, 21 May 2020.
Coup d’état (2019)
Omar al-Bashir reached power in 1989 with a military coup d’état. ‘Omar al-Bashir: Sudan's ousted president’, BBC, 14 August 2019. For nearly 30 years, he had been able to remain in power in spite of several NIACs taking place in the country and the secession of South Sudan, which took place in 2011. ‘South Sudan referendum: 99% vote for independence’, BBC, 30 January 2011.
In December 2018, the rising of bread prices triggered demonstrations that quickly turned into peaceful protests across the country calling for al-Bashir resignation and a transition towards democracy. ‘Sudan's military seizes power from President Omar al-Bashir’, Al Jazeera, 11 April 2019; International Crisis Group, ‘Improving Prospects for a Peaceful Transition in Sudan’, Briefing No. 143 /Africa, 14 January 2019. In response to the continued protests, in February 2019 the President declared the state of emergency, rising the risk that the situation could degenerate into an armed unrest. Furthermore, he dissolved the cabinet and replaced the provincial governors with army and intelligence officials. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, February 2019.
On 11 April 2019, a military coup ousted al-Bashir. The announcement was given by General Awad Ibn Auf, head of the Supreme Security Committee, a body which encompasses armed forces, police, and security agencies. The Transitional Military Council (TMC), composed by seven generals, assumed power on the same day. ‘Sudan's military seizes power from President Omar al-Bashir’, Al Jazeera, 11 April 201; ‘Sudan crisis: What you need to know’, BBC, 16 August 2019. On 17 April, al-Bashir was transferred to prison and in August he was ‘indicted on corruption charges and for illegal possession of foreign funds.’ International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, August 2019.
The military nature of the coup raised tensions between the protesters and the ousters of al-Bashir. Indeed, the civilian demonstrators feared that the change of power would not have led to the democratic reform they were hoping for. In May 2019, as the military council was resisting their demands, tensions continued to increase. On 13 May, in Khartoum, individuals wearing uniforms of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) opened fire against civilian protesters and killed five people, but both the TMC and the RSF denied responsibility. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, May 2019.
In June 2019, tensions escalated and resulted in direct attacks against protesters: the security forces killed over 120 individuals in Khartoum, while other 120 protesters were killed by members of the RSF during a sit-in protest outside the headquarters of the army. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, June 2019. During the following month, the TMC and the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), an umbrella group created by the protesters, resumed talks with the mediation of the African Union and Ethiopia. On 17 July, they reached a political agreement to create a joint council that would remain in power until the elections, to be held after 39 months, composed by five civilians from FFC, five TMC officers, and one consensually selected civilian. The TMC would lead the council for 21 months, and the FFC would be at the head of the ruling organ for the remaining 18 months. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, July 2019. On 4 August, FFC and TMC concluded a constitutional agreement which sets the basis for a civilian transition. Notably, it established the creation of an interim government that would remain in power until elections are held in 2022. ‘What does Sudan's constitutional declaration say?’, Al Jazeera, 4 August 2019.
Coup d’état (2021)
On 21 October 2021, a coup took place that resulted in the military element of the civilian-military transition coalition taking full control and the arrest of civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. The SLM/A-MM and JEM were in support of this military coup. ‘SRF leader denies having troops in Khartoum’, Sudan Tribune, 18 January 2022; M. Gavin, ‘Sudan’s Coup: One Year Later’, Council on Foreign Relations, 24 October 2022; ‘Military factions enhance their power amid spreading violence’, ACLED, 2022. Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al Burhan, head of the Sovereign Council and commander-in-chief of Sudan Armed Forces led the coup and established a state of emergency and dissolved the civilian political institutions along with various investigatory bodies. The coup was met with widespread demonstrations and suspension from the African Union. D. Watson, ‘Appetite for Destruction: The Military Counter-Revolution in Sudan’, ACLED, 29 October 2021.
Following the coup, on 21 November 2021, Prime Minister Hamdok and General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan signed a deal to reinstate Prime Minister Hamdok over the hybrid military-civilian government. This was met with wide protest among the political parties, civil society, and massive demonstrations. Security forces have been violently coming down on the protests and demonstrations that started in November and have continued into January 2022 in and around Khartoum and other cities resulting in deaths and injuries. Mediation efforts began in February 2020 and continued into June 2022. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch: Sudan.
On 19 February 2023, the Sudanese transitional government along with SLM/A–MM, SLM Transitional Council, JEM, the SPLM/North Agar, the United People’s Front, the Beja Congress, the Northern Entity, the Third Front Tamazuj, and the Kosh Liberation Movement signed an implementation matrix for the Juba Agreement. SPLM/North Hilu and SLM/A–AW continued to not take part and sign an agreement with the government. ‘Sudan, armed groups sign new implementation agreement for Juba peace agreement’, Sudan Tribune, 19 February 2023.
Rapid Support Forces (2023)
The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) were aligned with the Sudanese Army, fighting together in the 2000s under Omar Hassan al-Bashir. The RSF is led by General Hamadan who took part in both the 2019 and 2021 coups. Following the coup in 2021, both General Hamdan of the RSF and army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan shared power until hostilities broke out 15 April 2023 in Khartoum and other parts of Sudan. There was disagreement over the integration of the RSF into the regular armed forces and who would be the commander-in-chief of the military during the integration. E. Peltier and A. Latif Dahir, ‘Who are the Rapid Support Forces, the paramilitaries fighting Sudan’s Army?’, The New York Times, 17 April 2023.
Since the fighting began on 15 April 2023, fighting has been reported across Sudan in Darfur, Merowe, al-Fasher, el-Obeid, Nyala, Kassala, Kabkabiya, the Red Sea city of Port Sudan, Gadariff, Damazin, and Kosti. ‘Mapping the heavy fighting in Sudan’, Al Jazeera, 18 April 2023. While the Sudanese army and RSF have adopted and extended a ceasefire agreement, violence continues. M. Osman and N. Booty, ‘Sudan fighting: Street battles dash hopes of Eid ceasefire’, BBC News, 21 April 2023; ‘Thousands flee as new ceasefire attempt fails in Sudan’, Al Jazeera, 19 April 2023; ‘Sudan’s army and RSF say ceasefire extended but fighting goes on’, Al-Jazeera, 27 April 2023. On 12 May 2023, the RSF and the government have signed the Jeddah Declaration of Commitment to Protect the Civilians of Sudan, where they committed to respect international humanitarian and human rights law to facilitate humanitarian action to meet the emergency needs of civilians. Jeddah Declaration of Commitment to Protect the Civilians of Sudan, 12 May 2023.
In light of the intensity of violence and the lack of implementation of ceasefire, it is possible to conclude that the fighting amounts to a NIAC.
A series of indicative factors are used to assess whether armed groups exhibit the required degree of organization, such as the existence of a command structure and disciplinary rules and mechanisms; the ability to procure, transport and distribute arms; the ability to plan, coordinate and carry out military operations; the ability to negotiate and conclude agreements, e.g. ceasefire or peace agreements. If the minimum criterion for organization of the armed groups is not fulfilled, there is no armed conflict. For further information, see ‘Non-international armed conflict – Organization’ in our Classification section.
Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)
The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) is an armed non-state actor that operates in Darfur. It was founded in 2003 by Khalil Ibrahim, who remained the leader of the group until 2011, when he was killed in armed clashes. Currently, its leader is Suleiman Sandal. JEM is led by an executive office composed by 18 members. See ‘Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) (AKA JEM-Jibril)’, Human Security Baseline Assessment (HSBA) for Sudan and South Sudan, Small Arms Survey. The group started its military activities against the government in order to obtain greater autonomy. Unlike other groups based in Darfur, which pursue a regional agenda, the JEM aims to control Khartoum. Despite the paucity of information regarding the internal structure of the group, the JEM is reported to be more disciplined than other armed non-state actors. Furthermore, its military capabilities and the engagement in peace talks suggest that the group meets the organization requirement. ‘Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)’, Sudan Tribune.
Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A)
The SLM/A was formed in 2001 under the chairmanship of Abdul Wahid Mohamed al Nur. Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment, ‘Sudan Liberation Army-Abdul Wahid (SLA-AW)’, Small Arms Survey, 6 September 2011. Minni Minawi was the Secretary of the SLM/A and they fought against the government in 2002. Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment, ‘Sudan Liberation Army-Abdul Wahid (SLA-AW)’, Small Arms Survey, 6 September 2011; ‘SLM/A’, Uppsala Conflict Data Program – Department of Peace and Conflict Research.
Due to internal tensions, in June 2005 the group splintered into two factions: the SLM/A–AW and the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army–Minni Minawi (SLM/A–MM). International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), ‘Sudan Liberation Movement/Army–Abdel Wahid (SLM/A–AW)’, Armed Conflict Database. The SLM/A-AW is under the leadership of Abdul Wahid Mohamed al Nur, who was the original chairman of SLM/A. Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment, ‘Sudan Liberation Army-Abdul Wahid (SLA-AW)’, Small Arms Survey, 6 September 2011. Efforts have been made to unify Darfur fighters under Abdul Wahid Mohamed al Nur’s SLM movement with success seen among commanders such as Col. Jabir Mohamed Hassab-Allah of the Sudan National Liberation Movement joining in 2008. ‘Two Darfur rebel SLM groups merge’, Sudan Tribune, 15 October 2008. Information regarding the internal organization of the SLM/A–AW is scant. Nevertheless, its military capabilities and capacity to speak with one voice suggest that it meets the organization requirement. Led by Minni Minawi, the SLM/A-MM is a splinter group from the original SLM/A. Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment, ‘Sudan Liberation Army-Minni Minawi (SLA-MM)’, Small Arms Survey, July 2010.
Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army–North (SPLM-North)
The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army–North (SPLM-North) has been militarily active since the 1980s, when it emerged out of a tribal self-defence militia. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), ‘Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army–North (SPLM/A–N)’, Armed Conflict Database. In 2017, the SPLM-North split into two rival factions. On the one hand, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army–North Agar (SPLM/North Agar) is based in White Nile state and led by Malik Agar. On the other hand, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army–North Hilu (SPLM/North Hilu) is led by Abdel Aziz al-Hilu and is based in the Nuba Mountains. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), ‘Sudan (Darfur, Blue Nile and S. Kordofan)’, Armed Conflict Database. Notwithstanding the absence of clear information regarding the internal structure of the two factions, their organization can be deduced from other elements, such as their military capabilities, their capacity to speak with one voice and to conclude and implement ceasefire agreements. While the Hilu faction has been engaging in peace talks with the government since February 2018, the Agar faction was excluded by the African Union. Furthermore, in 2018 the SPLM/North Hilu declared a unilateral ceasefire in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan states. For further information, see the Intensity of the Violence section. See also International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), ‘Sudan (Darfur, Blue Nile and S. Kordofan)’, Armed Conflict Database.
Rapid Support Forces (RSF)
The Rapid Support Forces is a paramilitary group with origins tied to the Janjaweed militias. The RSF is led by General Hamdan and consists of about 70.000 to 150.000 fighters which include former military and intelligence officers. E. Peltier and A. Latif Dahir, ‘Who are the Rapid Support Forces, the paramilitaries fighting Sudan’s Army?’, The New York Times, 17 April 2023. General Hamdan was the deputy head of Sudan’s ruling Sovereign Council following the 2019 coup.RSF was given “regular force” status in 2015 and “in 2017, a law legitimizing the RSF as an independent security force was passed.” The RSF has been deployed in Darfur, South Kordofan and the Blue Nile regions. ‘Sudan unrest: What are the Rapid Support Forces?’, Al Jazeera, 16 April 2023.
United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS)
On 31 July 2007, the United Nations Security Council established the United Nations–African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), an unprecedented joint peacekeeping operation in Darfur organized by the African Union and the United Nations. UNSC Res 1769, 31 July 2007. The mandate of the mission includes, among other things, the protection of civilians, the delivery of humanitarian assistance by UN agencies, and mediation between the Government of Sudan and a number of armed non-state actors. United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), ‘About UNAMID’.
From October 2017, UNAMID started to scale down. Notably, it handed over the Eid Al Fursan, Tulus and Forobaranga team sites to the Sudanese Government. In 2018, the operation continued to reduce its presence in Darfur. However, it still holds bases in regions where the rebels maintain their stronghold and where access to the civilian population has proved more challenging. On 31 December 2020, UNAMID completed its mandate and was followed by the establishment of UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS). ‘Closure of UNAMID’, United Nations – African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur; ‘Mandate’, United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan.
In light of the nature of the intervention and considering the low degree of violence between the peacekeeping operation and the non-state armed groups, UNAMID is not a party to the conflict. Additionally, UNITAMS is a political mission with a mandate to Sudan’s political transition and is not a party to the conflict.
All parties to the conflict are bound by Article 3 common to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which provides for the minimum standards to be respected and requires humane treatment without adverse distinction of all persons not or no longer taking active parts in hostilities. It prohibits murder, mutilation, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, hostage taking and unfair trials.
All parties are also bound by customary international humanitarian law applicable to non-international armed conflict. Customary international law consists of unwritten rules that come from a general practice accepted as law. Based on extensive study, the International Committee of the Red Cross maintains a database of customary international humanitarian law.
In addition to international humanitarian law, international human rights law continues to apply during times of armed conflict. Under human rights law, the territorial state has an obligation to prevent and investigate alleged violations, including by non-state actors. Non-state armed groups are increasingly considered to be bound by international human rights law if they exercise de facto control over some areas.