Sudan: Coronavirus could be tipping point for ‘untold suffering’, Bachelet urges sanctions relief

28 April 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government and people of Sudan could experience “untold suffering” unless donors act fast to shore up a country still in transition, the top UN human rights official warned on Tuesday.

One year after long-time ruler Omar al-Bashir was removed from power, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that the promise of development, democracy, justice and peace, is now being threatened by acute resource constraints. 

Moreover, the already-grim picture is further exacerbated by a combination of ongoing unilateral sanctions, international institutions’ failure to provide debt-relief and a deficit of international support.

“The tipping point,” the UN Human Rights Chief said, “could be COVID-19”.

Underequipped health system

As of yesterday, 275 people had tested positive for the coronavirus, 22 of whom have died.  And medical sources have warned of serious equipment and protective gear shortages. 

The health system is simply not equipped to handle an outbreak on the scale we have seen elsewhere in the world”, said Ms. Bachelet.

As the “only way to prevent a humanitarian disaster”, she appealed to donors to step up: “We must act swiftly and generously to provide financial support”, said the UN human rights chief, or “run the risk of a country which held such promise, relapsing back into political instability and potential conflict.”

Earlier this month the Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok wrote to the Secretary-General acknowledging that COVID-19 poses profound challenges to the country’s health system, economy, and society as a whole and asked for financial and technical support to tackle the pandemic.

Conflicts in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile state have displaced nearly two million of the 43 million people in Sudan, and most – facing dire conditions in camps or settlements – are unable to meet their basic needs. And adding to the bleak situation, Sudan hosts more than 1.1 million refugees and migrants.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, high unemployment, soaring inflation and lack of social protection and safety nets left many Sudanese battling to make ends meet. 

Free Sudan from ‘impediments of sanctions’

According to the High Commissioner, these issues have been compounded by the effects of Sudan continuing to be on the US State Sponsors of Terrorism list. It remains ineligible to access any of the International Monetary Fund-World Bank’s $50-billionTrust Fund, to assist vulnerable countries in the fight COVID-19.

“The only way Sudan will ever be able to break out of this cycle of poverty and desperation is to be freed from the impediments of sanctions imposed at the time of the previous Government”, Ms. Bachelet argued, saying if removed, the State would be able to “attract investment for its much-needed economic reforms, and to fully access funds of the international financial institutions”.

Separately, the UN Secretary-General has urged the international community to do all it can to support the country’s transition and its time of serious need.

“Inequality, and economic and social grievances, were the main triggers of Sudan’s revolution last year”, concluded the UN human right chief. “If these and other root causes are not addressed as a matter of priority, Sudan’s successful transition to achieving a durable peace remains distant”.

 

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