UN envoy warns Sudan conflict risks turning into ‘full-scale war’ as fighting intensifies

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(LONDON) — United Nations special envoy to Sudan, Volker Perthes, has warned the conflict risks “morphing into a full-blown civil war” as fighting intensifies.

Announcing his resignation in a final speech to the UN Security Council, Perthes warned that violence in the North-east African nation has “worsened dramatically,” leaving a “tragic legacy” of human rights abuses.

“Each side is still waiting for the other side to be weakened into surrender. This is futile,” Perthes said on Wednesday.

Perthes – who has headed the UN’s Sudan mission since 2021 – has been declared “persona non grata” since June by authorities in Sudan, the UN saying the move is “not applicable” and contrary to Sudan’s obligations under international law.

“While the situation is relatively calm in the east, tensions have risen amidst ongoing tribal mobilization. And the mobilization by former regime elements advocating for a continuation of the war is of particular concern,” said Perthes. “What started as a conflict between two military formations could be morphing into a full-scale civil war.”

At least 5,0000 civilians have been killed and 12,000 injured as fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group nears five months, numbers of which analysts say are just the tip of the iceberg.

“These are conservative figures, and the actual number is likely much higher,” Perthes said. “Parties have demonstrated blatant disregard for human rights and international humanitarian law.”

Sudan just experienced its “deadliest weekend” since the start of the conflict on April 15 as fighting between warring generals intensifies; two deadly airstrikes rocking the nation’s capital Khartoum, killing at least 49 people.

“The horror of the day was overwhelming. For hours, dozens of bodies lay under sheets in the hospital’s courtyard until their families came to identify their lost loved ones,” said Marie Burton, MSF emergency coordinator in Khartoum. “Even though this war has been going on for nearly five months, the Sudanese volunteers on whom the hospital relies on are still shocked by what they witnessed.”

Sudan’s RSF accused the Sudanese Armed Forces of committing the attacks in a statement, but the Sudanese Armed Forces has denied responsibility.

“There is little doubt who is responsible for what: often indiscriminate aerial bombing is conducted by those who have an air force, which is the SAF. Most of the sexual violence, lootings and killings happen in areas controlled by the RSF,” Perthes said. “Both sides are arbitrarily arresting, detaining and even torturing civilians and there are reports of extrajudicial killings and detentions.”

The United States has said it is “alarmed” by the increase of indiscriminate air and artillery strikes.

“Both parties have instigated unrelenting violence that has caused death and destruction across Sudan,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said. “The United States continues to support accountability for perpetrators of atrocities in Sudan.”

According to the International Office of Migration (IOM), over 7.1 million people have been internally displaced in Sudan since the onset of the conflict: the highest of any internally displaced population in the world, including Syria, Ukraine and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At least 24.7 million people – roughly half of the nation’s population – are in need of humanitarian aid, according to the UN. That is hampered by bureaucracy, violence and looting, the UN said.

The leaders of over 50 organizations have penned a letter, published by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, calling for increased aid and attention to the needs of Sudan’s civilians: “The costs of inaction are mounting”

“I have come to know Sudan as a country of tremendous potential, indomitable spirit, cultural richness and diversity,” Perthes said in his final address. “The Sudanese people inspired the whole world when they bravely upended three decades of dictatorial rule in 2019. They need our support more than ever.”


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