At the request of Sudanese authorities, the UN Security Council has ended the world body's political mission in the African country ravaged by more than seven months of fighting between two rival generals.
Following a letter from Khartoum demanding an immediate end to the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), the Security Council adopted a resolution terminating its mandate as of Sunday.
Starting Monday, a three-month transition period would begin to allow for the departure of UNITAMS personnel and the transfer of its tasks to other UN agencies "where appropriate and to the extent feasible".
The UN mission in Sudan employs 245 people, including 88 in Port Sudan, as well as others in Nairobi and Addis Ababa, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric confirmed last month.
Fourteen of the council's 15 members adopted the resolution, while Russia abstained.
"Let me be clear. The United Kingdom would not have chosen to close UNITAMS at this moment," said Britain's deputy UN envoy James Kariuki, whose country drafted the text.
Added US envoy Robert Wood: "We are gravely concerned that a reduced international presence in Sudan will only serve to embolden the perpetrators of atrocities with dire consequences for civilians."
In the text, the council expressed "alarm at the continued violence and humanitarian situation, in particular violations of international humanitarian law and grave human rights violations and abuses" in Sudan.
The Security Council decision "is the culmination of its catastrophic abdication of responsibility to the civilians of Sudan at a moment when the risk of atrocities and large-scale human rights abuses is greater than ever," Human Rights Watch UN director Louis Charbonneau said in a statement.
UNITAMS was put in place in 2020 to help support a democratic transition in Sudan following the fall the previous year of veteran Islamist autocrat Omar al-Bashir, who faced pressure from both the military and mass protests.
But in October 2021, the difficult path to civilian government was cut short, when army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan assumed full powers in a coup.
On April 15, before a deal on resuming the transition to democracy could be signed, fighting erupted between the Sudanese army led by Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.
A few weeks later, Burhan demanded that UNITAMS chief Volker Perthes be sacked, placing blame for the violence on his shoulders.
The German diplomat, who was barred from returning to Sudan, ultimately stepped down in September, and has not been replaced.
Last month, saying the mission had been "disappointing," the government in Khartoum demanded its immediate end, leaving the Security Council with virtually no choice but to withdraw, as the UN must operate with the host nation's consent.
'Call a spade a spade'
Just days ago, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres rejected all accusations made against the world body, pointing a finger at Burhan and Daglo, "two generals that completely disregard the interests of their population."
"I think it's time to call a spade a spade. This is the fault of those that sacrificed the interests of their people for a pure struggle for power," Guterres said.
He has named Algerian diplomat Ramtane Lamamra as his personal envoy for Sudan.
The forced departure of UNITAMS is a new setback for the United Nations, which is facing a certain amount of hostility, notably in Africa, about the efficiency of its political and security missions.
Under pressure from Mali's ruling junta, the Security Council ended its peacekeeping mission in that country (MINUSMA) in June, and its blue helmets should be full withdrawn by year's end.
The civil war has left more than 10,000 dead since April, according to an estimate by the non-governmental organization Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (Acled), a figure that is widely considered an underestimate.
Six million people have been displaced, and much infrastructure destroyed, the UN says.