‘Persona non grata’ Volker Perthes quits as UN Special Representative for Sudan

UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Sudan, and head of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), Volker Perthes, briefs to the UN Security Council (UNSC) in New York on Wednesday (Photo: UN)

In what became his valedictory briefing to the UN Security Council (UNSC) in New York, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Sudan, and head of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), Volker Perthes, announced his resignation on Wednesday. Ongoing pressure on his person from the Sudan junta, including being declared ‘persona non grata’, has made is position untenable.

Addressing the UNSC on Wednesday on the situation in Sudan from May 7 to August 20, Perthes lamented that almost five months have passed since the deadly conflict erupted between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The fighting shows no sign of abating while neither side appears close to a decisive military victory.

“I have had the privilege to serve as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan for more than two and a half years. I am grateful to the Secretary-General for that opportunity and for his confidence in me, but I have asked him to relieve me of this duty. This will therefore be my last briefing in this function,” Perthes told the UNSC, urging the council the “they [the Sudanese people] need our support and solidarity in pressuring the military leaderships to end this war and holding them to account, and in empowering civilians for an eventual transition towards democratic governance.”

Situation in Sudan

In his briefing, Perthes told delegates: “Fierce fighting continues in the capital, with the main battles around strategic installations and recurrent attempts by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) to drive the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) out of civilian neighbourhoods. At least 5,000 people have been killed since the start of the conflict, and over 12,000 injured. And these are conservative figures, and the actual number is likely much higher. In Darfur, violence has worsened dramatically, and the warring parties have demonstrated blatant disregard for human rights and international humanitarian law. Civilians have been targeted on an ethnic basis and driven out of El Geneina and other locations in Darfur,” Perthes says.

He highlights that fighting between the SAF and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North led by Abdelaziz El Hilu (SPLM-N El Hilu) has left many people displaced and caused civilian casualties.

‘What started as a conflict between two military formations could be morphing into a full-scale civil war’

“While the situation is relatively calm in the East, tensions have risen amidst ongoing tribal mobilisation. And the mobilisation by former regime elements advocating for a continuation of the war is of particular concern. All these developments add to the risk of a fragmentation of the country. What started as a conflict between two military formations could be morphing into a full-scale civil war”.

‘Fighting could have been avoided’

Perthes further voices regrets that the hostilities in Sudan were ignited on April 15, in spite of international efforts to broker negotiations: “The descent into fighting on 15 April could have been avoided if the warring parties had heeded multiple calls of both Sudanese and international actors for de-escalation, and continued with dialogue. Sudanese civilians as well as UNITAMS, with our regional and international partners, all made efforts to help the parties resolve their differences through negotiations. The Framework Agreement of December 2022, which had been negotiated by the military leadership and civilian actors without any external presence, outlined contours of a political agreement to lead the country toward civilian rule. It also stipulated further consultations on contentious subjects, such as transitional justice and security sector reform. And following the request by the military and civilian (partners) signatories, the Trilateral Mechanism – composed of the African Union, IGAD and UNITAMS the United Nations mission – facilitated these consultations in a series of workshops with broad participation from across Sudanese society,” he told the UNSC.

‘The warring parties chose to settle their conflict through fighting, and it is their duty to the Sudanese people to end it’

“As the consultations proceeded, however, the SAF and the RSF were irresponsibly building up their forces in the capital, while assuring the international community and the Sudanese of their commitment to peace. Until the last moment, I and our Trilateral Mechanism partners had warned that it would only take a spark to ignite armed confrontation. And that is sadly what happened.

Let me be clear, for the benefit of history, that regardless of who fired the first shot, both sides were clearly setting the stage for war. The warring parties chose to settle their conflict through fighting, and it is their duty to the Sudanese people to end it.”

‘This conflict is 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. The war is destroying the lives of the Sudanese men and women, violating their basic rights, and depriving them of the future they deserve… This conflict is leaving a tragic legacy of human rights abuses.

“I remain appalled by the widespread acts of sexual violence and other forms of violence against women,” Perthes says. “We need credible investigations, accountability for these crimes, as well as services provided for survivors. Sudanese women’s groups are rightly calling for our collective condemnation, as well as for prevention and justice.”

He points out” “The United Nations will never stay neutral when it comes to war and human rights abuses. We are on the side of the Sudanese civilians, women and children and the vulnerable populations who bear the brunt of the conflict. There is little doubt (about) 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 and are conducted or tolerated by the RSF and their allies. Both sides are arbitrarily arresting, detaining, and even torturing civilians and there are reports about extrajudicial killings and detention. We need to impress on the warring parties that they cannot operate with impunity, and there will be accountability for the crimes committed.”


The UN envoy, who was interviewed by Radio Dabanga in May, has had a tenuous relationship with the Sudanese military government, especially since the start of the hostilities between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in April.

In June, the Sudanese Foreign Ministry communicated with the Secretary-General of the UN, António Guterres, informing him that Volker Perthes had been declared persona non grata in Sudan. The UN said at the time that this is contrary to the obligations of States under the Charter of the United Nations.

In May, Lt Gen Abdelfattah El Burhan, Commander-in-Chief of the SAF and President of the Sovereignty Council requested UN Secretary-General António Guterres to replace Perthes.

In a four-page letter, El Burhan commends the establishment of UNITAMS in early 2021, after the UN Security Council decided to establish the mission to replace the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) in June the year before.

However, the “transparent and just functioning of UNITAMS has been lost, due to the performance and personal disposition of the head of the mission and mediators from outside the mission”.

El Burhan further gives a number of examples of “the strange behaviour” of Perthes during the transitional period, in his reactions to the political developments in Sudan since his arrival in Sudan in February 2021, and concludes the letter with the request to replace the envoy.

In a short reaction to El Burhan’s letter at the time, Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the Secretary-General, said at the time that Guterres was “shocked” by the request to remove his envoy in Sudan.

“The Secretary-General is proud of the work done by Volker Perthes and reaffirms his full confidence in his Special Representative,” Dujarric stated at the time.

Read the complete UNSC briefing here