Your questions answered about ICRC's work in Sudan

Your questions answered about ICRC's work in Sudan

Here are some frequently asked questions about the ICRC’s operations in Sudan, which has been witnessing fighting since mid-April between the Sudanese Armed Forces and Rapid Support Forces.
Article 06 September 2023 Sudan

We understand the importance of accurate information, especially during challenging times. Through these answers to common questions, this page aims to debunk false and misleading information about us and give you a better understanding of our humanitarian work.

 What is the ICRC doing in Sudan?

The ICRC, a neutral humanitarian organization, has been present in Sudan since 1978, The ICRC helps victims of conflicts in Sudan and elsewhere, while also promoting International Humanitarian Law (IHL).

Our work today, independently or in cooperation with the Sudanese Red Crescent Society (SRCS), includes supporting hospitals with equipment and supplies, working with local water authorities on improving people's access to clean water, and supporting the authorities who provide rehabilitation services for people with disabilities. We help families separated by conflict or displacement keep in touch and facilitate the release of detainees upon request of the parties. Importantly, we monitor the application of IHL by all parties to the conflict.

The ICRC has also acted as a neutral intermediary between the parties to the conflict. This approach allows the ICRC to talk to all sides of a conflict and facilitate the release of persons deprived of their liberty in relation to the conflict. Learn more about our work in Sudan here.

What is your access like today? Are the parties letting you work?

In Sudan as elsewhere, we are in touch with parties to the conflict. Through confidential dialogue the ICRC is able to seek the security guarantees it needs to safely access healthcare facilities and deliver other humanitarian operations.

Despite reports of direct threats and attacks against humanitarian personnel including the Sudanese Red Crescent Society (SRCS), we operate under the clear principles of International Humanitarian Law which is very clear on this: humanitarian organizations, its personnel, and all resources and objects used for humanitarian operations must be respected and protected. Our teams work to ensure safe passage for delivering supplies to medical facilities, even in active conflict zones, while also supporting relevant authorities to expand our presence and activities.

 Does the ICRC coordinate its efforts and activities with other organizations in Sudan?

The ICRC has a long-established operational partnership with the Sudanese Red Crescent Society (SRCS), which started well before the current crisis, and dates back to when the ICRC first started working in Sudan in 1978.

In response to the current crisis, we have intensified collaboration with the SRCS to respond to the humanitarian needs of communities worst affected by the fighting. The ICRC also coordinates its response with the RCRC Movement components and other humanitarian organizations in the country and in neighboring countries.

What is the role of the Sudanese Red Crescent Society in response to the crisis?

Despite security challenges, Sudanese Red Crescent Society (SRCS) staff and volunteers continue to do all they can to help others daily in an extremely volatile security environment with minimal means and despite huge personal risks. The ICRC has been supporting them in their humanitarian tasks providing technical advice, capacity building on humanitarian forensics, and material support to the SRCS to help them manage human remains with respect and dignity as well as to maximize the possibilities to identify the dead. The SRCS staff and volunteers have taken huge risks to alleviate the suffering of the population since the conflict began. They continue to do all they can to help others, day in day out, in an extremely volatile security environment and with minimal means.

What is the role of the ICRC when it comes to detainees in Sudan?

The ICRC closely follows the situation of detainees with those in charge of places of detention in Sudan with the aim of securing proper treatment, have dignified material conditions and are afforded due process. So far, the ICRC in Sudan does not have any access to those places of detention. However, we have received positive signals and hope to begin visiting soon.

What is the role of the ICRC in detainees' release?

The ICRC's acts as a neutral intermediary in facilitating detainees' release based on explicit requests and deals between parties to the conflict. Responsibility for the release of detainees lies with the parties involved in the conflict. The ICRC always ensures that the release is conducted safely and with the consent of the detainee.

How does the ICRC support refugees?

The UNHCR in Sudan primarily supports and protect refugees and asylum seekers. The ICRC closely follows the work of the agency but maintains full independence from that body. However, when refugees and asylum seekers happen to be in a country affected by conflict, the ICRC considers them part of the civilian population that the ICRC is entrusted to protect and assist.

Furthermore, the ICRC is also involved in addressing cross-border tracing and family link requirements. Since the beginning of July, the ICRC and the Red Cross of Chad have organized more than 1,500 phone calls for Sudanese refugees who lost contact with their families when they fled to Chad.

Through the global family links network of the Red Cross movement, we offer services, including aiding unaccompanied children in finding their families, especially if they are in different countries.

What is the ICRC's position on allegations of IHL violations in Sudan?

The ICRC takes allegations of violations very seriously. The organization monitors and upholds respect for International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and reminds parties engaged in conflict of their legal obligations. Whenever possible, we talk directly and confidentially to the concerned party involved in the conflict. This is our usual way of working.

The main concern for the ICRC is the well-being of civilians and we constantly remind all parties to the conflict of their obligation to take all feasible precautions to prevent harm to civilians and civilian objects that can result from military operations.

Why does the ICRC work with parties and why doesn't it take sides?

The ICRC is a neutral humanitarian organization whose mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence and to provide them with assistance. Our working methods must allow us to do that, to work in very dangerous and violent contexts of armed conflict on the battlefield on both sides of the frontline. This only works if all parties understand the benefits of our presence.

The ICRC's neutrality isn't a value as much as it is an operational necessity. That is to say, we don't take neutrality as a moral position. Instead, it allows for relationships to address complex issues that have direct effects on the lives of people affected by conflict.

This might mean working with parties to negotiate safe passage for civilians, which requires the cooperation of all sides, or facilitating the exchange of remains of fallen combatants. It also allows us to be a conduit of information to share news of missing loved ones with anxious families. If we only speak to one side of a conflict, we are not able to raise critical issues such as the treatment of prisoners of war, or the conduct of hostilities.

In order for substantiative changes to be made, it is not enough to just engage with people who are affected by armed conflict. It is imperative that we are also in continuous dialogue with perpetrating parties to conflicts to advocate for respect for international humanitarian law.

The ICRC's position with regard to public statements and appeals is sometimes criticized. When it comes to public statements, the ICRC continues to be regarded as discreet or at least reserved, as it undoubtedly is in comparison with other organizations. However, comparisons can be misleading, given the different mandates, tasks and activities of different organizations.

Why don't you speak more publicly and what does the confidential dialogue mean?

The ICRC's preferred means of working is through confidential dialogue because it allows us to talk candidly with the people, groups, and parties to an armed conflict or those involved in other situations of violence. It allows us to build trust, gain access, and ensure the security of both our staff and the people we are trying to help.

By adopting this approach, we also avoid the risk of politicizing issues through public debate. This approach has helped us to facilitate the release of prisoners of war in Yemen, facilitate the release of kidnapped girls in Nigeria, organize the evacuation of civilians from Aleppo, Syria or Mariupol, Ukraine to name but a few recent examples. This approach saves lives. And this is our priority.

The ICRC does not refrain from public comment, yet it avoids making one-sided condemnations of individual parties to a conflict. While we might be criticized for this approach, it is clear that our ultimate objective – providing humanitarian and protection assistance – must not be jeopardized by public declarations.

Does the ICRC conduct espionage activities?

The ICRC does not conduct espionage activities. It would go against all legal norms, as well as our principles, to engage in these activities. Our mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence and to provide them with assistance.

In fact, the ICRC's code of conduct emphasizes the duty of discretion and maintaining confidentiality when it comes to the information we acquire in the course of our work. This code of conduct applies to anyone working for the ICRC, that means all employees, including consultants and volunteers, are all required to treat such information confidentially and are bound by an obligation similar to professional secrecy.

We welcome questions about our work and strive to be as transparent as possible about our operations without jeopardizing the confidential and bilateral dialogue that is central to our engagement with parties to conflicts across the globe.

Where does ICRC Sudan share official updates?

The ICRC recognizes the importance of access to accurate and reliable information. People affected by the conflict in Sudan may find some important information here. You can also stay updated by following our official Facebook page and Sudan Twitter page (now known as X) or visit the ICRC official website as a valuable resource for comprehensive information about our operations in Sudan in various languages, including English and Arabic.


 Take care before you share.

If you come across content online that you believe to be false or misleading, you can report it directly to the social media platform.

You can also help slow the spread of misinformation by checking the veracity of questionable information before sharing it with others.

For further reading, access below pages

You can't handle the truth: misinformation and humanitarian action
Digital risks for populations in armed conflict: Five key gaps the humanitarian sector should address
Safeguarding humanitarian organizations from digital threats
Q&A: Humanitarian operations, the spread of harmful information and data protection
Liar's war: Protecting civilians from disinformation during armed conflict
Protecting the global information space in times of armed conflict