Sudan and South Sudan
Expected Council Action
In November, the Council is expected to hold one (or two) meetings, likely in consultations, on compliance by Sudan, South Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) with resolution 2046. (Meetings on Sudan-South Sudan have been semi-monthly since May 2012, although Council members have discussed reducing the frequency of these meetings to once per month, with no final determination made at press time.)
The Council also expects to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), prior to its 30 November expiration.
Key Recent Developments
Large protests broke out in Sudan on 23 September, after the government cut fuel subsidies, with thousands marching in Khartoum and other cities throughout the country. While the initial spark was economic, the protests took on a political dimension, with many of the protestors calling for regime change. The unrest died down by the second week of October after Sudan violently repressed the protests, with casualty figures varying from over 60 according to official sources to about 200 according to some human rights organisations. (The government asserts that its forces did not commit the killings.)
Members of the UN Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) convened in Addis Ababa for their annual consultative meeting on 8 October. The joint communiqué issued during the meeting focused in part on Sudan-South Sudan relations but did not mention the protests that had been gripping Sudan (S/2013/611). Among its elements, the communiqué:
- welcomed the progress in Sudan-South Sudan relations;
- stressed the need for them to resolve outstanding issues, including the final status of Abyei and other disputed border areas;
- encouraged the parties to resume discussions on the 21 September 2012 proposal by the AU High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP), which calls for a referendum in Abyei;
- called on Sudan and the SPLM-N to cease hostilities and resume negotiations towards a political settlement in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states; and
- called on them to resolve technical challenges so that a polio vaccination campaign for children can be conducted in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
On 10 October, the Council held consultations of Sudan-South Sudan issues and UNISFA with briefings by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous and UNISFA Force Commander Yohannes Tesfamariam (via videoconference). Tesfamariam expressed concern about the security situation in Abyei, noting that the Ngok-Dinka community residing in the area continued to make unilateral preparations for a referendum in Abyei. Ladsous noted the urgency of conducting a polio vaccination campaign for children in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. No mention in the meeting was made of the domestic turmoil in Sudan.
On 11 October the Council issued a press statement (SC/11145) that, inter alia:
- expressed concern about the threat of polio spreading throughout South Kordofan;
- called on Sudan and the SPLM-N to resolve their differences regarding the technical aspects of implementing the polio vaccination campaign so that it can begin on 5 November; and
- encouraged the Secretary-General to “engage with both sides to ensure full vaccination in the coming weeks”.
At press time, the parties had reportedly not come to terms on the vaccination’s delivery. While both sides have agreed to the campaign in principle, they still must resolve important issues including the terms of a cessation of hostilities and who will have responsibility for delivering the vaccination, as the SPLM-N is reluctant for Sudan to participate in the delivery process.
In a 9 October letter to the AU Commission, President Salva Kiir of South Sudan said that Sudan and South Sudan would be unable to come up with a solution to Abyei’s final status. He asked that the PSC endorse the AUHIP proposal and facilitate creation of a referendum commission so that the vote could take place in October.
On 18 October, the Ngok-Dinka community issued a statement declaring its “intent to conduct…the Abyei Area Community Referendum”. The statement asserted that the 23 September PSC communiqué—which reiterated the 21 September 2012 AUHIP proposal—“offers nothing to the Ngok Dinka”. (The Ngok-Dinka are frustrated that a referendum has yet to take place, as envisaged in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and originally scheduled for 9 January 2011.)
A PSC press statement (PSC/PR/BR.[CDI]) issued on 21 October reiterated that the 21 September proposal represents “a fair, equitable and workable solution to the dispute between the two countries,” while also stressing “the urgency of establishing the Abyei Area Referendum Commission.”
Kiir met with President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan in Juba on 22 October. While they did not make progress on the final status of Abyei, they, inter-alia, agreed in a joint communiqué:
- to expedite the establishment of the Abyei temporary administrative institutions (Abyei Area Administration, Abyei Area Council and Abyei Police Force);
- to continue to advocate for debt relief development support for Sudan and South Sudan and the lifting of economic sanctions on Sudan; and
- to strengthen cooperation between the central banks of both countries.
Council members held consultations on Sudan-South Sudan on 24 October during which they agreed to press elements that inter-alia:
- reiterated grave concern about the volatile situation in Abyei and called on all parties to refrain from unilateral actions;
- welcomed the 22 October summit and the commitment by Bashir and Kiir to expedite establishment of the Abyei administrative institutions; and
- recalled that resolution 2046 decided that the parties had to resume negotiations at once on Abyei’s final status.
The PSC had planned to visit Abyei on 26-27 October, but Sudan postponed the trip, claiming that it could not ensure a secure environment. On 26 October, the PSC adopted a communiqué (PSC/PR/COMM.[CDIII]) which:
- expressed disappointment that it could not visit Abyei “due to the insistence of Sudan that the visit be postponed for contrived security reasons”;
- rescheduled the trip to 5-6 November;
- warned stakeholders in Abyei to refrain from unilateral actions; and
- reiterated its “full acceptance of, and support to” the AUHIP’s 21 September 2012 proposal, while urging the UN Security Council to do likewise.
On 27 October, the Ngok-Dinka community initiated its own referendum in Abyei without official endorsement from Sudan or South Sudan. The vote was expected to last for three days and the results announced on 31 October. AU Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma issued a statement on 28 October condemning the exercise as “unacceptable and irresponsible.”
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 25 September, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, Mashood Adebayo Baderin. Baderin undertook two missions to Sudan, in February and June, but was unable to visit South Kordofan due to the security situation in the region (A/HRC/24/31). Baderin noted that the human rights situation remains precarious and highlighted his concern vis-à-vis the curtailment of the activities of civil society organisations, press censorship, arbitrary arrest, the limitation on freedom of religion and the persistence of sexual and gender-based violence. On 27 September, the HRC renewed the mandate of the independent expert for a period of one year.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Baderin, on 27 September and 3 October respectively, condemned the use of excessive force by the government against peaceful protestors. Baderin also expressed deep concern at the mass arrests and the heavy censorship on local media. He urged the government to charge all those arrested with a recognisable offence or immediately release them and called for detainees to be granted access to their families, legal representation and medical care.
With respect to UNISFA and the situation in Abyei, key issues include:
- how to maintain calm in Abyei, given the Ngok-Dinka decision to go ahead with a unilateral referendum;
- how to expedite UNISFA’s progress in its deployment and establishing the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM) along the Sudan-South Sudan border; and
- how to break the deadlock in establishing the temporary administrative institutions in Abyei.
Other key issues on Sudan-South Sudan include:
- how to nurture the apparent thaw in relations between Sudan and South Sudan since the summit meeting between Bashir and Kiir on 3 September;
- how to persuade Sudan and the SPLM-N to work through the challenges of vaccination delivery in SPLM-N-controlled areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile; and
- whether the Council should play a role in addressing domestic unrest in Sudan and if so, what that role should be.
One option is for the Council to renew UNISFA’s mandate for one year, as recommended by the Secretary-General and as a departure from the current six-month duration of the mandate. (Although UNISFA is meant to be an interim force, many of the unresolved challenges that face Sudan and South Sudan with respect to Abyei continue to prove intractable, a rationale for the longer mandate.)
Another option is to renew the mission for the standard six months, which may signal the importance of expediting the deployment of the additional troops mandated by resolution 2104 and fully operationalising the JBVMM.
Other options regarding Abyei and UNISFA include:
- condemning the unilateral conduct of the referendum in Abyei while emphasising Sudan’s CPA commitment to holding a referendum;
- requesting a briefing from members of the PSC on their visit to Abyei, assuming they travel to the area in November; and
- holding an Arria formula meeting with Ngok-Dinka and Misseriya leaders (via videoconference, if required) to learn about the situation on the ground and to get their perspectives on final-status discussions.
On other Sudan-South Sudan issues, the Council may consider inviting Thabo Mbeki, chair of the AUHIP, to engage with Council members in an informal interactive dialogue, as Mbeki has not briefed the Council since 27 March.
The Council could also request that the Secretary-General, in collaboration with the AU Commission, produce a report outlining options for harmonising the efforts and mandates of Mbeki; UN Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Haile Menkerios; and AU-UN Joint Special Representative for Darfur Mohamed Ibn Chambas. This could provide ideas for how to promote the more holistic, strategic approach on Sudan-South Sudan issues that some analysts believe is needed.
There is widespread unease among Council members about the tense situation in Abyei and the lack of any progress in negotiations on its final status. Council members are united in their belief that the Ngok-Dinka decision to hold a unilateral referendum in Abyei could greatly exacerbate the situation on the ground, although some members emphasise that Sudan should honour the commitment it made in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement to hold a referendum. Likewise, some members support the AUHIP’s 21 September proposal, while others do not, likely because it has not been mutually agreed upon by the parties. (South Sudan supports the proposal, while Sudan does not.)
The Council largely ignored the internal unrest that gripped Sudan in late September and early October. However, while some members have noted that this unrest is an internal issue, others appear to be concerned about the level of government repression. It seems that some members also believe that the protests, which were initially sparked by the removal of fuel subsidies, bolster their argument that debt relief and a removal of economic sanctions on Sudan should be seriously considered.
The US is the penholder on Sudan-South Sudan issues.
UN Documents on Sudan and South Sudan
|Security Council Resolution|
|29 May 2013 S/RES/2104||This resolution extended UNISFA’s mandate until 30 November 2013 and authorised a troop ceiling of 5,326 troops.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|11 October 2013 SC/11145||This press statement urged Sudan and the SPLM-N to hold a polio vaccination campaign in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.|
|27 September 2013 S/2013/577||This was a Secretary-General’s report on Abyei.|