Sudan and South Sudan
Expected Council Action
In April, Council members are scheduled to be briefed in consultations on Sudan-South Sudan issues. A press statement is a potential outcome. The mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) expires on 31 May.
Key Recent Developments
Within the last few months, bilateral relations between Sudan and South Sudan have been characterised by détente. Accusations of cross-border support for insurgencies, once commonly exchanged between Khartoum and Juba, have become less frequent and less strident. Sudan has participated in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) mediation team on South Sudan, although it is apparently not being considered as a potential troop-contributing country for the Protection and Deterrent Force recently authorised by IGAD for South Sudan. In basic terms, worsening intrastate conflicts in Sudan and South Sudan may have reduced the prospect of renewed interstate conflict, at least in the short term. Border conflict remains a risk, however, particularly in the continued absence of any progress on preventive measures, such as establishing the Safe Demilitarized Border Zone (SDBZ) and deploying the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM).
Most notably, with recent inter-communal clashes and a mounting deployment of troops and police by Sudan and South Sudan, Abyei continues to be a flashpoint and threatens to become a catalyst for a broader conflict involving the two countries. The Secretary-General’s report on UNISFA, released 25 February (S/2014/126), notes the presence of 660 troops and police from South Sudan and the continued deployment of about 150 oil police from Sudan. Media reports in March suggested that there has been an upsurge of violence between the Misseriya and Ngok Dinka communities, with differing claims regarding the scale of the clashes and what forces are ultimately responsible. With armed groups proliferating in the area and scant progress toward implementing the institutional framework to manage a transition and determine Abyei’s status, UNISFA has come under increasing scrutiny in a highly contentious environment.
With respect to the conflict between Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) rebel group in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, talks mediated by the AU High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) seem to be at an impasse. Following negotiations that had started on 13 February and were then suspended from 18-27 February, AUHIP chair Thabo Mbeki announced on 2 March that the issue would be referred back to the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) due to an irreconcilable gap in the positions of the two parties. Major disagreements appear to be over whether there should be a single forum and a national approach for addressing conflicts in South Kordofan and Blue Nile (i.e. “Two Areas”) and Darfur as advocated by the SPLM-N or whether these should be mediated separately as Sudan argues. On 10 March, the PSC issued a communiqué encouraging the SPLM-N to respond to a draft framework agreement concerning the Two Areas but not Darfur, which AUHIP had proposed on 18 February. The communiqué requested that the parties reach an agreement by 30 April.
On 13 March, a court in Sudan sentenced Malik Agar and Yassir Arman, Chairman and Secretary-General of the SPLM-N respectively, in absentia to death by hanging. Fifteen other SPLM-N members were also sentenced to death in absentia, and trials were held for 78 SPLM-N members in custody (31 were acquitted, 46 were given life sentences and one was sentenced to death). All of the SPLM-N members on trial had been charged with terrorism, weapons possession or other criminal acts allegedly related to the outbreak of armed conflict in Blue Nile state in September 2011. The SPLM-N, the main opposition party at the time, was banned and many of its members were arrested. After the verdicts, an SPLM-N spokesperson said: “It is a drama, baseless drama. Nobody will recognise this”. It is unclear what impact the sentencing of Agar and Arman might have on negotiations between the SPLM-N and Sudan (Arman has led the SPLM-N delegation at the talks held in Addis Ababa).
Council members were last briefed in consultations by Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Sudan and South Sudan Haile Menkerios on 12 March. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous also briefed Council members in consultations on UNISFA. On 17 March, the Council issued a press statement concerning developments in Abyei, the AUHIP-mediated talks and the humanitarian situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states (SC/11321).
One highly critical set of issues relate to the ongoing armed conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, including a continued lack of humanitarian access and a potential deadlock in the AUHIP-mediated talks.
Another important issue is stabilisation of the situation in Abyei before violence escalates further, thus potentially raising the prospect of direct military confrontation between the two countries.
Perhaps the most likely option is for the Council to issue a press statement in support of the AUHIP and its facilitation of negotiations between Sudan and the SPLM-N, as it did on 14 February (SC/11282) and 17 March (SC/11321).
Alternatively, if the next round of talks in Addis Ababa fails to progress, Council members could hold discussions with their PSC counterparts to reconsider AU and UN strategies toward mediation of the Two Areas and Darfur.
Regarding Abyei, the Council is unlikely to take action until after consideration of the next Secretary-General’s quarterly report on UNISFA. The Council could choose to revise UNISFA’s mandate when it is due for renewal in May.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Longstanding political divisions within the Council (particularly among the P5 members) on policymaking regarding Sudan and South Sudan seem to have constrained the latitude for creative UN action in response to a situation of protracted armed conflict, worsening humanitarian crises, stagnated implementation of conflict resolution mechanisms (e.g., SDBZ and JBVMM) and faltering mediation efforts. Even something as ostensibly simple as issuing a press statement, which could be an efficient and timely process even though it requires consensus, has been problematic more often than not within the context of Sudan and South Sudan (apparently silence was broken on the most recent press statement due to an objection to the phrasing regarding the stalled AUHIP talks).
While it may be advisable for the Council to follow the lead taken by regional organisations in some instances, its failure to more effectively engage on the Two Areas, Abyei and border security issues seems to be more a product of its own impasse than UN deference to the AU. There may be a need for the UN and the AU to rethink their strategies for peacekeeping and mediation in Sudan. Whether international and regional actors are willing and able to escape policymaking inertia in a search for more viable alternatives remains to be seen.
The US is the penholder on Sudan-South Sudan issues.
UN Documents on Sudan and South Sudan
|Security Council Resolution|
|2 May 2012 S/RES/2046||This resolution was on Sudan-South Sudan relations.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|17 March 2014 SC/11321||This press statement concerned the volatile security situation in Abyei and the AUHIP-mediated talks between Sudan and the SPLM-N.|
|14 February 2014 SC/11282||This press statement welcomed the resumption of negotiations between Sudan and the SPLM-N.|
|25 February 2014 S/2014/126||This was a report of the Secretary-General on UNISFA.|
|Security Council Letter|
|11 November 2013 S/2013/657||This was a letter which informed about the change of frequency of meetings on implementation of resolution 2046 from semi-monthly to once a month.|
Useful Additional Resources
Looming Crisis: Open Wounds in Abyei Increase Risk of New War, Enough Project, 13 March 2014.
Communique [PSC/PR/COMM.(CDXXIII)], AU PSC, 10 March 2014.