Expected Council Action
Council members are expected to hold consultations in February to consider the Secretary-General’s report on the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) due by 2 February and to renew UNISFA’s mandate, which expires on 28 February.
Key Recent Developments
Abyei, the disputed area straddling the Sudan-South Sudan border, remains a major source of tension between the two countries. They still have not agreed on the criteria for voter participation in a referendum to determine whether Abyei joins Sudan or South Sudan. Sudan continues to maintain police around the Diffra oil facility in contravention of resolutions 1990 and 2046. And temporary administrative and security units—including the Abyei Area Executive Council, the Abyei Area Administration and the Abyei Police Service—envisaged by the 20 June 2011 agreement between the parties on “Temporary Arrangements for the Administration and Security of the Abyei Area” and designed to provide stability in the region until its final status can be determined have not been established.
Challenges also remain with regard to the implementation of the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM). As outlined in the 29 June 2011 agreement, the parties committed to monitor a Safe Demilitarised Border Zone (SDBZ) along a temporary border with support from the UN. In resolution 2024 of 14 December 2011, the Council authorised UNISFA to assist the parties in monitoring the border within the SDBZ. However, more than three years after the adoption of this resolution, the mission’s monitoring tasks have been minimal, confined to limited aerial observation. One problem has been that Sudan and South Sudan still have not agreed on a centre line for the SDBZ, which means that the territory encompassed by this zone is not clearly defined. Another challenge is the lack of UNISFA troops available to provide protection for Sudanese and South Sudanese monitors—as well as monitors from UNISFA—serving in the JBVMM along the border. The Council had this “force protection” in mind when it authorised an increase in UNISFA’s troop ceiling from 4,200 to 5,326 in resolution 2104 of 29 May 2013. However, according to the Secretary-General’s December 2014 report, only 121 force protection troops of the envisioned 1,126 have been deployed. Finally, at present, only two of the five envisioned JBVMM sector sites are operational. (These are in Kadugli and Gok Machar.)
The Council last met to discuss UNISFA and the situation in Abyei in consultations on 9 December 2014, with Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous briefing. He reported that South Sudan had appointed a co-chair of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (AJOC), although the AJOC has not formally reconvened since a Misseriya assailant shot and killed Deng Kuol Deng, the Ngok-Dinka paramount chief, in May 2013. (Initiated in 2011, the AJOC was designed to provide administrative and political oversight of Abyei.)
A mission to assess conditions in northern Abyei was conducted from 20 to 24 December 2014 by representatives of the AJOC, Global Aid Hand (a Sudanese NGO), the International Organization for Migration, Sudan’s Humanitarian Aid Commission and some UN agencies. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “preliminary findings of the mission indicate that there is a deterioration of basic services, including the availability of water, healthcare, education and civil infrastructure such as roads.” OCHA also noted that Misseriya inhabitants told the mission that since the death of Ngok-Dinka paramount chief Deng, UNISFA had prevented them from moving “south beyond 30 kilometres north of Abyei town”—i.e. into Dinka areas.
On 21 November 2014, Major General Birhanu Jula Gelalcha of Ethiopia was appointed Force Commander of UNISFA. Haile Talhun Gebremariam was appointed as head of mission on 28 January.
The fundamental issue remains whether and how the Council can compel Sudan and South Sudan to establish temporary administrative and security institutions in Abyei, and over the longer term, to agree on a mutually acceptable process for resolving the final status of the area.
Other key issues include how to:
- promote reconciliation between the Misseriya and Ngok-Dinka communities, which have been especially strained since the assassination of the Ngok-Dinka paramount chief;
- compel Sudan to withdraw its police, who are located at the Diffra oil facility, from Abyei;
- compel the parties to come to terms on a centre line for the SDBZ; and
- persuade the parties to reengage in earnest in the AJOC.
In renewing the mandate of UNISFA, the Council could consider:
- calling for UNISFA to undertake a joint assessment with Sudan on the security needs of the Diffra oil facility and develop a strategy for the mission to protect the facility, thus removing Sudan’s rationale for maintaining police in Abyei;
- urging the parties to actively reengage with one another through the AJOC; and
- urging the AU to make public the findings of its investigation on the assassination of the Ngok-Dinka paramount chief, as the lack of public information on this issue has aroused resentment among members of Abyei’s Dinka community.
The Council might also request a briefing from OCHA on humanitarian conditions throughout Abyei.
Another option would be to host an Arria formula meeting via video teleconference with Ngok-Dinka and Misseriya leaders in Abyei to get a better understanding of their grievances and what role the Council could play in addressing them.
Council members remain frustrated about the lack of progress on any of the fundamental issues separating the parties in Abyei. In May 2014, with the adoption of resolution 2156, Council members reduced UNISFA’s mandate cycle from 6 months to 4.5 months, in an unsuccessful effort to put pressure on the parties to move forward with constructive negotiations. Indeed, concerns among Council members since 2011 that Abyei could become a “frozen conflict” appear to have come to fruition, with the illusion of relative calm prevailing on the surface while underlying tensions between the Misseriya and the Ngok-Dinka—as well as between their patrons in Khartoum and Juba—make the area a potential flash point for renewed conflict between Sudan and South Sudan.
With respect to the Sudan/South Sudan file, the attention of Council members continues to be pulled in multiple directions, given the civil war in South Sudan, the deteriorating situation in Darfur, the on-going conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile and the unresolved status of Abyei. Given the urgency of the catastrophes unfolding in different parts of Sudan and South Sudan, the perception of relative calm in Abyei means that it has not received the same intensive focus as other Sudan/South Sudan matters in recent times.
The US is the penholder on UNISFA.
|Security Council Resolutions
|14 October 2014 S/RES/2179
|This was a resolution extending UNISFA’s mandate until 28 February 2015.
|29 May 2014 S/RES/2156
|This renewed the mandate of UNISFA until 15 October.
|2 May 2012 S/RES/2046
|This resolution was on Sudan-South Sudan relations and provided a roadmap for Sudan, South Sudan and the SPLM-N to resolve outstanding issues and threatened Article 41 measures.
|27 June 2011 S/RES/1990
|This resolution established the UN Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA), comprised of 4,200 Ethiopian troops, for six months.
|1 December 2014 S/2014/862
|This was the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abyei.