Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) prior to its 15 December expiration.
Key Recent Developments
In recent months, the security environment in Abyei, the disputed area straddling the Sudan-South Sudan border, has been quiet. In his 13 November report, the Secretary-General noted that clashes have not “occurred between the Ngok-Dinka and Misseriya communities, with the rainy season contributing to keeping…[them]…apart”. (The Ngok-Dinka view Abyei as their ancestral homeland and favour the region’s becoming part of South Sudan; the Misseriya are a transitory community who would prefer Abyei to remain part of Sudan and whose annual migration through Abyei to graze their cattle has in the past caused friction with the Ngok-Dinka.)
On 7 October, representatives of the Ngok-Dinka and Misseriya communities met in Todach in central Abyei to discuss the possibility of establishing a joint market, as a means of promoting trade and building trust between the two communities They could not reach agreement on the location of the market, with the Dinka wanting the market to be in the northern Abyei region and the Misseriya preferring that it be in Abyei town, which is situated in the south-central part of the region. Nonetheless, UNISFA continues to engage with the Ngok-Dinka and the Misseriya separately in an effort to bridge the gap between them. The 7 October meeting represented the first time the two communities had held face-to-face talks since the assassination of the Ngok-Dinka paramount chief Kuol Deng Kuol by a Misseriya assailant in May 2013.
On 6 October, the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smail Chergui, convened the fourth meeting of the AU Joint Boundary Commission, which is intended to focus on demarcating the Sudan/South Sudan border. Sudan and South Sudan were represented by State Minister of the Presidency El-Rashid Haroun and Minister of Information and Broadcasting Michael Makuei, respectively. The parties agreed to develop a plan for the border demarcation, produce a budget for the process and expedite the creation of an account to fund it.
The Joint Political and Security Mechanism (JPSM), the instrument employed by Sudan and South Sudan to discuss security matters of mutual concern, convened on 14 October in Addis Ababa. At the conclusion of the meeting, Sudan and South Sudan agreed to accept the centre line proposed by the AU High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) for the Safe Demilitarised Border Zone (SDBZ), a buffer zone along the Sudan-South Sudan border. With an agreed centre line, the boundaries of the SDBZ are established.
Obstacles remain in making the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM) along the border fully operational. South Sudan continues to deny landing permission to some of the planes monitoring the border. It also has refused landing permission for UNISFA peacekeepers to travel to Gok Machar in Northern Bahr el-Ghazal state to provide force protection for JBVMM monitors. Meanwhile, Sudan continues to prevent building materials from reaching Abyei to build the Anthony airfield, which “will…be critical for the proposed fixed-wing reconnaissance patrols, in support of the JBVMM”, according to the Secretary-General’s recent report. (It appears that Sudan has been concerned that the Anthony air base could be used to benefit South Sudan in the future, rather than just UNISFA, as the Abyei area is a disputed territory.)
On 24 November, Council members held consultations on Sudan/South Sudan and UNISFA. Haile Menkerios, Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, briefed (via video teleconference from Addis Ababa) on Sudan/South Sudan, while Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous briefed on UNISFA. Members agreed to press elements in which, among other things, they welcomed agreements reached by Sudan and South Sudan on the border and urged them to implement them.
One key issue is how to induce Sudan and South Sudan to cooperate with UNISFA in a more meaningful way. Delays in issuing visas, restrictions on the shipment of construction materials into Abyei for the Anthony air base and the denial of permission for flights monitoring the JBVMM are examples of how the parties hinder the effectiveness of the mission.
Another key issue is what role the Council can play in fostering dialogue between Sudan and South Sudan—as well as between the Ngok-Dinka and Misseriya communities—to address mutual concerns with regard to border security and Abyei. The reconvening of the JPSM and the 7 October meeting of Ngok-Dinka and Misseriya representatives are encouraging signs; nonetheless, progress remains limited in resolving fundamental differences among the parties in Abyei.
The most likely option is to renew UNISFA’s mandate for an additional four to six months. In renewing the mandate, the Council could:
- urge Sudan and South Sudan to enhance their cooperation with the mission (e.g. by issuing visas in a more timely fashion, providing flight clearances and not restricting the transfer of supplies for infrastructure projects);
- express support for recent dialogue between the parties and emphasise the importance of convening a reconciliation meeting among traditional leaders in Abyei, which was scheduled for 24 June but was ultimately cancelled, and a meeting of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee, which is designed to provide administrative and political oversight for the Abyei Area but has not met since March;
- reiterate that the ongoing presence of 80 to 110 Sudanese oil police in the Diffra oil facility violates several Council resolutions and the 20 June 2011 agreement, which specifies that Sudanese and South Sudanese forces should redeploy from Abyei Area; and
- request a greater focus on human rights issues in the Secretary-General’s reporting to the Council, while strengthening the language on human rights monitoring.
Concerns expressed by some members when UNISFA was first established in 2011 that the mission could have a front row seat to a “frozen conflict” grow in relevance with each passing mandate cycle. UNISFA was intended to be an interim force that would create space for negotiations to resolve outstanding issues, but the negotiations have had limited success. However, developments with regard to border security, including the decisions taken at the recent meetings of the AU Joint Boundary Commission and the JPSM, are viewed as encouraging signs by some members.
It was unclear at press time whether there would be differences of perspective with regard to the appropriate length of the UNISFA mandate. When UNISFA was last reauthorised in July, the US initially proposed a mandate renewal of four months, rather than the six months recommended by the Secretariat, in an apparent effort to pressure the parties to step up their negotiations on outstanding issues. Russia preferred deferring to the Secretariat’s recommendation. As a compromise, the mandate was renewed for five months.
The US is the penholder on UNISFA.
UN DOCUMENTS ON SUDAN/SOUTH SUDAN
|Security Council Resolutions|
|14 July 2015 S/RES/2230||This was a resolution renewing the mandate of UNISFA for an additional five months until 15 December 2015.|
|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.|
|13 November 2015 S/2015/870||This report was on UNISFA.|