Expected Council Action
In November, members of the Security Council will hold consultations on the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) and on Sudan/South Sudan issues more generally. The Council expects to renew the mandate of UNISFA prior to its 15 November expiration.
Key Recent Developments
On 5 June, Sudan and South Sudan convened a ministerial-level meeting in Khartoum of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism (JPSM), the instrument employed by the two states to discuss political and security matters of mutual concern. The parties agreed during the meeting to reactivate the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM). The JBVMM is intended to monitor the Sudan-South Sudan border, but the Secretary-General has cited in past UNISFA reports a lack of cooperation by the parties in implementing this mechanism, whose operation UNISFA is mandated to support. However, it remains unclear whether the parties have followed through on their commitment made at the meeting to remove their forces from the Safe Demilitarised Border Zone, which the JBVMM is intended to monitor.
At the 5 June meeting, Zewda Belay Malefiya, a brigadier general serving in UNISFA, reportedly noted that the mission had been able to conduct only 37 percent of its aerial patrols along the border as a result of poor weather conditions, insecurity and troop rotations. Aerial patrols have also been limited because the government of South Sudan has denied landing rights to planes expected to monitor the border as a part of the JBVMM.
Between April 2015 and September 2016, Sudan delayed renewing the visas of police officers in UNISFA and providing new visas to police meant to rotate into the mission. This led to significant understaffing of the mission’s police component. In his 12 October UNISFA report, the Secretary-General noted that only eight police officers were serving in UNISFA, which is authorised to have 50 police officers. Nonetheless, the Secretary-General welcomed “the fact that, on 6 October, the Government [of Sudan] issued 14 entry visas and travel permits for the UNISFA police component”.
In June, a joint market was established in Amiet, just north of the town of Abyei, for the Ngok-Dinka and Misseriya groups. The market is intended to promote peaceful relations between the two groups. However, violence at the market caused its temporary closure. UNISFA helped organise three meetings between Ngok-Dinka and Misseriya leaders in July and August in Todach to discuss the security and administration of the joint market. The leaders from both groups reached an agreement to reopen the market in Amiet as a temporary site until the end of the calendar year. They further “affirmed their commitment to peaceful coexistence, payment of compensation for past cases of criminality and measures to end the insecurity surrounding the common market by establishing a joint traditional court”, according to the Secretary-General’s recent UNISFA report. Historically, there have been tensions in Abyei between the Ngok-Dinka, who view Abyei as their ancestral homeland, and the Misseriya, who migrate through the region to graze their cattle.
Taban Deng Gai, first vice-president of South Sudan, met with high-level Sudanese officials, including President Omar al-Bashir, during a 21-22 August visit to Khartoum. Both states committed to expel rebels who had sought refuge on each other’s territory within 21 days.
Sudanese Ambassador Omer Dahab Fadl Mohamed addressed the Council on 12 May following the adoption of resolution 2287 extending the UNISFA mandate. He maintained that Abyei, a disputed region straddling the Sudan-South Sudan border, is a part of Sudan and that its status “can be amended only by a referendum mutually agreed with the government of South Sudan”. The referendum on Abyei’s status was supposed to take place in conjunction with the referendum on South Sudan’s independence in January 2011; however, it was not conducted because Sudan and South Sudan could not agree on the criteria for voter eligibility.
The key issue for the Council is to ensure that Abyei remains calm, especially given the lack of progress made by the parties for the past several years in determining the area’s final status and, as an interim measure, in establishing temporary administrative and legal institutions in the area.
On Sudan/South Sudan issues more broadly, another key issue is whether the two states can be induced to address security and political issues of mutual concern—for example, border monitoring and demarcation and agreeing on the status of the disputed areas along the border other than Abyei—given that both countries are dealing with their own domestic crises.
The most likely option for the Council is to adhere to the Secretary-General’s recommendation to renew the mandate of UNISFA for an additional six months. In doing so, the Council could consider:
- urging Sudan to issue visas in a timely fashion for police personnel serving in the mission, while recognising that some visas were provided in October;
- urging South Sudan to end its restrictions (i.e. the denial of landing permissions) on aerial monitoring of the JBVMM; and
- demanding that both countries commit to withdrawing forces from the Safe Demilitarised Border Zone.
An option for the Council on Sudan/South Sudan relations more generally would be to adopt a statement that encourages continued dialogue between the two states on mutual security and political issues, including through the Joint Political and Security Mechanism.
The Council has not focused on Abyei in several months as its attention to Sudan/South Sudan issues has been absorbed by the crises in South Sudan and, to a lesser extent, Darfur. While there is recognition that Sudan and South Sudan face their own domestic crises, members have long been frustrated by the lack of progress by the parties in resolving their differences with regard to Abyei or with respect to other mutual security concerns. UNISFA, which was meant to be an interim mission designed to provide time for a political solution to the Abyei situation, has now been deployed for more than five years, and there are no indications that the final status of the region will be resolved in the near or even medium term.
The US is the penholder on UNISFA.
UN Documents on Sudan and South Sudan
|Security Council Resolution|
|12 May 2016 S/RES/2287||This was a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei until 15 November 2016.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|12 May 2016 S/PV.7691||This was a meeting to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei.|
|12 October 2016 S/2016/864||This was on the situation in Abyei.|