May 2017 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 April 2017
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Sudan and South Sudan

Expected Council Action

In May, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) prior to its 15 May expiration.

Key Recent Developments

The status of Abyei, the disputed territory along the Sudan/South Sudan border, is in limbo. The Sudanese and South Sudanese governments, distracted by their own domestic crises, have made no recent progress on implementation of the 20 June 2011 Agreement. The institutions called for by the agreement, including the Abyei Area Administration, the Abyei Area Council, and the Abyei Police Service, all have yet to be established. Against this backdrop of political paralysis, UNISFA continues to maintain a degree of stability in Abyei. This relative peace represents an opportunity for advancing the political process that neither Sudan nor South Sudan appears to be taking advantage of.

There has been no progress in agreeing on the removal of armed Sudanese police from around the Diffra oil facility, as required by several Security Council resolutions that have called for the demilitarisation of Abyei (with the exception of UNISFA peacekeepers and the yet to be established Abyei Police Service). Ongoing instability in South Sudan has seen the movement of displaced persons into Abyei, adding to the existing humanitarian and security burden.

The special report of the Secretary-General reviewing the mandate of UNISFA was released on 5 April. The review concluded that the mission is providing security in the absence of other institutions and is a deterrent to conflict. However, the mission is currently unable to fulfil those elements of its mandate that depend on the commitment of Sudan and South Sudan to fulfilling the terms of the 20 June 2011 Agreement, such as supporting the agreed administrative institutions. The review recommends that the mission be maintained at its current personnel level, as a reduction of troop numbers would undermine the mission’s ability to maintain peace and dissuade increased incursions by armed groups from Sudan and South Sudan.

UNISFA continues to face challenges in recruiting mission personnel because of delays in the issuance, and sometimes non-issuance, of visas by Sudan. In particular, Sudan has slowed the approval of visas for community liaison officers, who are urgently needed to support efforts to improve relations between the Ngok Dinka and Misseriya communities.  

Although UNISFA is able to maintain general peace and stability, criminal violence remains an issue of concern. Additionally, the failure of Sudan and South Sudan to fully implement the 20 June 2011 Agreement has left the people of Abyei without the institutions necessary for the basic provision of education, health care, clean water and sanitation.

During consultations on 26 April, Council members were briefed by the Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Nicholas Haysom, on the current state of the Sudan/South Sudan political process. Council members were also briefed by the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, El Ghassim Wane, on the strategic review of UNISFA, and by the chair of the 1591 Sudan Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko (Ukraine).

On 22 March, Major General Tesfay Gidey Hailemichael of Ethiopia assumed command as the new UNISFA force commander and acting head of mission. Ethiopian forces continue to make up the vast majority of UNISFA mission personnel.

Key Issues

The key issue for the Council is whether to renew the mandate of UNISFA in its current format for an additional six months as recommended by the Secretary-General or to renew the mandate for a shorter period, as has previously been done, as a means of putting pressure on Sudan and South Sudan to address the current lack of progress towards a political solution.    

A related issue is whether the Council should take steps to advance the stalled political process to avoid the mission’s presence having to be extended indefinitely. In considering these issues, Council members will need to reflect on how the Council can best support the African Union (AU) in resuscitating the dialogue between Sudan and South Sudan on the status of Abyei.


The most likely option for the Council is to renew the mandate of UNISFA for an additional six months as recommended by the Secretary-General. In doing so, the Council could consider:

  • urging Sudan and South Sudan to revitalise the political process, with particular focus on the establishment of the institutions envisaged by the 20 June 2011 Agreement; and
  • urging Sudan and South Sudan to remove impediments to the effectiveness of UNISFA, including delays in the issuing of visas for mission personnel.

Another option is for the Council to hold a briefing on Abyei in the Council chamber instead of the consultations currently preferred, as a means of increasing international attention to the status of Abyei and adding pressure on Sudan and South Sudan to advance the political process. In addition to Haysom, the Council could also invite Thabo Mbeki, head of the AU High-Level Implementation Panel, to participate in the briefing.

Council Dynamics

Council members have for some time recognised that the situation in Abyei and the wider border-related issues between Sudan and South Sudan cannot be resolved in isolation. Neither Sudan nor South Sudan appears willing to devote the required attention to addressing issues related to Abyei until their more immediate domestic crises are resolved. With neither party ready to advance the political process, the Council continues to devote only minimal time and focus to Abyei. Though some Council members are increasingly concerned that UNISFA is persisting longer than was intended for an interim force, the size of the mission is unlikely to be reduced at present as it is already well below its authorised personnel cap.  

The US is the penholder on Abyei.

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Security Council Resolutions
15 November 2016 S/RES/2318 This was a resolution renewing the mission’s mandate for six months.
14 December 2011 S/RES/2024 This resolution added a border-monitoring support role to UNISFA’s mandate.
Secretary-General’s Reports
11 April 2017 S/2017/312 This was the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abyei.
5 April 2017 S/2017/293 This was a special report of the Secretary-General on the review of UNISFA’s mandate.
12 October 2016 S/2016/864 This was the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abyei.

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