Expected Council Action
In November, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) prior to its 15 November expiration.
Key Recent Developments
The security situation in Abyei, the disputed territory along the Sudan/South Sudan border, remains relatively stable in the absence of progress on the implementation of the 20 June 2011 agreement, which established temporary arrangements for the administration and security of Abyei pending resolution of its status. Against this backdrop of political paralysis and persisting intercommunal violence, criminality, and the presence of armed groups, UNISFA continues to maintain law and order and a measure of stability in Abyei.
Sudan and South Sudan continue to disagree on the way forward to settle the Abyei question. In particular, they have conflicting positions on the establishment and composition of the institutions called for in the 2011 agreement (the Abyei Area Administration, the Abyei Area Council and the Abyei Police Service), which have yet to be established. Sudan continues to insist that establishment of these joint institutions is the only way forward, but South Sudan disagrees on the need for the institutions, citing that the timelines to establish them have passed.
The Joint Border and Verification Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM), established by a 2011 agreement to conduct monitoring and verification activities along the border, remains at initial operating capability with only two of the four sector headquarters in operation. No significant recent progress towards its implementation has been made. The Secretary-General wrote to the Chairperson of the AU Commission on 13 September, expressing concern over the lack of tangible progress in the implementation of the various commitments made by the parties, in particular the full operationalisation of the JBVMM. Despite the lack of progress, both countries and the AU view the JBVMM as essential. Sudan and South Sudan jointly wrote to the Security Council on 23 September, to request the continued support of the UN for the JBVMM. On 23 October, the Chairperson of the AU Commission sent a similar request to the Secretary-General.
The Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (AJOC) has not met since May. South Sudan postponed meetings, organised by the AU in Addis Ababa, of the AJOC and of the Ngok Dinka and Misseriya traditional leaders that were scheduled to take place in August. It argued that those meetings should occur after the presidents of South Sudan and Sudan had met. At press time, the presidents were scheduled to meet in Khartoum on 1 November.
On 15 May, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2352, renewing the mandate of UNISFA until 15 November while warning that support would be withdrawn unless Sudan and South Sudan complied fully with their obligations. In particular, the resolution decided that the extension of support for the JBVMM would “be the final such extension unless both parties demonstrate through their actions clear commitment and steadfast guarantees for implementation of the JBVMM”.
Council members were briefed on the issue on 26 October, by Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions Alexander Zuev and Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan Nicholas Haysom. In a break with previous practice, the briefing took place in the Council chamber instead of in consultations. Both briefers stressed UNISFA’s stabilising role. Haysom added that this should inform any decision regarding Abyei and the JBVMM, while Zuev recommended UNISFA’s mandate be extended for another six months.
Key Issues and Options
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.
An option for the Council is to renew the mandate of UNISFA for six months following the recommendation of the Secretary-General. Another option is 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 further option is to modify the mandate to suspend the mission’s support for the JBVMM, based on the delays and stalled efforts by the parties to fully operationalise the JBVMM, as set out in resolution 2352.
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 AU and Haysom in resuscitating the dialogue between Sudan and South Sudan on the status of Abyei.
An option is for the Council to continue holding briefings on Abyei in the Council chamber 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 brief.
Negotiations on the renewal of UNISFA’s mandate in May revealed a divide in the Council between the US and Ethiopia, UNISFA’s primary troop-contributing country, on the current mandate and troop ceiling for the mission. The initial draft resolution circulated by the US proposed a suspension of the mission’s role in supporting the JBVMM and a reduction in the troop ceiling from 5,329 to 4,170. The US appears to have been concerned that UNISFA is persisting longer than intended for an interim force, and that Sudan and South Sudan are taking advantage of the relative stability that UNISFA provides to delay attempts to resolve the status of Abyei. During the May negotiations, Ethiopia, supported by a number of other Council members, argued that a reduction in the troop ceiling would undermine the effectiveness of the mission. Ultimately, the resolution adopted set the troop ceiling at 4,791 and maintained support for the JBVMM. This difference in perspective is likely to be reflected again in the upcoming mandate renewal.
The Council’s focus on Abyei has been limited in recent years, largely overshadowed by its ongoing engagement on South Sudan and, to a lesser extent, on Darfur. However, the renewal of UNISFA’s mandate in November presents an opportunity for Council members to direct renewed attention to the issue.
The US is the penholder on Abyei.
UN Documents on Sudan/South Sudan
|Security Council Resolution|
|15 May 2017 S/RES/2352||This was a resolution that extended UNISFA’s mandate until 15 November 2017.|
|17 October 2017 S/2017/870||Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abyei.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|26 October 2017 S/PV.8078||This was a briefing by Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions Alexander Zuev and Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan Nicholas Haysom on Sudan/South Sudan.|