Expected Council Action
In April, the Council is expected to hold consultations on the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) and on Sudan/South Sudan issues. The Council is also expected to decide by 15 April whether to extend the mission’s support to the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM), established in 2011 to conduct monitoring and verification activities along the Sudan-South Sudan border, as set out in resolution 2386. Council members may receive the Secretary-General’s report on the independent review of UNISFA.
The mandate of UNISFA expires on 15 May.
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 the backdrop of political paralysis, intercommunal violence, criminality, and the presence of armed groups, UNISFA continues to maintain a measure of stability in Abyei.
On 15 November 2017, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2386, extending UNISFA’s mandate until 15 May. It decided to maintain the authorised troop ceiling of 4,791 until 15 April, after which the ceiling decreases to 4,235 unless the Council decides to extend the mission’s support for the JBVMM. The resolution said that this would be the final extension of support to the JBVMM unless both parties adhere to specific measures by no later than 15 March. Among these measures are facilitating the full freedom of movement for UNISFA air and ground patrols, including landing within the Safe Demilitarized Border Zone (SDBZ); opening of Phase I of the border crossing corridors; holding at least one meeting to resume border demarcation discussions; reactivating the ad hoc committee of the “14 Mile Area” (a disputed border territory); facilitating the establishment of the four JBVMM team sites; and convening at least two meetings of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism (JPSM).
While the JBVMM remains at initial operating capability, some recent meetings have taken place in line with the specific measures required above. The inaugural meeting of the ad hoc committee of the 14 Mile Area took place on 27 February, during which terms of reference were agreed. The JPSM held meetings on 4 February and 5 March in Addis Ababa that were convened by the AU High-Level Implementation Panel. At the meeting on 5 March, standing clearance was granted for all ground patrols and helicopter landings within the SDBZ. It was also agreed that both parties would intensify their unilateral and joint efforts concerning the establishment of the SDBZ, and that outstanding issues related to the establishment of team sites would be resolved and the sites set up within two weeks. The next meeting of the JPSM is scheduled to take place in April. The Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (AJOC) last met from 14 to 15 November 2017 alongside a meeting of traditional leaders of the Ngok Dinka and Misseriya communities. The AJOC meeting discussed the Abyei Area interim institutions, but it was not able to reach agreement on their establishment.
Council members were last briefed on the issue on 26 October 2017 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 open Council chamber instead of in consultations. Both briefers stressed UNISFA’s stabilising role.
Key Issues and Options
The key issue for the Council is whether to retain UNISFA’s support of the JBVMM. An option is to continue the mission’s support based on some of the recent efforts made by the parties. Another option is to retain the mission’s support for a shorter period of time as a means of putting pressure on the parties to intensify efforts to fully implement the JBVMM and address the current lack of progress towards a political solution. This could take the form of a technical rollover of support for the JBVMM for one month until UNISFA’s mandate renewal in May. A further option is for the Council to take no action to extend the mission’s support for the JBVMM, which would result in UNISFA’s troop levels decreasing after 15 April, as set out in resolution 2386.
Another issue is whether the Council should take steps to advance the stalled political process to avoid having to extend the mission indefinitely. In considering these issues, Council members will need to reflect on how the Council can best support the AU and Haysom in advancing the dialogue between Sudan and South Sudan on the status of Abyei.
An option is for the Council to continue the practice of holding briefings on UNISFA and Sudan/South Sudan issues in the Council’s open chamber, as was done on 26 October 2017, instead of in consultations. That would be a way to increase international attention to the status of Abyei and add 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.
As in previous years, the Council’s focus on the situation in Abyei remains limited, largely overshadowed by its ongoing engagement on South Sudan and, to a lesser extent, on Darfur. However, the upcoming renewal of UNISFA’s mandate in May presents an opportunity for Council members to direct renewed attention to the issue.
Negotiations on the most recent renewal of UNISFA’s mandate in November 2017 followed similar divides between the US and Ethiopia (UNISFA’s primary troop-contributing country) on the current mandate and troop ceiling for the mission as during negotiations of the renewal in May 2017. The initial draft resolution circulated by the US in November 2017 proposed an immediate suspension of the mission’s role in supporting the JBVMM and a reduction in the troop ceiling. This reflected the general concern by the US 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. However, Ethiopia, supported by a number of other Council members, was of the view that suspending the mission’s support of the JBVMM and reducing the troop ceiling would undermine the effectiveness of the mission, and that the parties had taken sufficient steps towards establishing the JBVMM to merit retaining support. This difference in perspective is likely to be reflected again in discussions around whether to retain the mission’s support of the JBVMM in April and ahead of UNISFA’s mandate renewal in May.
The US is the penholder on Abyei.
UN Documents on Sudan/South Sudan
|Security Council Resolutions|
|15 November 2017 S/RES/2386||This was a resolution, unanimously adopted, extending the mandate of UNISFA until 15 April 2018.|
|17 October 2017 S/2017/870||Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abyei.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|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.|