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 security situation in Abyei, the disputed territory along the Sudan/South Sudan border, remains relatively stable but unpredictable in the absence of progress on establishing temporary arrangements for the administration and security of Abyei pending resolution of its final status. Reports of the presence of unidentified armed groups, intercommunal violence, criminality and acts of violence near the Amiet common market continue. Humanitarian needs remain significant as a result of intercommunal tensions and a lack of basic public services.
According to the Secretary-General’s most recent report, the presence and activities of UNISFA, which include facilitating access to and delivery of humanitarian aid, has contributed to the relative stability and security of Abyei. The report also concludes that both governments have made notable progress towards operationalisation of the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM), established in 2011 to conduct monitoring and verification activities along the Sudan-South Sudan border. The report says, “more progress has been made during the previous five months…than in the previous five years”. It recommends extending UNISFA’s support to the JBVMM for a further six months with any future support being contingent upon the two countries’ ability and willingness to implement the outcomes of their border management discussions.
According to resolution 2386, which extended UNISFA’s mandate until 15 May, UNISFA’s support for the JBVMM would cease on 15 April, unless the Council decided to extend such support based on the fulfilment of various benchmarks set out in the resolution. Negotiations on the matter took longer than expected and on 13 April, the Council adopted resolution 2411, allowing for a ten-day technical rollover of UNISFA’s support to the JBVMM.
On 23 April, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2412 which extends the mission’s support for the JBVMM until 15 October, and maintains the authorised troop ceiling of 4,791 until 15 October, after which the troop ceiling will decrease to 4,250, unless the Council decides to extend the mission’s support to the JBVMM. The resolution also determines that both parties should demonstrate measurable progress on border demarcation and imposes six specific measures in this regard. It also requests the Secretary-General to continue to inform the Council of progress in implementing UNISFA’s mandate, including reporting on any steps taken in accordance with resolution 2412 and resolution 2386, no later than 15 September. (For more details, see our What’s In Blue story of 22 April.)
UNISFA is one of the eight peacekeeping operations that are to be subject to a comprehensive independent review initiated by the Secretary-General. The review team visited Abyei and the wider region from 5 to 19 March to assess the mission’s mandate, including conditions for its successful implementation and whether there is an achievable political solution and a viable exit strategy. The Secretary-General’s summary of the review team’s findings will likely inform the Council’s discussions on the renewal of UNISFA’s mandate in May.
Council members were last briefed on UNISFA on 24 April by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan Nicholas Haysom. The briefing took place in consultations and not in the open chamber as was the case at the preceding briefing on the issue on 26 October 2017.
Key Issues and Options
The key issue for the Council is to consider UNISFA’s current mandate and strategic priorities as they relate to realities on the ground, including progress made by the parties on border demarcation, and what modifications to make to the mandate and force structure, if any. An option is for such assessments to be informed by the findings and recommendations of the independent review of the mission.
Another issue is whether the Council should take steps to revive 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 hold 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 on the status of Abyei and add pressure on Sudan and South Sudan to advance the political process.
Negotiations in April on whether to extend UNISFA’s support to the JBVMM followed similar divides between the US and Ethiopia (UNISFA’s primary troop-contributing country) as during negotiations in May and November of last year on the renewal of the mission’s mandate and its troop ceiling. Ethiopia initially circulated a draft resolution that proposed a one-month technical rollover of UNISFA’s support to the JBVMM until 15 May and welcomed “significant progress made in the implementation of the JBVMM”. This proposal was unacceptable to the US, which put its own version in blue calling for a 10-day technical rollover to allow for further negotiations.
During negotiations on resolution 2412, a major issue related to the US’s proposal to reduce UNISFA’s troop ceiling from 4,791 to 4,500. Ethiopia opposed this reduction arguing that the JBVMM, at initial operating capability requires 557 troops, all of whom are already deployed and on the ground. Resolution 2412 reflects this position and maintains the current authorised troop ceiling. Compromises were also reached by softening several of the benchmarks that the parties need to meet, for example reducing the required number of additional corridors (from among the 10 identified crossings in the Safe Demilitarized Border Zone) to be opened from three to two and reducing the necessary number of meetings to be held by the Joint Border Commission and Joint Demarcation Committee.
These dynamics reflect, on the one hand, the longstanding concern of 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 and related border-security issues. On the other hand, Ethiopia, supported by a number of other Council members, has been 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 have taken sufficient steps towards establishing the JBVMM to merit retaining support. This difference in perspective is likely to be reflected again in discussions around UNISFA’s mandate renewal in May.
The US is the penholder on Abyei.
UN Documents on Sudan/South Sudan
|Security Council Resolutions|
|23 April 2018 S/RES/2412||This was a resolution extending UNISFA’s support to the JBVMM until 15 October 2018 and imposed additional benchmarks.|
|13 April 2018 S/RES/2411||This was a technical rollover of the mission’s support for the JBVMM until 23 April 2018.|
|15 November 2017 S/RES/2386||This was a resolution extending UNISFA’s mandate for six months.|
|3 April 2018 S/2018/293||This was the Secretary-General’s latest report on 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.|