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 unpredictable, with persistent intercommunal clashes, incidents of violence around the Amiet common market, weak rule of law, and the absence of significant progress on establishing temporary arrangements for Abyei’s administration and security pending resolution of the territory’s final status. The status of Abyei was supposed to be decided through a referendum in January 2011 but the vote was postponed indefinitely due to disagreements as to voters’ eligibility. In the context of growing tensions between Sudan and South Sudan, UNISFA was established in June 2011 as a temporary measure. Its mandate has since been renewed repeatedly and, as set out in the Secretary-General’s most recent report, it continues “to enhance peace and stability…through a robust military presence and by supporting local-level dialogue”.
On 11 October, the Security Council unanimously renewed until 15 April 2019 the support of UNISFA to the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM), established in 2011 to conduct monitoring and verification activities along the Sudan-South Sudan border. Resolution 2438 decided to maintain UNISFA’s troop ceiling of 4,500 until 15 November, the expiration date of the current UNISFA mandate. As of 15 April 2019, however, the authorised troop ceiling will decrease by 541 troops—the number of troops required for the mission’s support to the JBVMM—unless the Council decides to extend such support. As in previous resolutions, it decided that this will be the final extension of support to the JBVMM unless both parties demonstrate measurable progress on specific border demarcation measures set out in the resolution. (For more details, see our What’s In Blue story of 11 October.)
The most recent Secretary-General’s report highlights the recent improvement in relations between Sudan and South Sudan, along with Sudan’s role in facilitating talks in Khartoum between the warring South Sudanese parties, and urges the Security Council “to build upon that momentum by supporting both parties…to work towards a political resolution”. It also states that UNISFA “must adapt to the situation on the ground and work proactively to create the space needed for a viable political process”. The report recommends that UNISFA’s mandate be extended for one year in line with the Secretary-General’s 20 August letter on UNISFA reconfiguration. The letter recommended that the mission play an enhanced and more proactive role in support of a political solution to resolving the final status of Abyei, including implementation by Sudan and South Sudan of two agreements concluded in 2011 on border issues and security arrangements. Acknowledging that the mission “has lacked the civilian tools to keep the parties engaged”, the recommendations included appointing a civilian deputy head of mission to function as the main focal point on political matters and expanding UNISFA’s civilian component. (A 2015 decision by the Secretary-General to appoint a civilian head of mission was never implemented, following objections from Sudan and assertions that the role of the Special Envoy on Sudan and South Sudan was sufficient. The position of the Special Envoy is currently vacant following the departure of Nicholas Haysom at the end of September.)
The 20 August letter also recommended changes to the mission’s military component, including transferring troops to the JBVMM so it can be deployed fully, based on the reduced need for a large military presence and the assessment that the JBVMM “remains vital” in contributing to preventing conflict between the two countries and that its full deployment is of “paramount importance”. A larger police component was also recommended in the 20 August letter, including the addition of specialised police officers to provide advisory support and the transfer of some tasks from the military to the police. These proposed changes would represent an overall decrease in troop numbers.
The Council was briefed in consultations on 29 October, on UNISFA and Sudan/South Sudan issues.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council to consider ahead of the mandate renewal in November is the appropriateness of UNISFA’s current mandate in relation to the situation on the ground and what modifications, if any, to make to the mandate and force structure. This assessment is likely to be informed by the Secretary-General’s 20 August recommendations and his latest report.
Unlike previous negotiations on resolutions to extend UNISFA’s support to the JBVMM, the US in October did not initially seek either to reduce the mission’s authorised troop ceiling (as it did in April) or to suspend the mission’s support to the JBVMM (as it did in November 2017), both of which Ethiopia and some other members successfully resisted. As a result, negotiations ahead of adopting resolution 2438 proceeded comparatively smoothly.
However, at the 20 September Council briefing, the long-standing divide between the US and Ethiopia was still apparent. In its statement, the US supported the Secretary-General’s 20 August reconfiguration recommendation for “a reorientation towards a police-style mission” with a strong civilian component, saying that the recommendations “are a good start to align UNISFA with realities on the ground, but they do not go far enough” and questioning whether all UNISFA’s tasks “remain appropriate and necessary”. Ethiopia emphasised that “the continued presence of UNISFA is absolutely critical”, agreeing that “it makes sense to consider reconfiguring the mission to increase its ability to assist the parties in fully implementing their agreements”. It disagreed, however, with the Secretary-General’s 20 August recommendation to transfer troops from Abyei to the JBVMM to make it fully operational, saying that reducing troop levels in Abyei would have “serious implications”. Ethiopia also disagreed with deploying additional police “at the expense of troop levels” while agreeing with the recommendation for a strengthened civilian component.
The US is the penholder on Abyei.
UN Documents on Sudan/South Sudan
|Security Council Resolutions|
|11 October 2018 S/RES/2438||This was a resolution that extended UNISFA’s support for the JBVMM until 15 April 2019.|
|15 May 2018 S/RES/2416||This was a resolution renewing the mandate of UNISFA until 15 November 2018 and reduced the authorised troop ceiling of the mission from 4,791 to 4,500.|
|16 October 2018 S/2018/923||This was the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abyei.|
|Security Council Letter|
|20 August 2018 S/2018/778||This was from the Secretary-General transmitting recommendations on the reconfiguration of UNISFA’s mandate.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|20 September 2018 S/PV.8357||This was a briefing on Sudan/South Sudan.|