Expected Council Action
In April, the Council is expected to receive a briefing on the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) and on Sudan/South Sudan issues, followed by consultations. The Council is also expected to decide by 15 April whether to extend the mission’s support for 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 2438.
The mandate of UNISFA expires on 15 May.
Key Recent Developments
On 11 October 2018, the Security Council unanimously renewed until 15 April UNISFA’s support for the JBVMM. However, it decided that as of 15 April, UNISFA’s authorised troop ceiling would decrease by 541 troops (from the then authorised level of 4,500) unless the Council extends the mission’s support for the JBVMM. As in previous resolutions, since resolution 2352 adopted on 15 May 2017, it said this would be the final extension of such support unless Sudan and South Sudan “demonstrate measurable progress” in certain specified areas. In this regard, the resolution set out seven specific border-demarcation measures (see our What’s In Blue story of 11 October 2018). Resolution 2445, which extended UNISFA’s mandate until 15 May and reduced the troop ceiling from 4,500 to 4,140, adjusted the number of troops the mission would be reduced by from 541 to 557 if support for the JBVMM is not extended in April (see our What’s In Blue story of 14 November 2018).
On 14 March, as requested in resolution 2438, Council members received a confidential note from the Secretary-General on border-demarcation progress, namely any steps taken in implementing the seven specific measures contained in resolution 2438. It apparently said that while there has been improvement in the JBVMM’s ability to fulfil its mandate as compared to previous years, challenges remain, including a lack of attention from both governments to its smooth operation.
On 8 March, the Secretary-General informed the Council of the appointment of Parfait Onanga-Anyanga as Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa. The appointment followed the Secretary-General’s decision to expand the role of the Special Envoy for the Sudan and South Sudan, previously held by Nicholas Haysom until September 2018, to cover the Horn of Africa region.
The Council was last briefed on UNISFA and Sudan/South Sudan issues in consultations on 29 October 2018.
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 the comparative improvement in the JBVMM’s ability to fulfil its mandate. Another option is to retain the mission’s support for a shorter period as a means of putting pressure on the parties to intensify efforts to implement the JBVMM fully 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 by 557 troops after 15 April, as set out in resolution 2445.
Another key issue for the Council to consider ahead of UNISFA’s mandate renewal in May is the appropriateness of the mission’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 report on UNISFA due by 15 April, as requested in resolution 2445.
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 Sudan (Darfur). However, the upcoming renewal of UNISFA’s support for the JBVMM in April and the mission’s mandate in May present opportunities for Council members to direct attention to the issue.
Unlike previous negotiations on resolutions to extend UNISFA’s support for the JBVMM, the US in October 2018 did not initially seek either to reduce the mission’s authorised troop ceiling (as it did in April 2018) or to suspend the mission’s support for the JBVMM (as it did in November 2017), both of which then-Council member Ethiopia and some other members successfully resisted. As a result, negotiations ahead of adopting resolution 2438 in October proceeded comparatively smoothly.
During Ethiopia’s term on the Council in 2017 and 2018, outcomes on UNISFA were primarily negotiated bilaterally between the US and Ethiopia (UNISFA’s main troop-contributing country). The US repeatedly asserted that UNISFA was persisting longer than intended for an interim force and that Sudan and South Sudan were taking advantage of the relative stability that UNISFA provides to delay attempts to resolve the status of Abyei. However, Ethiopia in particular viewed UNISFA’s presence as critical. Some members may adopt Ethiopia’s position during upcoming negotiations. It is unclear, however, whether the US will be willing to compromise.
The US is the penholder on Abyei.
UN Documents on Sudan/South Sudan
|Security Council Resolutions|
|15 November 2018S/RES/2445||This was a resolution extending the mandate of UNISFA until 15 May 2019.|
|11 October 2018S/RES/2438||This was a resolution that extended UNISFA’s support for the JBVMM until 15 April 2019.|
|16 October 2018S/2018/923||This was the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abyei.|
|Security Council Letters|
|8 March 2019S/2019/227||This was the appointment of the Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa.|
|24 October 2018S/2018/955||This letter outlines the functions of the Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa.|