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, “remained generally calm, with sporadic incidents of violence”, according to the Secretary-General’s most recent report, which covers 16 October 2018 to 15 April. The biggest challenge is criminality as a result of the adverse economic situation and the prevalence of small arms, the report says. While not referring to the recent ousting of President Omar al-Bashir on 11 April by the Sudanese military and its possible impact on future progress in resolving the status of Abyei, the report notes that “relations between the Sudan and South Sudan have improved significantly in the past year”. However, it also states that there has been a “lack of meaningful progress by both Governments in addressing critical issues, such as the completion of the withdrawal of forces from the Safe Demilitarized Border Zone and the full establishment of border crossing corridors”. In this context, UNISFA “remains essential to the stability of the Abyei Area and border region”, and the report recommends that the mission’s mandate be extended for another six months. The report further calls on members of the Security Council “to pursue diplomatic efforts to impress upon the two countries the importance and urgency of progress towards resolving their border issues”, adding that an “open-ended mandate for UNISFA should not be acceptable”.
On 12 April, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2465, which extended until 15 October UNISFA’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. However, it decided that as of 15 October, UNISFA’s authorised troop ceiling would decrease by 557 troops from the currently authorised level of 4,150, unless the Council again extends the mission’s support for the JBVMM. As in previous extensions since resolution 2352 of 15 May 2017, the Council indicated in resolution 2465 that this would be the final extension of such support unless Sudan and South Sudan “demonstrate measurable progress” in certain specified areas. In this regard, resolution 2465 sets out seven specific border-demarcation measures on which progress is required. It also expresses the Council’s “intention to request the Secretary-General to update recommendations on the reconfiguration of UNISFA’s mandate, including on UNISFA’s support to the JBVMM, taking into account the current political and security situation, in order to contribute to creating the conditions for a viable exit strategy for UNISFA”.
At press time, the Council was scheduled to receive a briefing on 30 April from Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix on the Secretary-General’s report. The Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Parfait Onanga-Anyanga (appointed in March) was also expected to brief the Council for the first time in this capacity. (Onanga-Anyanga was previously the Special Representative and head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic.) Consultations were scheduled to follow the briefing. Prior to this, the Council was last briefed on UNISFA and Sudan/South Sudan issues in consultations on 29 October 2018. The last public briefing on the issue took place on 20 September 2018.
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 what modifications to make to the mandate and force structure, if any. A likely option is to renew UNISFA’s mandate for another six months, as recommended in the Secretary-General’s report. In doing so, the Council may consider altering current troop and police levels as well as whether to impose additional criteria for progress by the parties on border demarcation.
Another issue is what steps the Council should take to encourage greater progress in the political process to resolve the final status of Abyei. An option would be for Council members to consider the request in the Secretary-General’s report to enhance “the mission’s civilian component in order to advance its support to the African Union Commission and the African Union High-level Implementation Panel, as well as to the two parties.” Council members may also reflect on how best to support Onanga-Anyanga going forward and will likely be interested in hearing his assessment of the situation.
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 renewal of UNISFA’s support for the JBVMM in April and the upcoming renewal of the mission’s mandate in May present opportunities for Council members to direct attention to the issue.
During negotiations in April on the renewal of UNISFA’s support for the JBVMM, the US, consistent with its position in October 2018, sought neither to reduce the mission’s authorised troop ceiling (as it did in April 2018), nor to suspend the mission’s support for the JBVMM (as it did in November 2017), both of which then-Council member Ethiopia and others successfully resisted. As a result, negotiations ahead of adopting resolution 2465 proceeded comparatively smoothly.
At press time, it was unclear whether negotiations in May on renewing UNISFA’s mandate will also proceed smoothly. Key issues during negotiations on the last mandate renewal in November 2018 and the adoption of resolution 2445 included troop reductions, the number of additional police personnel, and whether to request the Secretary-General to appoint a civilian deputy head of mission (ultimately not requested). (For more details, see our What’s In Blue story of 14 November 2018.)
The US has repeatedly asserted 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. It has also pressed for a viable exit strategy for the mission.
The US is the penholder on Abyei.
UN Documents on Sudan/South Sudan
|Security Council Resolutions|
|12 April 2019S/RES/2465||This resolution extended UNISFA’s support for the JBVMM until 15 October 2019.|
|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 April 2019S/2019/319||This was the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abyei.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|20 September 2018S/PV.8357||This was a briefing on Sudan/South Sudan.|
|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.|