Expected Council Action
In October, the Council expects to receive a briefing on the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), as requested in resolution 2469. The Council is also expected to decide by 15 October whether to adopt a resolution extending 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.
The mandate of UNISFA expires on 15 November. The mission’s support to the JBVMM expires on 15 October.
Key Recent Developments
The overall security situation in Abyei, the disputed territory along the Sudan/South Sudan border, has remained generally stable. However, on 16 July a group of unknown armed men attacked UNISFA peacekeepers who were providing security at the Amiet market, which lies approximately eight kilometres north of Abyei city, resulting in the death of two peacekeepers and five civilians. The Security Council condemned the attack in an 18 July press statement. On 25 July, Sudan sent a letter to the Council presenting further details about the attack.
On 14 May, the Council adopted resolution 2469, which extended UNISFA’s mandate until 15 November and recalled its decision in resolution 2465 to extend the mission’s support to the JBVMM until 15 October. Resolution 2469 reduced the authorised troop ceiling from 4,140 to 3,550 and decided that as of 15 October, the troop ceiling will decrease by a further 585 troops unless the Council extends the mission’s support to the JBVMM. The authorised police ceiling was increased from 345 to 640 police personnel. The resolution expressed the Council’s “intention to reduce the authorized police ceiling as the Abyei Police Service is gradually established and effectively providing rule of law throughout the Abyei area”. The resolution also requested the Secretary-General to appoint a civilian Deputy Head of Mission for UNISFA “to further facilitate liaison between and engagement with the parties in a manner consistent with the Agreement on Temporary Arrangements for the Administration and Security of the Abyei Area, including agreement to establish the Abyei Police Service”. At press time, such an appointment had not yet been made. (For more details, see our What’s In Blue story of 13 May.)
According to a 20 September letter from the Secretary-General, the JBVMM remains at initial operating capability, with only two of the four sector headquarters in operation and only three team sites established within the Safe Demilitarized Border Zone. Despite a lack of significant progress in meeting border-related benchmarks contained in resolution 2465 and a lack of technical assets, the JBVMM “remains an essential tool to monitor the situation along the border between the Sudan and South Sudan”, the letter says.
The Council was last briefed on the issue on 30 April by Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Parfait Onanga-Anyanga. Lacroix told the Council that UNISFA continues to play a stabilising role. He also highlighted that criminality remains the biggest challenge in the Abyei Area. Referring to the situation in Sudan at the time of the briefing, Lacroix said that “thus far there has been no visible adverse impact on UNISFA’s operations”. Onanga-Anyanga said that the “current situation in the Sudan does not preclude a consolidation of the recent improvement of bilateral relations between the Sudan and South Sudan”.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council is whether to retain UNISFA’s support of the JBVMM. An option is to retain the support for an additional six months, as recommended in the 20 September letter from the Secretary-General. 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 fully implement the JBVMM and also to reach a political solution. A further option is for the Council to take no action to extend the mission’s support for the JBVMM, which would result in a decrease in UNISFA’s troop levels on 15 October from 3,550 to 2,965, as set out in resolution 2469.
A related key issue for the Council to consider ahead of UNISFA’s mandate renewal in November is the overall 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 October, as requested in resolution 2469.
Another issue Council members will be following closely is the situation in Sudan, given significant recent political developments, including the signing of an agreement on the establishment of a new civilian-led transitional government on 17 August, and the impact this may have on the situation in Abyei. An option would be to encourage Sudan and South Sudan to intensify their engagement to advance towards a political resolution of the border issues between the Sudan and South Sudan.
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 expiration of UNISFA’s support for the JBVMM in October and the renewal of the mission’s mandate in November present opportunities for Council members to direct attention to the issue.
During negotiations in May on resolution 2469, the three African members, supported by China and some other members, called for a rollover of the mission’s mandate, given the evolving internal political situations in Sudan and South Sudan. However, the US and others opposed such a rollover. Along with troop and police levels, another recurring issue around the renewal of UNISFA’s mandate has been the matter of the appointment of a civilian Deputy Head of Mission. It seems that the request to name a deputy head was included in resolution 2469 as Sudan was no longer opposed to the appointment.
In statements following the adoption of resolution 2469, the US said that increasing the number of police while decreasing the number of troops “helps to address criminality, which is the primary security concern in Abyei”. Russia said that “it is essential to maintain the presence of peacekeepers in the region with a view to ensuring security on the border between the Sudan and South Sudan”.
The US is the penholder on Abyei.
UN DOCUMENTS ON SUDAN/SOUTH SUDAN
|Security Council Resolutions|
|14 May 2019S/RES/2469||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNISFA until 15 November 2019.|
|12 April 2019S/RES/2465||This resolution extended UNISFA’s support for the JBVMM until 15 October 2019.|
|16 April 2019S/2019/319||This was the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abyei.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|30 April 2019S/PV.8519||This was a briefing on Sudan/South Sudan.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|18 July 2019SC/13890||Council members issued a press statement that condemned the attack on 16 July by unknown assailants on peacekeepers of UNISFA, which resulted in the death of one peacekeeper.|
|Security Council Letters|
|20 September 2019S/2019/768||This was the Secretary-General’s analysis and recommendations with respect to the mandate and configuration of UNISFA in terms of its support for the JBVMM.|
|25 July 2019S/2019/598||This was a letter from Sudan on the attack on the Amiet market.|