Expected Council Action
In November, the Council expects to renew the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). The Council is also expected 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.
The mandate of UNISFA and the mission’s support to the JBVMM expire on 15 November.
Key Recent Developments
The overall security situation in Abyei, the disputed territory along the Sudan/South Sudan border, remains fragile. According to the Secretary-General’s most recent report, covering 16 April to 15 October, intercommunal tensions continued, along with an increase in criminality and the sporadic presence of armed elements in Abyei, including in the Safe Demilitarized Border Zone (SDBZ). On the political situation, the report noted that while both Sudan and South Sudan are undergoing internal transitions, there has been continued rapprochement between the two countries. However, it is too soon to assess the effects of this on the situation in Abyei, the report said. In Abyei, the two countries have not made any significant progress on the issues of border demarcation, the establishment of joint institutions, or the final resolution of Abyei’s status.
On 15 October, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2492, extending the mission’s support to the JBVMM until 15 November. The aim of the resolution was to consolidate what have been two separate Council decisions: on the renewal of UNISFA’s mandate, and on the mission’s support to the JBVMM. Resolution 2386 adopted on 15 November 2017 had decided to separate the Council’s decision on mandate renewal from its decision on the JBVMM, by extending the mandate by six months and its support to the JBVMM by five months. During negotiations for that resolution, the US proposed suspending the mission’s support to the JBVMM, which was opposed by several Council members, resulting in the compromise of separating the two decisions as a means of putting pressure on the parties. This remained the practice until the one month technical rollover resolution was adopted in October. (For more details, see our What’s In Blue story of 14 November 2017.)
The JBVMM remains at initial operating capability, according to a 20 September letter from the Secretary-General, with only two of the four sector headquarters in operation and three out of four team sites established within the SDBZ. Despite the absence of significant progress in meeting the border-related benchmarks contained in resolution 2465 and the 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.
UNISFA’s mandate was extended until 15 November in resolution 2469, adopted on 14 May. The resolution reduced the authorised troop ceiling from 4,140 to 3,550 and increased the authorised police ceiling from 345 to 640 police personnel. The resolution also requested, for the first time, that the Secretary-General 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”. Such an appointment has not yet been made because of opposition from Sudan in particular. (For more details, see our What’s In Blue story of 13 May.)
The Council was last briefed on the issue on 24 October by Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and the Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga (the latter via video teleconference from Addis Ababa). Lacroix referred to the “unprecedented opportunity” to resolve the border‑related issues between Sudan and South Sudan, adding that following recent positive developments in bilateral relations, the two countries need to resume direct talks immediately to resolve the final status of Abyei. Onanga-Anyanga also referred to the improved relations between the two countries, adding that the list of pending issues remains extensive with most of the commitments agreed to in 2012 not yet implemented.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council to consider ahead of UNISFA’s mandate renewal 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.
Council members may want to consider the two possible options proposed in the Secretary-General’s report. The first option includes the repatriation of 295 troops to complete the force reduction set out in resolution 2445, which did not take place as planned by May, followed by a further reduction of 295 troops in accordance with resolution 2469, bringing the authorised ceiling to 3,550. The second option includes postponing the further reduction of the 295 troops, requested in resolution 2469, until the end of the dry season, by May 2020, and strengthening the mission’s civilian capacities, based on the conflict and criminal trends over the past six months as well as the positive political developments between Sudan and South Sudan. Both approaches include an extension of the mission’s support to the JBVMM for six months. The report recommends the second approach.
The difficulty of obtaining visas for members of UNISFA’s police component has been an ongoing problem. On 25 September, the strength of the mission’s police component stood at thirty-four officers against an authorised total of 640 police personnel. According to the Secretary-General’s report, this is attributable to the non-issuance of visas to police personnel by Sudan. In this context, members will most likely be eager to hear if the political transformations in Sudan have had an impact on improving this process.
Another issue is what steps the Council should take to encourage greater progress in the political process to resolve the final status of Abyei. Council members may also reflect on how best to support Onanga-Anyanga, whose mandate includes carrying out good offices and, in cooperation with regional and subregional organisations, to enhance subregional capacities for conflict prevention and mediation.
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 mandate and its support for the JBVMM present opportunities for Council members to direct attention to the issue.
Negotiations around troop and police levels have been particularly contentious in the past. The US has consistently pushed for further troop reductions. It 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. The US has also pressed for a viable exit strategy for the mission. When it circulated the draft of what became resolution 2492 in October, the US apparently again expressed the need for UNISFA to be more effective and efficient while recognising that the mission’s support for the JBVMM should be retained.
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 some other members opposed a rollover.
In statements at the 24 October briefing, several Council members expressed their support for UNISFA, as well as for the JBVMM, and called on Sudan and South Sudan to make progress in resolving the final status of Abyei. Some members, including the Dominican Republic, Germany, Peru, Poland, and the US emphasised the need to implement the previously agreed increase in the mission’s police personnel and for the necessary visas to be issued to allow this. The US and France highlighted the need to appoint a civilian Deputy Head of Mission.
The US is the penholder on Abyei.
UN DOCUMENTS ON SUDAN/SOUTH SUDAN
|Security Council Resolutions|
|15 October 2019S/RES/2492||This resolution extended UNISFA’s support to the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM) until 15 November.|
|14 May 2019S/RES/2469||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNISFA until 15 November 2019.|
|15 October 2019S/2019/817||This was the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abyei.|
|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.|
|24 October 2018S/2018/955||This letter outlines the functions of the Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|24 October 2019S/PV.8644||This was a briefing on Sudan/South Sudan.|