April 2020 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 March 2020
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Sudan/South Sudan

Expected Council Action

In April, the Council is expected 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), due by 15 April, as requested in resolution 2497.

The mandate of UNISFA expires on 15 May.

Key Recent Developments

On 14 November 2019, the Council adopted resolution 2497, renewing the mandate of UNISFA until 15 May. The resolution maintained the authorised troop ceiling at 3,550 and the police ceiling at 640. It also extended 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, until 15 May. The resolution expressed concern that the delayed full deployment of UN police prevents UNISFA from fulfilling its mandate and may create a security vacuum in Abyei, the disputed territory along the Sudan/South Sudan border. It also expressed concern about efforts by both Sudan and South Sudan to impede UNISFA from executing its mandate fully, including by withholding visas for police and blocking the appointment of a civilian deputy head of mission. In relation to the latter, the resolution reiterated the request to the Secretary-General to appoint a civilian deputy head of mission for UNISFA, which was first requested in resolution 2469, adopted on 14 May 2019. (See our What’s In Blue story of 13 November 2019.)

The overall security situation in Abyei remains fragile. Two major incidents took place on 19 and 21 January. On 19 January, three people from the Misseriya community were killed in an attack in the Kolom area of Abyei. On 21 January, an armed attack targeting the local Ngok Dinka community in the Kolom area was reportedly perpetrated by Misseriya armed elements, resulting in 35 confirmed deaths.

The Security Council adopted a press statement on 29 January, condemning these incidents of violence between the Ngok Dinka and Misseriya communities in the Kolom area. The press statement welcomed reports that the governments of Sudan and South Sudan had committed to de-escalate tensions and jointly investigate the violence. It also “expressed disappointment that the governments of Sudan and South Sudan have obstructed full implementation of UNISFA’s mandate”, particularly the deployment of police and the civilian deputy head of mission, requested in resolution 2497, which had not yet been fulfilled.

As requested in resolution 2497, Council members received a note on 7 February from the Secretary-General that reported on progress made in implementing the mission’s mandate, including the increase in police and the appointment of a civilian deputy head of mission, and progress in achieving the JBVMM benchmarks. The note expressed concern that the mission “could be overstretched if no progress is made on the deployment of the proposed three formed police units to address the increase in criminal activities”. It said that one formed police unit is expected to be deployed by the end of March and the second as soon as possible. Discussions with Sudan and South Sudan were still ongoing in relation to the appointment of a civilian deputy head of mission, according to the note. The JBVMM “has made some progress on the benchmarks” set out in resolution 2497, as outlined in the note.

The Council was last briefed on the issue on 24 October 2019 by Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and the Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga. 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.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 20 March, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, released a statement expressing serious concern over the escalation in intercommunal violence in South Sudan. Since mid-February, hundreds of people have been killed, women and children subjected to sexual violence and homes destroyed, forcing thousands to take refuge in makeshift camps, the statement said. The high number of weapons used by rival clans, tensions linked to the movement of cattle and access to natural resources were identified as contributing to the increase in violence along with the failure of local and national authorities to respond.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue for the Council to consider leading up to UNISFA’s mandate renewal in May 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 April, as requested in resolution 2497.  

The difficulty of obtaining visas for members of UNISFA’s police component has been a longstanding issue attributed to the non-issuance of visas by Sudan. Another issue is the failure to appoint a civilian deputy head of mission, as requested by the Council in May 2019, in light of ongoing discussions with Sudan and South Sudan. In this context, members will most likely be eager to hear more about the steps taken to resolve these issues.

Other issues Council members will be following closely are the significant recent political developments in Sudan and South Sudan, including the establishment on 22 February of the Transitional Government of National Unity in South Sudan, and the impact these developments 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 their common border issues.

Council Dynamics

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. However, the upcoming 15 May expiration of UNISFA’s mandate and its support for the JBVMM present opportunities for Council members to direct attention to the issue.

Negotiations around the mission’s troop and police levels have generally been contentious in the past, with the US typically seeking further troop reductions. It has 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. Unlike previous years, however, the US did not seek a troop reduction during negotiations on resolution 2497 in November 2019, making negotiations far less contentious than during previous mandate renewals.

The US is the penholder on Sudan/South Sudan.

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Security Council Resolutions
14 November 2019S/RES/2497 This resolution renewed the mandate of UNISFA until 15 May 2020.
15 October 2019S/RES/2492 This resolution extended UNISFA’s support to the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM) until 15 November.
Secretary-General’s Report
15 October 2019S/2019/817 This was the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abyei.
Security Council Letter
7 February 2020S/2020/112 This was a note from the Secretary-General on progress made in implementing the mission’s mandate, requested in resolution 2497.
Security Council Meeting Record
24 October 2019S/PV.8644 This was a briefing on Sudan/South Sudan.

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