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 2519. The likely briefers are Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Parfait Onanga-Anyanga.
The mandate of UNISFA and the mission’s support to the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM), which monitors the demilitarised zone along the border between Sudan and South Sudan, both expire on 15 November.
Key Recent Developments
The overall security situation in Abyei, the disputed territory along the Sudan–South Sudan border, remains volatile. Speaking to the Security Council on 28 April, Lacroix noted that this volatility persists because of ongoing intercommunal tensions and an increase in the presence of armed groups. Several incidents took place over the summer that appear to have further exacerbated the security situation, including the 15 July killing of a UNISFA contractor, who was shot while travelling in a vehicle near a UNISFA logistics base in the village of Murta. The circumstances of the shooting remain unclear. In addition, Sudanese press reported on 9 August that five people had been killed during an attack, allegedly by the South Sudanese army, in a Dinka village in the Gouli area of Abyei. According to press reports, approximately 70 South Sudanese soldiers attacked the village after a dispute with the village guards, killing three villagers, while two of the attackers were also apparently killed.
On 26 August, Sudanese and South Sudanese officials met in Juba to discuss the situation in Abyei. The meeting, organised by local Abyei business leaders, was attended by the chairman of the Sudanese government’s negotiating team and member of the transitional Sovereign Council, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, and South Sudanese Vice-President Hussein Abdelbagi. While both sides agreed that a peaceful solution in compliance with the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement was needed, no further progress was reported.
On 15 June, the Secretary-General appointed Major General Kefyalew Amde Tessema of Ethiopia as UNISFA’s Force Commander. As of this writing, however, no progress has been made on the appointment of a civilian deputy head of mission “to further facilitate liaison between and engagement with the parties”, as requested by resolution 2469 of 14 May 2019. According to the Secretary-General’s 16 April report, discussions are still ongoing with Sudan and South Sudan on the appointment. The request for such an appointment was consistent with the views of the Secretary-General, who said in a 20 August 2018 letter that the mission “has lacked the civilian tools to keep the parties engaged in the advancement of their dialogue politically” to resolve the final status of Abyei. Given this concern, the Secretary-General recommended the appointment of a civilian deputy head of mission to function as the main focal point on political matters.
On 14 May, the Council adopted resolution 2519, which extended UNISFA’s mandate and the mission’s support to the JBVMM until 15 November. In addition, the resolution maintained the current authorised troop ceiling of 3,550 and police ceiling of 640, both set out in resolution 2497 in November 2019. It also decided to allow postponement in the withdrawal of the 295 troops above the authorised troop ceiling until the COVID-19–related suspension of troop repatriations, which the Secretary-General announced in March, is lifted.
The Council was last briefed on Abyei on 28 April by Lacroix and Onanga-Anyanga. In addition to briefing the Council on Abyei’s volatile security situation, Lacroix told the Council that the COVID-19 pandemic, then in its early stages, would create “unprecedented challenges” for UNISFA as well as for Sudan and South Sudan. Onanga-Anyanga also highlighted the multiple challenges that the two countries faced, including the pandemic, falling oil prices and a locust invasion, all of which would have “a negative effect on the peace processes in the two countries”.
Human Rights-Related Developments
During its 45th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) considered an oral update from the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, with the participation of representatives of the AU, in an enhanced interactive dialogue on 23 September. On 1 October, the HRC was expected to consider, also in an enhanced interactive dialogue, the written report of the independent expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, Aristide Nononsi (A/HRC/45/53).
Key Issues and Options
Council members have been following closely political developments in both South Sudan and Sudan, especially given Sudan’s ongoing political transition. Despite COVID-19, there has been recent—albeit minimal—engagement between the two countries on Abyei. One option would be to encourage Sudan and South Sudan to intensify their engagement to advance towards a political resolution of the border issues.
Another key issue is whether to retain UNISFA’s support of the JBVMM. Resolution 2519 noted that the current extension of support to the JBVMM was its final such extension unless the parties take a number of specific measures outlined in resolution 2497. One option is to retain the support for an additional six months, as previously recommended by the Secretary-General, while another would be to retain 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.
As in previous years, the Council’s focus on the situation in Abyei remains limited, largely eclipsed by its engagement on South Sudan and Sudan. However, the upcoming renewal of the mission’s mandate and the expiration of UNISFA’s support for the JBVMM in November present an opportunity for Council members to direct attention to the issue. During negotiations in May on resolution 2519, there was consensus on a rollover of the mission’s mandate, especially given the situation around COVID-19.
The US is the penholder on Sudan/South Sudan.
UN DOCUMENTS ON SUDAN/SOUTH SUDAN
|Security Council Resolution|
|14 May 2020S/RES/2519||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNISFA until 15 November 2020.|
|16 April 2020S/2020/308||This was the Secretary-General’s most recent report on UNISFA.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|30 April 2020S/2020/351||This was a letter from the president of the Security Council addressed to the Secretary-General and the permanent representatives of Council member states containing the record of the 28 April open videoconference meeting on UNISFA.|