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 for the JBVMM 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. Four attacks against UNISFA staff as well as instances of intercommunal violence are identified in the most recent report of the Secretary-General as being of particular concern. Criminal acts and the presence of armed elements remain sources of insecurity, and humanitarian needs are significant. On the political side, bilateral relations between Sudan and South Sudan continue to improve. On 3 October, the transitional government of Sudan and an opposition group, the Sudan Liberation Army led by Minni Minawi, signed a peace agreement in Juba that was facilitated by South Sudan. Council members welcomed the agreement in a press statement on 9 October. At the end of September, senior officials from the two countries met to discuss the status of Abyei and other border issues. At the end of October, Sudan and South Sudan signed a Memorandum of Understanding on defence and military cooperation and also agreed to open 10 border crossing points. Despite the continued rapprochement between Sudan and South Sudan, however, little progress has been made in resolving the final status of Abyei.
UNISFA continues to face several challenges in fulfilling its mandate. No progress has been made regarding the outstanding issuance of visas for three formed police units and 108 individual police officers or towards making the Athony airstrip operational, which is supposed to be facilitated by Sudan and South Sudan. The Council has referred to the need to facilitate construction of the airstrip since resolution 2398, adopted in 2017, as part of the mission’s basing arrangements. In resolution 2497, adopted in November 2019, it said that use of the airstrip will reduce UNISFA’s transport costs and logistical challenges; facilitate medical evacuations, official travel and air cargo needs for the mission; increase humanitarian access; and enhance safety and security for UNISFA personnel. 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, due to ongoing discussion with Sudan and South Sudan regarding such an appointment.
On 14 May, the Council adopted resolution 2519, which extended UNISFA’s mandate and the mission’s support for the JBVMM until 15 November. The resolution did not make changes to the mandate. It maintained the authorised ceilings of 3,550 troops and 640 police, both set out in resolution 2497 of November 2019. Currently, the mission includes only 35 police officers, with the low rate of deployment attributed to the non-issuance of visas by Sudan as well as travel restrictions in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
The Council was last briefed on Abyei on 22 October by Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Parfait Onanga-Anyanga. Lacroix emphasised that the low number of police officers “will inevitably lead to the closure of some team sites…and will have a negative impact on the mandate implementation”. UNISFA has reported 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, with no new positive cases recorded since July, Lacroix said.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council to consider leading up to UNISFA’s renewal in November is what modifications to make, if any, to the mandate and force structure in light of the overall appropriateness of the current mandate in relation to the situation on the ground and the obstacles the mission has faced in fulfilling its role. This assessment is likely to be informed by the observations and recommendations contained in the 15 October Secretary-General’s report on UNISFA, which include extending the mandate of UNISFA for another six months.
It is likely that the difficulty of obtaining visas for members of UNISFA’s police component, a long–standing issue, and the failure to appoint a civilian deputy head of mission as requested by the Council in May 2019, the subject of ongoing discussions with Sudan and South Sudan, will be discussed further during negotiations ahead of UNISFA’s mandate renewal.
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 through the UN Mission in South Sudan, the UN-AU Mission in Darfur and the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in 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.
Another rollover of the mandate may be less likely in November. At the briefing on 22 October, the US reiterated its position that it is time to consider a future that does not require a peacekeeping operation in Abyei and stressed that UNISFA’s indefinite operation, particularly with the restrictions placed on it, is “untenable”. The US has typically in the past pushed for further troop reductions, asserted that UNISFA is persisting longer than intended for an interim force and pressed for a viable exit strategy for the mission. A joint statement by the three African members, along with Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, at the 22 October meeting emphasised the stabilising role of the mission and the continued relevance of the mandate in “uncertain times” and endorsed the recommendation of the Secretary-General to extend the current mandate for six months.
Council members also called for the swift issuance of visas, opening of the Athony airstrip and appointment of a civilian deputy head of mission. Germany and Estonia emphasised the need to deploy human rights experts to UNISFA. Previous Council resolutions have requested the Secretary-General to ensure “effective monitoring of violations and abuses of human rights”. The Secretary-General’s report encouraged engagement with the Sudanese and South Sudanese authorities on the issue.
The US is the penholder on Abyei.
UN DOCUMENTS ON SUDAN/SOUTH SUDAN
|Security Council Resolution|
|14 May 2020S/RES/2519||This resolution extended the mandate of UNISFA, as well as its support to the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism, until 15 November.|
|15 October 2020S/2020/1019||This was the Secretary-General’s report on UNISFA.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|22 October 2020S/PV.8772||This was a briefing on Sudan/South Sudan.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|9 October 2020SC/14323||This was a press statement that welcomed the signing of the 3 October 2020 peace agreement in Juba between the transitional government of Sudan and an opposition group, the Sudan Liberation Army led by Minni Minawi.|