Expected Council Action
In May, the Council is expected 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 expire on 15 May.
Key Recent Developments
Despite the continued rapprochement between Sudan and South Sudan, little progress has been made in resolving the final status of Abyei, the disputed area along the Sudan-South Sudan border. According to the most recent report of the Secretary-General, the security situation “has been relatively calm, yet tense and unpredictable”, and significant humanitarian challenges remain. It also said that no progress has been made regarding the operationalisation of the Athony airstrip, the deployment of a civilian deputy head of mission (as requested by the Council in May 2019), and the issuance of outstanding visas for the authorised three formed police units and 148 individual police officers. The mission’s current troop deployment is 131 below the ceiling of 3,550 authorised in resolution 2550. The police component stands at 47 officers against an authorised total of 640 police personnel, with the low rate of deployment attributable to the government of Sudan’s failure to issue visas.
On 12 November 2020, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2550, renewing the mandate of UNISFA and the mission’s support for the JBVMM until 15 May. The resolution contained new language in relation to an exit strategy for UNISFA. It also requested the Secretary-General to develop options for the responsible drawdown and exit of the mission and to submit a report on these by 31 March. In a letter to the Council on 1 April, the Secretary-General reported that consultations conducted with the governments of Sudan, South Sudan and Ethiopia as well as other relevant stakeholders were “inconclusive” and, given the different positions on the future of the mission, “no options that would be minimally acceptable to the parties could be formulated.”
According to the letter, Sudan “indicated that a responsible drawdown of UNISFA could be considered immediately but should proceed gradually over a one-year period” to allow for the establishment of the mechanisms provided for in the Agreement on the Temporary Arrangements for the Administration and Security of the Abyei Area (agreed to by the parties in June 2011). Sudan also said that if tensions remain high with Ethiopia because of the dispute over the al-Fashaga area and negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, it will “consider requesting Ethiopia to withdraw as a troop-contributing country from UNISFA and be replaced with a multinational African force”.
South Sudan emphasised that security concerns justified the continued presence of UNISFA and expressed the view that the mission’s exit should be envisaged only after the resolution of the final status of Abyei. However, it rejected the establishment of joint institutions with Sudan. South Sudan also called for the appointment of a civilian deputy head of mission. Ethiopia indicated “that a reduction in the troop level of UNISFA, combined with a lack of cooperation by the Sudan, would prevent UNISFA from fully implementing its mandate” and that any reduction “would put the remaining troops of UNISFA at risk and lead Ethiopia to withdraw them from the operation”.
The Council was last briefed on Abyei on 26 April by Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Parfait Onanga-Anyanga.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council to consider leading up to UNISFA’s renewal is what modifications to make to the mandate and force structure in light of the situation on the ground. Council members are expected to take into account the findings and recommendations of the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of the mandate of UNISFA. The report does not, however, make any recommendations on the future of the mission (previous reports recommended extending the mandate of the mission for six months). It is likely that the visa issuance problems and the protracted difficulties with appointing a civilian deputy head of mission, among other issues, will be part of the discussion during negotiations ahead of UNISFA’s mandate renewal.
Another key issue is what steps to take in relation to the drawdown and exit of the mission, as referred to in resolution 2550. A related issue is how to bridge the differences expressed by Sudan, South Sudan and Ethiopia as outlined in the Secretary-General’s 1 April letter so that the Secretary-General can offer options that would be acceptable to all parties. One option would be to consider holding an Informal Interactive Dialogue with all the parties (Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, UN, AU, and IGAD) in order to find common ground. A related option may be for the Council to suggest that the Secretariat consult further with the AU and the AU High-Level Implementation Panel on a way forward. Another option is to consider requesting an independent review of UNISFA, an intention expressed in resolution 2550.
The US, as penholder on the issue, suggested language about considering an exit strategy for UNISFA during negotiations in November 2020, which was included in resolution 2550 (for more, see our What’s In Blue story of 11 November 2020). In its explanation of vote following the resolution’s adoption on 12 November 2020, the US said that “given the warming relations between the Sudan and South Sudan, a responsible exit strategy should be developed, and it must account for the continued security needs of the people of Abyei”. The US also urged the AU to “play a key role” in this regard and to support the parties to achieve further political progress. The US has repeatedly asserted that UNISFA has continued longer than intended for an interim force and has pressed for a viable exit strategy for the mission. At the 26 April meeting, the US expressed concern over the recent deterioration of the security situation within and among regional countries and the impact this may have on Abyei.
In the past, the three African members, supported by China and to a lesser extent by some other members, have called for a renewal of the mandate without any changes, given the evolving internal political situations in Sudan and South Sudan.
At the 26 April meeting, the three African members and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines made a joint statement emphasising that the mission constitutes “an anchor of stability” and that any future decision on drawdown options for UNISFA should be informed by the views of the parties and be conditions-based, including on the determination of the final status of Abyei.
The US is the penholder on Abyei.
UN DOCUMENTS ON SUDAN/SOUTH SUDAN
|Security Council Resolution|
|12 November 2020S/RES/2550||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNISFA until 15 May 2021.|
|20 April 2021S/2021/383||This was the Secretary-General’s report on UNISFA.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|12 November 2020S/PV.8774||This was the unanimous adoption of resolution 2550.|
|Security Council Letter|
|1 April 2021S/2021/322||This was a letter from the Secretary-General on options for the responsible drawdown and exit of UNISFA.|