Expected Council Action
In October, the Council will 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 October as requested in resolution 2575. Consultations are expected to follow the briefing.
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
Improved relations between Sudan and South Sudan since 2019 have created an enabling environment for progress in resolving the final status of Abyei, the disputed area along the Sudan-South Sudan border. However, little concrete progress has been made, including implementation of the June 2011 Agreement on Temporary Arrangements for the Administration and Security of Abyei Area. In recent months, tensions in the region have affected the mission, of which Ethiopia is the sole troop-contributing country. These include the ongoing armed confrontation in Ethiopia; escalating tensions over the eastern border in the Al-Fashaga area between Sudan and Ethiopia, which have resulted in sporadic clashes; and the dispute between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). In this context, Sudan has publicly called for the replacement of the Ethiopian troops in UNISFA, which South Sudan reportedly rejected. Ethiopia has come to recognise that conditions are no longer favourable for their troops to remain in Abyei, including given Sudan’s position.
On 8 and 9 September, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Parfait Onanga-Anyanga visited Abyei as part of a visit by Lacroix to the region. At a press briefing in New York on 17 September, Lacroix noted that UNISFA plays an instrumental role in reducing tensions between communities while acknowledging that the continued presence of Ethiopian troops in Abyei is a source of contention. He added that if UNISFA is to continue, the current composition must be changed and that other contributing countries would replace the Ethiopian contingent in the next seven months, which corresponds with the dry season.
On 11 May, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2575, renewing the mandate of UNISFA and the mission’s support for the JBVMM until 15 November. The resolution maintained the authorised troop and police ceilings at 3,550 and 640 personnel, respectively. It requested the Secretary-General to provide the Council with a strategic review of UNISFA by 30 September, assessing recent political developments between and within Sudan and South Sudan and providing detailed recommendations for further reconfiguration of the mission and establishing a viable exit strategy. Resolution 2550, adopted on 12 November 2020, 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”.
Council members received the strategic review on 17 September. It recommended two options for the reconfiguration of UNISFA: reconfiguration with a slightly reduced troop ceiling and similar deployment, or reconfiguration of capabilities and footprint with a more significantly reduced ceiling. In light of the regional dynamics, both options include the replacement of the current contingents with a UN multinational force with enhanced enabling units and a revised concept of operations. The report said that the replacement of personnel could commence in October and estimated that it would take between 100 days and six months. Both options retain the JBVMM at the same level. The review team was not able to propose a clear exit strategy at this stage, the report said.
The Council was last briefed on Abyei on 26 April by Lacroix and Onanga-Anyanga.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council to consider is the reconfiguration of the mission and what modifications to make to the mandate and force structure ahead of the mandate renewal in November. Council members are expected to consider the findings and recommendations of the strategic review as well as the Secretary-General’s report on progress in implementing UNISFA’s mandate, due by 15 October.
Another key issue is what steps to take in relation to the need “to develop a viable exit strategy”, as mentioned in resolutions 2550 and 2575. 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, the UN, the AU, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development) 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.
The US, as penholder on the issue, suggested language about developing an exit strategy for UNISFA during negotiations in November 2020, which was included in resolution 2550 and again in resolution 2575 (for more on resolution 2550, see our What’s In Blue story of 11 November 2020). While the US has repeatedly asserted that UNISFA has continued longer than intended for an interim force and has pressed for a viable exit strategy, its position may have shifted slightly this year, including as a result of the change in its Administration as well as regional developments. At the 26 April meeting, the US expressed concern about the recent deterioration of the security situation within and among regional countries and the impact this may have on Abyei. In its explanation of vote on the adoption of resolution 2575 on 11 May, the US said that “with shifting dynamics in the region, it is essential that we continue to assess how UNISFA contributes to the regional political and security architecture” and that the mission’s “configuration and its exit strategy must take into account the current circumstances”. The statement also urged the AU “to develop longer-term solutions that can be sustained after the departure of United Nations peacekeepers”.
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 constituted “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 the determination of the final status of Abyei.
The US is the penholder on Abyei.
UN DOCUMENTS ON SUDAN/SOUTH SUDAN
|Security Council Resolutions|
|11 May 2021S/RES/2575||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNISFA until 15 November 2021.|
|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 Letters|
|17 September 2021S/2021/805||This was a letter from the Secretary-General transmitting the strategic review of UNISFA.|
|1 April 2021S/2021/322||This was a letter from the Secretary-General on options for the responsible drawdown and exit of UNISFA.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|9 December 2002S/2002/1408||This letter transmitted a report of the Conference, held in Santiago on 4 and 5 November 2002, on the role of women in peacekeeping operations.|