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
On 25 October, the Chairperson of the Transitional Sovereign Council in Sudan, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, announced a military coup d’état. At the time of writing, the coup was ongoing with the impact on the situation in Abyei not yet known. Prior to this, improved relations between Sudan and South Sudan created an enabling environment for progress in resolving the final status of Abyei, the disputed area along the Sudan-South Sudan border. Both countries established national committees on the issue, and “there is renewed interest in seeking a political settlement for the area among various stakeholders”, according to the most recent Secretary-General’s report, covering 16 April to 15 October. The Joint Political and Security Mechanism met in Juba in September, but, as the Secretary-General’s report said, “the implementation of previous decisions of that body remains pending”, and the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee has not met since November 2017. The security situation in Abyei was generally calm, but the continued presence of armed elements and the proliferation of arms remain threats, the report said.
UNISFA faced numerous obstacles in the implementation of its mandate, as outlined in the Secretary-General’s report, including the denial of freedom of movement on 20 occasions. Long-standing challenges persist, including the lack of progress regarding the operationalisation of the Athony airstrip, the delayed issuance of visas for the three formed police units and an additional 98 individual police officers, and the appointment of a civilian deputy head of mission (as requested by the Council in May 2019). The Secretary-General’s report also urged both countries to allow the deployment of human rights experts to the mission in accordance with the relevant Security Council resolutions.
On 13 October, Security Council members were briefed under “any other business” by Assistant Secretary-General for Africa Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee on the deterioration of the situation in Gok Machar, South Sudan, including threats to the safety and security of peacekeepers. An Ethiopian peacekeeper died in Gok Machar on 14 September, after being denied medical evacuation. (For more, see our What’s In Blue story of 12 October.) Council members issued a press statement on 15 October that reiterated their full support for UNISFA and expressed concern that the full implementation of the mission’s mandate was being obstructed. Council members further demanded that the government of South Sudan facilitate the unimpeded implementation of UNISFA’s mandate.
The Council last renewed UNISFA’s mandate on 11 May, unanimously adopting resolution 2575. 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, which Council members received on 17 September. The review 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 (who are from Ethiopia, which is embroiled in its own civil war) to a 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.
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”. In light of these factors, the strategic review team was not able to propose a clear exit strategy for the mission at this stage, the Secretary-General’s report said.
On 26 October, Security Council members met for closed consultations to discuss the situation in Sudan. (For more details, see our What’s In Blue story of 26 October.) The Council was last briefed on Abyei on 27 October by Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, and the Chairperson of the AU High-Level Implementation Panel Thabo Mbeki.
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 take into account recent developments in Sudan, following the coup d’état. They will also consider the findings and recommendations of the strategic review and the Secretary-General’s report on progress in implementing UNISFA’s mandate, which recommended an extension of the mission’s mandate by six months. It is likely that 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 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 for the Council 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 Secretary-General’s most recent report encouraged “the AU to enhance its efforts to promote political mediation”.
A further issue that Council members are likely to follow relates to the operational difficulties faced by UNISFA and the JBVMM. The ongoing process of replacing the mission’s Ethiopian troops, including vetting mechanisms and engagement with potential troop-contributing countries, is another issue.
Council members expressed serious concern about the military takeover in Sudan on 25 October, in a press statement adopted on 28 October, Members agree on the important roles that UNISFA and the JBVMM play in support of achieving peace, security and stability in Abyei and the broader region, as noted in the press statement of 15 October. They also share concern over the obstruction of UNISFA’s mandate.
Council members remain concerned over tensions in the region that continue to affect the mission. The US (the penholder on the issue) said in its explanation of vote on the adoption of resolution 2575 on 11 May 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 US 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.|
|15 October 2021S/2021/881||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 Press Statements|
|15 October 2021SC/14666||This was a press statement in which Council members expressed concern that the full implementation of UNISFA’s mandate is being obstructed.|
|28 October 2021SC/14678||This was a press statement in which members of the Security Council expressed serious concern about the military takeover in Sudan on 25 October.|