Expected Council Action
In April, 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), due by 15 April, as requested in resolution 2609. Consultations will follow the briefing.
The mandate of UNISFA and the mission’s support for the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM) expire on 15 May.
Background and Key Recent Developments
Over the course of more than ten years, the governments of Sudan and South Sudan have not made significant progress in resolving the final status of Abyei, the disputed area along the Sudan-South Sudan border. UNISFA continues to face challenges in the implementation of its mandate, including the delayed issuance of visas for police, access to the Anthony airstrip, and the appointment of a civilian deputy head of mission (as requested by the Council in May 2019).
Incidents of violence and criminality continue. According to a 3 January statement by UNISFA, an armed group of about 70 Misseriya herders attacked the Ngok Dinka village of Miodol, northeast of Abyei Town, killing five people. In a statement on 8 March, the mission expressed concern over renewed violence in the southern part of the Abyei area, saying “longstanding grievances and disputes between communities in Abyei and neighbouring areas have resulted in over a month of violence particularly affecting Agok/Anet town, sector south, and Abyei Town”. The attacks resulted in the death of several people and the displacement of thousands, the statement said. It also referred to three reported armed attacks on convoys carrying UNISFA peacekeepers on patrol, as well as to the forcible entry into the mission’s headquarters in Abyei Town on 14 February, which resulted in injuries to ten local Ngok Dinka youth and three mission staff.
Last year, tensions in the region affected the mission, including public calls from Sudan for the replacement of all the Ethiopian troops. Until recently, Ethiopia had been the sole troop-contributing country since the mission’s establishment in 2011. The Secretary-General’s 17 September 2021 strategic review of UNISFA outlined plans for the replacement of the Ethiopian contingent with a multinational force. The report said that the replacement of personnel could commence in October 2021 and estimated that it would take between 100 days and six months. In recent months, new contingents have begun to deploy to UNISFA. In January, an advance party of the incoming Ghanaian battalion arrived in Abyei (Ghana is expected to deploy a battalion of 570 troops.) In February, the advance party of Pakistan’s contingent joined UNISFA, with additional troops expected in April as part of its eventual deployment of a battalion also totaling 570 troops. The repatriation of Ethiopian peacekeepers began on 21 February. On 12 March, Bangladeshi troops took over JBVMM operations in Kadugli. On 15 March, Major General Benjamin Olufemi Sawyerr (Nigeria) assumed the position of force commander/acting head of mission for UNISFA, replacing Major General Kefyalew Amde Tessema (Ethiopia).
Following a one-month technical rollover in November 2021, the Council renewed UNISFA’s mandate until 15 May with the unanimous adoption of resolution 2609 on 15 December 2021. The resolution also extended until 15 May the mission’s support for the JBVMM. It reduced the authorised troop ceiling from 3,550 to 3,250 and maintained the authorised police ceiling at 640 police personnel, including 148 individual police officers and three formed police units. The resolution expressed the Council’s serious concern about the delayed issuance of visas for UNISFA staff by Sudan, which is a key factor obstructing the deployment of the mission’s police personnel. It called on Sudan and South Sudan to provide full support to the mission and the deployment of its personnel by removing any obstacles that hinder the implementation of its mandate and by ensuring freedom of movement. It further called on the parties to make demonstrable progress on border demarcation and outlined a series of measures in this regard, including supporting the establishment of a team site in Abu Qussa/Wunkur and resolving the challenges to the JBVMM’s return to Gok Machar and team sites in Safaha/Kiir Adem and Sumayah/War Abar.
The Council was last briefed on Abyei on 27 October 2021 by Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix; the Secretary-General’s then-Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga; and the Chairperson of the AU High-Level Implementation Panel, Thabo Mbeki. (Hanna Tetteh was appointed Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa in February, replacing Onanga-Anyanga.)
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council to consider leading up to UNISFA’s renewal in May is what modifications to make, if any, to the mandate and force structure in light of the situation on the ground. A likely option is for Council members to consider the findings and recommendations of the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of UNISFA’s mandate, due by 15 April. The report is expected to cover several issues, including:
- engagement by the AU, including the AU High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP), on political mediation;
- efforts of the Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa to support the AU in helping the parties to establish temporary administrative and security arrangements for Abyei and to achieve a political solution to the status of Abyei;
- efforts to increase police numbers in Abyei, appoint a civilian deputy head of mission, access the Anthony airstrip, and obtain visas to support mandate implementation;
- human rights monitoring, as requested in resolution 2609;
- results of a joint consultation among the governments of Sudan, South Sudan, and relevant stakeholders, including the local community, to develop clear and realistic benchmarks and indicators for a responsible, successful and durable mission transition;
- a summary of actions taken to improve mission performance and address performance challenges; and
- overall mission performance.
Council and Wider Dynamics
It seems that the negotiations on resolution 2609 centered on several issues, including UNISFA’s reconfiguration, the mission’s performance and effectiveness, and the facilitation of the safety and security, access, and freedom of movement of UNISFA personnel. The issue of an exit strategy for UNISFA, which has been raised by the US—the penholder on Abyei—in previous Council discussions on the mission, was also raised during the negotiations. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 14 December 2021.)
In a statement following the adoption of resolution 2609 on 15 December 2021, Russia expressed regret that the US “insisted on maintaining a stronger accusatory slant, blaming both states for the unresolved tasks before the mission” while acknowledging that issues remain “when it comes to staffing UNISFA’s police contingent, the appointment of a civilian Head of Mission and access to the Anthony airstrip”.
At the same meeting, South Sudan expressed appreciation for the presence of UNISFA and welcomed “the renewed concern over the unresolved impasse between the parties on reaching an agreement on the final status of Abyei”. Its statement also called on “the Security Council, the AU Peace and Security Council, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and friends of both the Sudan and South Sudan to work towards the goal of realizing the final status” of Abyei.
Prior to the October 2021 coup in Sudan, improved relations between Sudan and South Sudan had created an enabling environment for progress in resolving the final status of Abyei. However, since then, Sudan has been more focused on its internal political situation than on addressing the situation in Abyei. Regional tensions continue, including as a result of the armed confrontation in Ethiopia. (On 25 March, the government of Ethiopia declared an indefinite humanitarian truce and the Tigrayan authorities committed to a cessation of hostilities effective immediately.)
The US is the penholder on Abyei.
UN DOCUMENTS ON SUDAN/SOUTH SUDAN
|Security Council Resolutions|
|15 December 2021S/RES/2609||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNISFA until 15 May 2022.|
|15 November 2021S/RES/2606||This was a technical rollover resolution extending the mandate of UNISFA until 15 December 2021.|
|15 October 2021S/2021/881||This was the Secretary-General’s report on UNISFA.|
|Security Council Letter|
|17 September 2021S/2021/805||This was a letter from the Secretary-General transmitting the strategic review of UNISFA.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|15 December 2021S/PV.8932||This was a meeting to adopt resolution 2609.|
|27 October 2021S/PV.8887||This was a briefing on UNISFA and Sudan/South Sudan.|