May 2022 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 April 2022
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AFRICA

Sudan/South Sudan

Expected Council Action

In May, 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 expire on 15 May.

Key Recent Developments

For more than ten years, the governments of Sudan and South Sudan have made no significant progress in resolving the final status of Abyei, the disputed area along the Sudan-South Sudan border. In recent months, Sudan and South Sudan have been more focused on their internal situations following the 25 October 2021 military coup in Sudan and political challenges in South Sudan. According to the Secretary-General’s most recent report, covering 16 October 2021 to 15 April, “the security situation in the Abyei Area remained mostly calm, despite sporadic incidents, including killings; shootings; cattle-rustling; violence against women, including rape; and migration-related incidents”. The report expressed concern over the outbreak of violence between the Ngok Dinka and Twic Dinka communities in the Agok area in February and March and two armed attacks against UNISFA in early March.

As noted in the Secretary-General’s report, “the Abyei Area continued to face significant humanitarian challenges resulting from outbreaks of violence, the presence of armed elements, population displacement and economic challenges in both the Sudan and South Sudan”. According to OCHA’s March humanitarian situation overview, inter-communal tensions in February and March increased in the Abyei Administrative Area, reportedly because of territorial disputes, inter-tribal tensions and revenge-seeking. It noted that 76,000 people were internally displaced; 240,000 people were in need of assistance; and, since the outbreak of violence in early February, around 60 people have reportedly been killed between Agok and Amiet common market.

UNISFA continues to face challenges in the implementation of its mandate, including the delayed issuance of visas, the opening of the Anthony airstrip and the appointment of a civilian deputy head of mission (as requested by the Council in May 2019). According to the Secretary-General’s report, UNISFA faced challenges documenting human rights violations and abuses in the absence of human rights expertise as mandated in Security Council resolutions, including resolution 2609. The report noted that for the first time since the establishment of the mission, temporary visas were granted to two human rights officers.

Last year, tensions in the region affected the mission, including public calls from Sudan for the replacement of all Ethiopian troops. Since the mission’s establishment in 2011, Ethiopia had been the sole troop-contributing country until recently. The Secretary-General’s report noted that the reconfiguration of UNISFA’s military component was ongoing. The Ethiopian contingent departed Abyei on 10 April, except for a rear party that will be repatriated in the near future, the report said. On 24 April, news sources reported that 528 Ethiopian peacekeepers from Tigray had refused to return to Ethiopia, fearing for their safety, and that Sudanese authorities are being assisted by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to aid those seeking asylum. According to the Secretary-General’s report, as of 10 April, most of the Ghanaian troops had arrived, as had more than half of the Pakistani troops, the full Nepali headquarters support unit, and the majority of the Bangladeshi members of the Force Protection Unit, who had taken up their responsibilities relating to the JBVMM.

Following a one-month technical rollover in November 2021, due to the October 2021 coup in Sudan, the Council renewed UNISFA’s mandate until 15 May with the unanimous adoption of resolution 2609 on 15 December 2021. 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. (For more, see our What’s In Blue story of 14 December 2021.)

The Council was briefed on Abyei on 21 April by Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Hanna Serwaa Tetteh. (This was Tetteh’s first briefing to the Council since her appointment in February.) Lacroix reported that, since October 2021, intercommunal violence had resulted in the deaths of 29 people and the humanitarian situation had deteriorated. There has been no progress on the deployment of the three formed police units mandated by the Council, he said, nor on re-opening JBVMM team sites 11 and 12 and the headquarters of Sector 1 in Gok Machar after UNISFA was forced to relocate following violence there last year. He echoed the recommendation made in the Secretary-General’s report to extend the mandate for six months.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue for the Council 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, including the outbreak of violence in February and March as well as the humanitarian situation. A likely option is for Council members to consider the findings of the Secretary-General’s report and the recommendation that the mission’s mandate be extended for six months.

An option would be to renew the mandate without any changes, given the uncertain internal political situations in Sudan and South Sudan. (In the past, the three African members, supported by China and, to a lesser extent some other members, have proposed this as an option.)

A further issue that Council members are likely to follow relates to the operational difficulties faced by UNISFA and the JBVMM. It is likely that, among other issues, the visa-issuance problems, attacks against UNISFA, restrictions on its freedom of movement, and the protracted difficulties with appointing a civilian deputy head of mission will be discussed during negotiations on UNISFA’s mandate renewal resolution. Regarding the stalled political situation, the Council may consider encouraging the AU to intensify its mediation efforts, as called for in the Secretary-General’s report.

Council Dynamics

Council 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. Members also have a shared concern over the obstruction of UNISFA’s mandate. It seems that the negotiations on resolution 2609, which renewed UNISFA’s mandate in December 2021, centred on several issues, including UNISFA’s reconfiguration, the mission’s performance and effectiveness, and facilitating the safety, 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, 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 briefing on 21 April, the US regretted that no meetings of any of the joint institutions or mechanisms had been held since the last briefing to the Council in October 2021, noting that the status quo is unacceptable. In a joint statement, the three African members—Gabon, Ghana and Kenya (the A3) emphasised that a high-level role for the AU, and the support of the international community, are essential to resolving the final status of Abyei. The A3 also expressed concern over intercommunal violence and the humanitarian situation, as did most other members. Brazil, along with others, encouraged the AU to intensify its mediation efforts and noted that regional support could be strengthened. Russia highlighted that the positions of Sudan and South Sudan must be considered in the renewal of UNISFA’s mandate. China noted that it was a new troop contributor to the mission, with the contribution of a helicopter unit, and that a quick reaction force would be deployed as soon as possible, adding that it supports the renewal of UNISFA’s mandate in principle.

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.
Secretary-General’s Report
14 April 2022S/2022/316 This was on the situation in Abyei.
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
21 April 2022S/PV.9020 This was a briefing on UNISFA and Sudan/South Sudan.
15 December 2021S/PV.8932 This was a meeting to adopt resolution 2609.

 

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