What's In Blue

Posted Mon 13 Jul 2015

UN Interim Security Force for Abyei Mandate Renewal

Tomorrow morning (14 July) the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) for an additional five months. The draft resolution was circulated to the full Council last Wednesday 8 July. After an initial read-through of the text on that day, negotiations were held on 9 and 10 July. The draft was put under silence on 10 July until this morning, but the silence was broken by Russia. After additional bilateral negotiations between the US, the penholder on UNISFA and Russia today, changes were made to the draft, which was put into blue this afternoon.

Negotiations were described as cordial and appear to have gone smoothly. The core mandate of UNISFA will remain essentially the same. However, there were some differences that required compromises or reversions to previously accepted language.

The key area of disagreement appears to have had to do with the duration of the mandate. The Secretary-General had recommended an extension of six months in his recent UNISFA report. The US proposed a mandate renewal of four months, in keeping with the approximate length of the past three reauthorisations (4.5 months). The argument for this shorter mandate is to put pressure on the parties to step up their negotiations on outstanding issues. Although this does not seem to have worked in the past, the US apparently believed that not enough progress had been achieved on the ground to justify the longer mandate recommended by the Secretariat. While some members did not feel strongly either way, France supported the idea of a four-month renewal, but Russia preferred that the Council defer to the Secretary-General’s recommendation of six months. The compromise was to renew the mandate for an additional five months.

A separate area of disagreement was whether and how to reference the Ngok-Dinka community’s decision to hold a unilateral referendum in Abyei in October 2013. (A referendum was supposed to be held in January 2011 to determine whether Abyei would become part of Sudan or South Sudan; this never happened because Sudan and South Sudan could not agree on the criteria for voter eligibility.) Russia believed that it was important to express concern over the negative impact of the unilateral referendum. It had made a proposal to this effect during the negotiations, which was not included in the version placed under silence. It may have felt that the reference to the unilateral referendum would balance the text, as there is reference in another part of the draft to the killing of the Ngok-Dinka paramount chief and the killing of a UNISFA peacekeeper; these were carried out by a member of the Misseriya and have created tensions between the Ngok-Dinka and Misseriya communities in Abyei. Russia therefore broke the silence. A compromise was found with the text in blue referring to the unilateral referendum and taking note of Sudan’s decision to hold national elections in Abyei in April 2015 in the context of acts that “could aggravate intercommunal relations within the Abyei Area.”

Another issue on which there were different perspectives was the human rights language. The US suggested additional language urging UN action on human rights monitoring. A number of members likewise believed it would be helpful to have language indicating support for the Secretary-General’s efforts to strengthen human rights monitoring in Abyei. France noted that one of the operative paragraphs of the draft resolution already requests the Secretary-General to ensure that effective human rights monitoring is carried out and that it would be useful to signal support for this task, given the limited progress on this front. However, Russia, backed by China, was opposed to language urging additional UN action on human rights. This was in line with Sudan’s views on the proposal for additional text on human rights. Ultimately, the draft in blue does not include the additional phrase urging UN action on human rights monitoring, with the original language from last year being maintained.

The draft text includes new language on the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM). It expresses the Council’s intention to consider the Secretary-General’s recommendations regarding the JBVMM’s operations in his next report on UNISFA, and takes note of the recommendations in the recent Secretary-General’s report that continued investment in achieving the full capacity of the JBVMM should be based on four conditions. These include the following: the parties have to agree on the boundaries of the Safe Demilitarised Border Zone (SDBZ); the parties need to recommence negotiations on border demarcation; their Joint Political and Security Mechanism, designed to discuss political and security issues of mutual concern, should convene regularly; and the parties should permit unhindered movement of JBVMM personnel.

This new language on the JBVMM was ultimately retained, although there was some discussion on this matter, and the text was slightly altered during the negotiations. Russia would have preferred to solicit the views of the parties (i.e., Sudan and South Sudan) on the viability of this text, while France argued that it was important to include this language because the Council should signal that it is a problem that there has not been progress in the implementation of the JBVMM. As a compromise, it appears that the final version will note the Secretary-General’s recommendations regarding the need for four conditions to be met for the JBVMM to reach full capacity, while also incorporating a clause that takes note of the JBVMM’s “initial operating capability.”

A final issue was the addition of “infrastructure construction” as one of the tasks that should be facilitated by the parties. This is likely a reference to the Anthony airstrip, which has nearly been completed in spite of Sudan’s objections. Sudan apparently stated its opposition to the inclusion “infrastructure construction” in the text of the draft resolution. This term has been retained in the final version, although it was expanded in the final text to indicate the infrastructure construction will take place “in the Mission Area,” which is consistent with the language of the Status of Forces Agreement. This appears to be a way of signaling that the base will be used to support UNISFA operations, rather than those of another party in the future (i.e., South Sudan).