What's In Blue

Posted Mon 14 Dec 2015

Council to Vote on Draft Resolution on UN Interim Security Force for Abyei

Tomorrow (15 December), the Security Council is planning to vote on a resolution that would renew the mandate of UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) for an additional five months. The initial draft was circulated to Council members by the US, the penholder on UNISFA, last Tuesday (8 December). After an initial read-through that same day, the US convened members for negotiations on the draft the following day (9 December). Subsequent negotiations were conducted bilaterally, and following a number of amendments, the text was put under silence under until 11 am today. No one broke silence, and the draft was put into blue. While compromises were made, some disagreements were not resolved. However, it seems that these differences were not substantial ones.

The draft would retain the fundamental mandate of UNISFA, although additional language has been added to account for recent developments. The text underscores the unacceptability of attacks on UN personnel, including the 26 November attack that led to the death of a UN peacekeeper, and called for those responsible to be held accountable. (On 27 November, Council members issued a press statement [SC/12142] condemning this incident, which was carried out by unidentified assailants on the home of the Ngok-Dinka paramount chief and also led to the death of a child). The draft welcomes UNISFA initiatives supporting community dialogue, referencing the 17-19 September conference in Aweil, South Sudan, among several ethnic communities on border management; as well as the 7 October meeting in Todach in Abyei, between the Ngok-Dinka and Misseriya communities on the location of a possible joint market. It further encourages the organisation of a meeting of traditional leaders in Abyei, as had been envisioned during the 29-30 March meeting of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee.

Some issues were controversial in the negotiations. The US incorporated language in the preliminary draft that would have condemned the earthwork excavation in Diffra. This is a violation of the 20 June 2011 agreement between Sudan and South Sudan, as it constitutes the development of security infrastructure, according to the Secretary-General’s most recent UNISFA report (S/2015/870). However, Russia, supported by China and Venezuela, objected to this language, as they believed it was too critical of Sudan and created an imbalance in a paragraph condemning both Sudan for maintaining police at the oil facility at Diffra, Abyei, and South Sudan for the intermittent presence of security personnel in Abyei. (The 20 June 2011 agreement specifies that Sudanese and South Sudanese forces should redeploy from Abyei Area.) As a compromise, the US weakened the language referring to the earthwork excavation in the draft in blue, merely noting the information on the excavation in the Secretary-General’s recent report.

Another area of disagreement concerns the length of the mandate. The US proposed a mandate of five months, ending on 15 May 2016. This proposed duration was retained in the draft in blue, in spite of Russia’s preference that the mission be authorised for an additional six months, which would have been in line with the Secretary-General’s recommendation in his recent UNISFA report.

While language was included in the initial version of the text welcoming the appointment of a civilian head of UNISFA, both China and Russia had reservations about this. China questioned why it was necessary to welcome this appointment, considering that the Council had already done so before (i.e.: in resolution 2205 of 26 February) and that Haile Tilahun Gebremariam had assumed this post nearly a year ago. Russia apparently noted that Sudan had some difficulties with this appointment. As a compromise, the draft in blue does not welcome the appointment, although language was incorporated recognising Gebremariam’s leadership of UNISFA’s effort to support inter-communal dialogue and reconciliation.

Another difference of view related to the reference to community protection committees in the text. In the absence of an Abyei Area Police service, UNISFA has supported community policing. However, while these committees have been made operational in central and southern parts of the area (i.e., Ngok-Dinka areas), their establishment has been delayed in northern parts of Abyei, where Misseriya reside, primarily due to the reservations of the government of Sudan. During the negotiations, Lithuania, New Zealand and the UK argued in favor of maintaining the reference to the community protection committees, given the lack of security institutions in the region. However, Russia did not support this reference, given Sudan’s concerns. In the draft in blue, the language on the community protection committees has been retained.