What's In Blue

Posted Fri 12 May 2017

Council Consultations and Possible Vote on Draft Resolution on UN Interim Security Force for Abyei

Today (12 May), the Security Council may vote to renew the mandate of UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) for an additional six months. The vote, initially scheduled for Wednesday 10 May, was delayed due to a lack of Council consensus. It was rescheduled for this morning, although the level of support for the draft is unclear. At the request of two elected members, consultations are being held this morning in the hope of breaking the impasse. It is possible that the vote will take place following the consultations, although this is unclear.

An initial draft was circulated to Council members by the US, the penholder on UNISFA, on Friday 5 May. This draft proposed a suspension of the mission’s role in supporting the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM) and a reduction in the UNISFA troop ceiling from 5,329 to 4,170 (the current deployed numbers are 4,499). These proposals may have followed concerns that the lack of commitment to the JBVMM by Sudan and South Sudan undermined the value of the mission’s continuing support to the mechanism. It does not seem that substantive changes were made to the draft, which was put in blue yesterday.

The US convened Council members for negotiations on Monday (8 May). Some members objected to the proposed changes to the draft, and maintained that the mandate should be renewed in line with the recommendations of the Secretary-General’s special report reviewing the mandate of UNISFA, released on 5 April. The review recognised the limitations faced by the JBVMM and recommended that it be maintained at its interim operating capacity, including with the support of the 557 troops currently deployed for force protection of the monitors in Kadugli and Gok Machar. Silence was broken on the morning of Wednesday 10 May by Ethiopia, which has contributed almost the entire UNISFA military contingent since the mission’s inception in 2011. Their position was supported by a number of other Council members.

Council dynamics have over the years been generally constructive on UNISFA. Most Council members have expressed concern at the lack of progress in resolving the status of Abyei, a disputed area straddling the Sudan-South Sudan border, while also acknowledging the need to maintain mission effectiveness.

However, the level of division on the current draft is quite unusual for UNISFA negotiations. Some members would like the resolution to reflect the findings of the Secretary-General’s recent review, (i.e. maintaining the JBVMM at its interim operating capacity). However, other members believe that the review does not substantiate the continuance of the JBVMM and are inclined to reduce the troop strength of the mission as envisioned in the draft. At press time, it remained unclear how this matter would be resolved.

Postscript: Additional negotiations were held on the morning of Friday 12 May on a possible compromise text, based on language proposed by elected members. Adoption was scheduled for the same day but was again postponed as consensus had yet to be reached. Negotiations continued into the weekend, and a draft was put under silence on the afternoon of Saturday, 13 May. Silence was not broken, and the draft was put into blue on the afternoon of Sunday 14 May. The resolution was adopted unanimously on Monday 15 May, renewing the UNISFA mandate until 15 November 2017. While the resolution maintained support for the JBVMM, it specified that this would be the final renewal of support for the JBVMM unless the parties demonstrated significant progress towards full implementation of border arrangements. The troop ceiling was set at 4,791.