What's In Blue

Posted Tue 14 Nov 2017

UN Interim Security Force for Abyei: Council to Renew the Mandate

Tomorrow (15 November), the Security Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) for an additional six months. (Abyei is a disputed area straddling the Sudan-South Sudan border.) The draft passed silence today and is now in blue.

An initial draft was circulated to Council members by the US, the penholder on UNISFA, on Monday (6 November). The draft proposed a suspension of the mission’s role in supporting the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM), established in 2011 to conduct monitoring and verification activities along the Sudan-South Sudan border. This proposal followed concerns, raised by the US during negotiations on UNISFA’s renewal in May, 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. Furthermore, the US maintained that the requirements set out in resolution 2352, which was unanimously adopted on 15 May and extended the mandate of UNISFA for six months, have not been sufficiently met to merit continued support to the JBVMM.

Resolution 2352 warned that support would be withdrawn unless Sudan and South Sudan complied fully with their obligations. In particular, the resolution decided that the extension of support for the JBVMM would “be the final such extension unless both parties demonstrate through their actions clear commitment and steadfast guarantees for implementation of the JBVMM”. The Secretary-General’s 2015 report (S/2015/439), set out conditions for the full operating capability of the JBVMM, namely, the resolution of the dispute over the Safe Demilitarized Border Zone, a buffer zone along the Sudan-South Sudan border; the resumption of border demarcation discussions; the holding of regular meetings of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism (JPSM) established by the governments of Sudan and South Sudan to discuss political and security matters of mutual concern; and the granting of full freedom of movement for the operations of the JBVMM. As set out in the Secretary-General’s most recent report, progress in meeting these conditions has been uneven (S/2017/870).

Nearly six years after its establishment, the JBVMM remains at initial operating capability with only two of the four sector headquarters in operation. More generally, the US appears to be concerned that UNISFA is persisting longer than intended for an interim force, and that Sudan and South Sudan are taking advantage of the relative stability that UNISFA provides to delay attempts to resolve the final status of Abyei.

The US convened Council members for negotiations on Tuesday (7 November). Ethiopia, UNISFA’s primary troop-contributing country, along with a number of other Council members, objected to the proposed suspension of support to the JBVMM and maintained that the mandate should be renewed for an additional six months as recommended in the Secretary-General’s report (S/2017/870). This position was supported by pointing to recent positive steps taken by the parties, including a summit meeting of the presidents of Sudan and South Sudan in Khartoum on 1 and 2 November. A joint communique issued at the end of the meeting was transmitted to Council members on 6 November (S/2017/932).

Other recent developments taken into consideration by Council members include a joint letter from Sudan and South Sudan to the Security Council on 23 September, requesting the continued support of the UN for the JBVMM, and a 23 October letter from the Chairperson of the AU Commission containing a similar request. On 31 October, the JPSM held a meeting after several months of delay, during which the two sides agreed to immediately reactivate the JPSM and its associated mechanisms, namely, the JBVMM and the Joint Security Committee. They further agreed to establish the Safe Demilitarized Border Zone. During the meeting, the parties directed the JBVMM and the Joint Security Committee to move swiftly to verify the redeployment of forces out of the Safe Demilitarized Border Zone. The outcome of the meeting was sent to the Council on 1 November (S/2017/921). In addition, the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee, which is meant to enable joint political and administrative oversight of Abyei but had not met since May, reportedly convened on 9 November.

The US circulated a revised draft on Friday (10 November), following bilateral discussions with Ethiopia and taking into account the positions of the majority of Council members against the immediate withdrawal of support of the JBVMM. In this regard, while the revised draft would extend the mandate of UNISFA for six months, it would only extend support of the JBVMM for five months, until 15 April 2018. According to the draft, this will be the final such extension for support for the JBVMM unless the parties complete specific measures, by no later than 15 March 2018, including facilitating UNISFA’s full freedom of movement; opening Phase I of the border crossing corridors; holding at least one meeting to resume border demarcation discussions; reactivating the ad hoc committee of the 14-mile area (a disputed border territory); facilitating the operationalisation of the four JBVMM team sites; and convening at least two meetings of the JPSM. It also requests the Secretary-General to provide a written report by 1 April 2018, including on any steps taken in relation to these specific measures. The draft decides to maintain the authorized troop ceiling of 4,791 until 15 April 2018, after which it will decrease to 4,235 unless the Council decides to extend the mission’s support for the JBVMM.

Council members were last briefed on UNISFA on 26 October, by Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions Alexander Zuev and Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan Nicholas Haysom (S/PV.8078). In a break with previous practice, the briefing took place in the Council chamber, instead of in consultations. Both briefers stressed UNISFA’s stabilising role. Haysom added that this should inform any decision regarding Abyei and the JBVMM, while Zuev recommended that UNISFA’s mandate be extended for another six months.

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