UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) and Sudan/South Sudan: Open and Closed VTC Meeting
Tomorrow (28 April), there will be an open VTC, followed by a closed VTC, on the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) and Sudan/South Sudan. Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix is expected to brief on the Secretary-General’s most recent report on UNISFA.
Lacroix may reiterate the need for Sudan and South Sudan to reinvigorate efforts to implement their 20 June 2011 agreement calling for the establishment of joint administration and security arrangements in Abyei pending resolution of its final status. According to the Secretary-General’s most recent report (covering 16 October 2019 to 15 April), Sudan and South Sudan “have paid limited attention to their responsibilities regarding Abyei”, as both countries undergo significant political transitions. The fragile security situation in Abyei is likely to be raised in the meeting. This has been marked, in the reporting period, by a rise in criminality and increased intercommunal tensions. In this regard, numerous deadly attacks targeting Misseriya and Ngok-Dinka communities have been reported in recent months in Abyei.
Discussions with Sudan regarding the need to facilitate the deployment of the remaining police personnel to UNISFA may also be discussed in the meeting. As of 31 March, UNISFA included 3,486 troops (out of 3,550 authorised) and a police component of 37 officers (out of 640 authorised), with the low rate of police deployment attributed to the non-issuance of visas by Sudan. Council members may be interested in hearing further details on this from Lacroix as the difficulty of obtaining visas for members of UNISFA’s police component has been a longstanding issue.
Another issue that Council members will likely be interested in receiving further information about is the failure to appoint a civilian deputy head of mission “to further facilitate liaison between and engagement with the parties”, as requested by resolution 2469 of 14 May 2019. According to the Secretary-General’s report, discussions are still ongoing with Sudan and South Sudan on the appointment. The request for such an appointment was consistent with the views of the Secretary-General, who stated in a 20 August 2018 letter that the mission “has lacked the civilian tools to keep the parties engaged in the advancement of their dialogue politically” to resolve the final status of Abyei; given this concern, the Secretary-General recommended the appointment of a civilian deputy head of mission to function as the main focal point on political matters. (The current head of mission is also the force commander, Major General Mehari Gebremariam.)
During his briefing Lacroix may also refer to the steps being taken by the mission, as detailed in the Secretary-General’s report, in response to COVID-19, which include the appointment of a designated COVID-19 coordinator and a task force to assist this person. Although Sudan and South Sudan have confirmed cases, the mission itself has not recorded any cases among its personnel, according to the Secretary-General’s report.
Tomorrow’s briefing comes shortly before the expected mandate renewal of UNISFA, and 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, which both expire on 15 May. Lacroix may highlight some of the observations and recommendations contained in the Secretary-General’s report in this regard, including extending the mandate of UNISFA for another six months, emphasising the need for progress towards resolving the status of Abyei, and encouraging the AU to increase its involvement on the issue. The mandate of UNISFA was last renewed for six months by resolution 2497, adopted on 14 November 2019. (See our What’s In Blue story of 13 November 2019.)