UN Interim Security Force for Abyei: Vote on Mandate Renewal Resolution*
Tomorrow (15 December), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) until 15 May 2022. (Abyei is the disputed area straddling the Sudan-South Sudan border.) On 15 November, the Council adopted a technical rollover resolution extending UNISFA’s mandate for one month until 15 December. The decision to do so was influenced by the situation in Sudan following the military takeover in October.
It seems that the discussion during the negotiations on the draft text in blue centred on several issues, including UNISFA’s reconfiguration; the mission’s performance and effectiveness; and the facilitation of the safety and security, access and freedom of movement of UNISFA personnel.
The negotiations on the draft resolution took place in the context of significant political developments in Sudan. On 25 October, the Chairperson of the Transitional Sovereign Council, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, declared a nationwide state of emergency and the suspension of key provisions of the August 2019 Constitutional Document. The military detained Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, placing him under house arrest. Although Hamdok was released on 21 November and signed a power-sharing agreement with al-Burhan, instability persists in the country. The power-sharing agreement has reportedly faced opposition in Sudan and there have been protests in several cities against the military’s involvement in the government. (For more background, see our 9 December What’s in Blue story.)
The effects of Sudan’s political instability on the country’s bilateral relationship with South Sudan and on the situation in Abyei are not yet known. Prior to these developments, improved relations between Sudan and South Sudan created an enabling environment for progress in resolving the final status of Abyei. As such, the draft text in blue welcomes the continued cooperation between Sudan and South Sudan on issues of peace and security, including on the implementation of the October 2020 Juba Peace Agreement. It also welcomes the high-level discussions between Sudan and South Sudan in August on the status of Abyei, and the convening of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism (JPSM)—the body employed by Sudan and South Sudan to discuss security matters of mutual concern—on 9 September and 21 October. Despite the rapprochement between the two states, little progress has been made by Sudan and South Sudan in the past ten years in resolving the final status of Abyei. Therefore, the text encourages the two countries to engage in substantive dialogue that can advance the political process for the resolution of the Abyei dispute.
The negotiations on the draft resolution also took place against the backdrop of regional tensions, including the ongoing armed confrontation in Ethiopia and escalating tensions over the eastern border in the Al-Fashaga area between Sudan and Ethiopia, which have resulted in sporadic clashes. These developments have implications for UNISFA, as Ethiopia is the sole troop-contributing country in the mission. In this context, Sudan has publicly called for the replacement of the Ethiopian troops in UNISFA, which South Sudan reportedly rejected. Ethiopia has come to recognise that it is no longer tenable for their troops to remain in Abyei, especially given Sudan’s position.
The draft text in blue addresses UNISFA’s reconfiguration, building on the recommendations contained in the Secretary-General’s strategic review of UNISFA, which Council members received on 17 September. (The Council requested the strategic review in resolution 2575 of 11 May, which renewed UNISFA’s mandate.) The review recommended two options for UNISFA’s reconfiguration: reconfiguration with a slightly reduced troop ceiling and similar deployment, or reconfiguration of capabilities and footprint with a more significantly reduced ceiling. In light of the regional dynamics, both options included the replacement of the current contingents with a UN multinational force with enhanced enabling units and a revised concept of operations. Council members have accepted the strategic review’s first proposal; the draft text in blue reduces the mission’s authorised troop ceiling from 3,500 to 3,250 until 15 May 2022 and expresses the Council’s intention to keep under review the Secretary-General’s recommendations.
The draft text in blue maintains the authorised police ceiling at 640 police personnel, including 148 individual police officers and three formed police units. It addresses the delayed issuance of visas to UNISFA personnel, which is a key factor obstructing the deployment of the mission’s police personnel. The draft resolution expresses the Council’s serious concern in this regard and calls on Sudan and South Sudan to provide full support to the mission and the deployment of its personnel by removing any obstacles that hinder the implementation of its mandate and ensuring freedom of movement.
The draft text in blue also extends until 15 May 2022 the mission’s support for the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM), which was established in 2011 to conduct monitoring and verification activities along the Sudan-South Sudan border. It seems that during the negotiations, Council members discussed the need the enhance the security at some of the JBVMM team sites that came under attack in recent months. On 11 August, protestors gathered outside the Sector 1 headquarters in Gok Machar, a town in Aweil North County in South Sudan, and demanded the withdrawal of UNISFA troops. The protestors forcibly entered the camp, resulting in the destruction and looting of UN assets. Similar protests took place on 13 August outside the War Abar team site, forcing UNISFA to relocate. On 30 August, the local community of Aweil North County demanded in writing the complete withdrawal of UNISFA and the JBVMM from Sector 1 headquarters in Gok Machar “within 48 hours”. On 13 October, Council members met to discuss these developments under “any other business”. They subsequently issued a statement calling on South Sudan to facilitate the unimpeded implementation of UNISFA’s mandate.
The draft resolution in blue calls on the parties to make demonstrable progress on border demarcation and outlines a series of measures in this regard, including supporting the operationalisation of the team site in Abu Qussa/Wunkur and resolving the challenges to the JBVMM’s return to Gok Machar and team sites in Safaha/Kiir Adem and Sumayah/War Abar.
The draft text in blue includes provisions on the evaluation of the mission’s performance. It requests the Secretary-General to:
provide integrated, evidence-based and data-driven analysis, strategic assessments and frank advice to the Security Council, using the data collected and analysed through the Comprehensive, Planning and Performance Assessment System (CPAS) and other strategic planning and performance measurement tools, taking into account performance of all uniformed and civilian personnel, to describe the mission’s impact, to facilitate as necessary a re-evaluation of the mission composition and mandate based on realities on the ground.
The issue of an exit strategy for UNISFA, which has been raised by the US—the penholder on Abyei—in previous Council discussions on the mission, was also discussed during the negotiations. In this regard, the draft text in blue requests the Secretary-General to include in his next report on UNISFA, which is expected by 15 April 2022, the “results of a joint consultation with the governments of Sudan, South Sudan, and relevant stakeholders, including the local community, to develop clear and realistic benchmarks and indicators for a responsible, successful and durable mission transition”. Whereas previous resolutions on UNISFA used the term “exit strategy”, the draft text in blue references the concept of “transition”. This language was apparently proposed by Ireland, the penholder on resolution 2594 of 9 September on UN peace operation transitions.
*Post-script: On 15 December, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2609, extending the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) until 15 May 2022.