UN Interim Security Force for Abyei: Vote on Mandate Renewal*
Tomorrow (12 May), 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 November. (Abyei is the disputed area along the Sudan-South Sudan border.) The draft also extends 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 until 15 November.
The draft resolution in blue renews UNISFA’s mandate for six months, without making changes to the force’s mandate or structure, as outlined in resolution 2609 of 15 December 2021. (For background, see our 14 December 2021 What’s in Blue story.) In accordance with the proposals outlined in the Secretary-General’s September 2021 strategic review (S/2021/805), resolution 2609 reduced the mission’s authorised troop ceiling from 3,500 to 3,250, while maintaining the authorised police ceiling at 640 police personnel. The draft text in blue maintains the troop ceiling at 3,250 and the police ceiling at 640.
The US, the penholder on Abyei, circulated an initial draft of the text on 25 April and convened one round of negotiations. The penholder then placed a revised draft under silence until yesterday (10 May). The A3 Council members (Gabon, Ghana and Kenya) and Russia subsequently broke silence. A second revised draft passed silence today (11 May) and was put in blue.
It seems that the negotiations were generally smooth, given that Council members apparently agreed that there is no need to update UNISFA’s mandate and configuration. Discussions during the negotiations apparently centred on such issues as human rights reporting, humanitarian access, quick impact projects for UNISFA and language on women, peace and security.
The penholder apparently sought to have a straightforward renewal, without making substantial changes to the provisions contained in resolution 2609, to allow UNISFA to adjust to its configuration as a multinational force. In resolution 2609, the Security Council took note of the Secretary-General’s strategic review of UNISFA, which recommended the replacement of its existing contingents (Ethiopia had been the sole troop-contributing country) with a UN multinational force with enhanced enabling units and a revised concept of operations. This recommendation was in response to tensions between Sudan and Ethiopia in the past year, which included public calls from Sudan for the replacement of all Ethiopian troops in UNISFA.
The Secretary-General’s report (S/2022/316), covering 16 October 2021 to 15 April, noted that the reconfiguration of UNISFA’s military component was ongoing. The Ethiopian contingent departed Abyei on 10 April, except for a rear party that will be repatriated in the near future, the report said. As at 10 April, most of the Ghanaian troops had arrived, as had more than half of the Pakistani troops, the full Nepali headquarters support unit, and the majority of the Bangladeshi members of the Force Protection Unit, who had taken up their responsibilities relating to the JBVMM.
While the core mandate of UNISFA will remain the same, it seems that some amendments were made to the text that differentiate it from the previous mandate renewal. The initial draft circulated by the penholder apparently sought to strengthen language contained in resolution 2609 by urging, rather than calling on, the governments of Sudan and South Sudan to provide full support for UNISFA in the implementation of its mandate, as well as ensuring the safety, security, and freedom of movement of the UN personnel and assets. This would have included a reference to ensuring the immediate and full access of UN police awaiting visas, enabling the appointment of a civilian deputy head of mission, and allowing the mission use of Athony airfield. It seems that Russia broke silence and requested the deletion of references to the three requests (visas, civilian deputy head of mission and the use of Athony airfield) in this paragraph.
In an apparent compromise, the paragraph in the draft resolution in blue urging the two governments to provide support for UNISFA in the implementation of its mandate does not list the three requests. Instead, the draft text in blue refers to the requests by asking the Secretary-General to include information on progress in fulfilling them in his reporting to the Council on the implementation of UNISFA’s mandate.
It seems that several Council members proposed other additions to the initial draft text. The A3, for example, suggested language on humanitarian assistance which underscores the importance of access for humanitarian actors to reach those in need. This suggestion was apparently incorporated in the draft text in blue. In addition, it seems that language stressing the importance of UNISFA’s efforts to promote the full, equal and meaningful participation of women in processes aimed at facilitating stability and reconciliation in the Abyei Area—which was proposed by Ireland and supported by several other Council members—was included in the draft resolution in blue.
It also appears that Ireland sought to include references to the mission’s reporting on human rights. According to the Secretary-General’s most recent report, UNISFA faced challenges documenting human rights violations and abuses in the absence of human rights expertise as mandated in Security Council resolutions, including resolution 2609. However, language on human rights reporting was ultimately not included in the draft resolution in blue.
In addition, Russia apparently proposed language on quick impact projects for UNISFA. It seems that Moscow had also raised this issue during Council members’ latest closed consultations on UNISFA, which took place on 21 April. Other members apparently felt that such an issue should be discussed in the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee and should not be addressed in a Security Council resolution. Russia apparently broke silence because its suggested language on quick impact projects was not included in the first amended draft. However, this language was ultimately not incorporated in the draft text in blue.
The draft resolution in blue contains several additions in its preambular section, including language noting the efforts of both governments to support each other’s peace processes and expressing the Council’s concern over recent violence in the Abyei Area. According to the Secretary-General’s most recent report, “there have been “sporadic [security] incidents, including killings; shootings; cattle-rustling; [and] violence against women, including rape; and migration-related incidents”. The report expressed concern over the outbreak of violence between the Ngok Dinka and Twic Dinka communities in the Agok area in February and March. During the open briefing on UNISFA on 21 April, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix reported that, since October 2021, intercommunal violence had resulted in the deaths of 29 people and the humanitarian situation had deteriorated (S/PV.9020).
New language was also incorporated in the draft text in blue expressing concern over security threats and recent targeted attacks against UNISFA peacekeepers and calling for accountability for such actions. An 8 March statement by the mission referred to three reported armed attacks on convoys carrying UNISFA peacekeepers on patrol, as well as to the forcible entry into the mission’s headquarters in Abyei Town on 14 February, which resulted in injuries to ten local Ngok Dinka youth and three mission staff.
*Post-script: On 12 May, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2630 extending the mandate of UNISFA for six months. Following the adoption, Russia made a statement which referred to their proposal during the negotiations to add language on quick-impact projects and expressed regret that the penholder did not include this in the resolution (S/PV.9031).