What's In Blue

Posted Fri 2 Jun 2023

Sudan: Vote on UNITAMS Mandate Renewal*

This afternoon (2 June), following the briefing on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution extending the mandate of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) for another six months, until 3 December.

The short one-page draft text in blue is described by Council members as a technical rollover of the measures contained in resolution 2579 of 3 June 2021, and most recently renewed by resolution 2636 of 3 June 2022. (The term “technical rollover” is commonly used by diplomats to describe a concise resolution extending a peace operation’s mandate without altering its core mandate or tasks. It traditionally denotes an extension for a shorter period than is customary.)

The UK, the penholder on Sudan, circulated an initial draft of the resolution to Council members on 19 May and convened one round of negotiations on the text on 23 May. On 24 May, the UK placed a revised draft text under silence procedure. The A3 members (Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique) broke silence, followed by China and Russia, calling for a technical rollover of UNITAMS’ mandate. Subsequently, the penholder engaged bilaterally with several Council members, as well as with Sudan, and placed an amended draft under silence procedure on 30 May. The draft passed silence and was then put in blue on 31 May.

This year’s difficult negotiations on UNITAMS’ mandate took place against the backdrop of a severe escalation of violence in Sudan. The country has been grappling with the devastating consequences of fighting that erupted on 15 April in and around Khartoum between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Sudan’s military leader and chairperson of the Transitional Sovereign Council, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. According to a 28 May OCHA flash update, at least 730 people have been killed and 5,500 injured since the outbreak of hostilities. Data provided by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) indicates that approximately 1.2 million people have been displaced within Sudan since 15 April. (For more information, see our 31 May What’s in Blue story.)

Council members last met to discuss the situation in Sudan on 31 May, after Secretary-General António Guterres requested to brief members in closed consultations. It seems that during the meeting, Guterres reaffirmed his support for Special Representative and head of UNITAMS Volker Perthes and his efforts to resolve the crisis. He apparently also expressed support for a six-month extension of UNITAMS’ mandate, noting that the Council could then re-examine the mission’s future. In the subsequent press encounter, Guterres said that it is the responsibility of the Security Council to decide whether to support the continuation of the mission in Sudan or whether to end it.

The draft resolution in blue extends UNITAMS’ mandate for six months, instead of the customary 12 months. The six-month extension was proposed in light of the recent escalation in Sudan, which has significantly challenged the mission’s ability to implement its mandate. The Secretary-General’s most recent report on UNITAMS, dated 16 May, noted that the fighting has posed severe operational difficulties for the mission, leading it to suspend such activities as capacity-building, development assistance, and field visits. It appears that many Council members believe that the six-month extension will allow the Council to monitor developments closely and then reassess UNITAMS’ mandate accordingly.

The draft resolution in blue maintains the four strategic objectives of the mission contained in resolution 2579. These are: (i) assisting Sudan’s political transition; (ii) supporting the peace processes and implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement and future peace agreements; (iii) assisting peacebuilding, civilian protection, and rule of law, and (iv) supporting the mobilisation of economic and development assistance and coordination of humanitarian and peacebuilding assistance.

Council members’ diverging views on how to reflect the situation in Sudan complicated the negotiations. It seems that the UK added language in the initial draft text that reflected the recent developments in Sudan. This draft apparently included in its operative section language that, among other matters, called on the parties immediately to cease hostilities and agree to permanent ceasefire arrangements; welcomed the diplomatic efforts by the African Union (AU), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the League of Arab States (LAS), and UNITAMS to resolve the crisis; underlined the need for close cooperation between regional entities; called on all parties to allow unhindered humanitarian access for the UN and other humanitarian agencies; and called on member states and international and regional organisations to respond to the emergent humanitarian needs in Sudan and its neighbouring states as a result of the clashes.

The initial draft text also contained new language in its preambular section. Among other matters, this text expressed deep concern over the humanitarian situation in Sudan, including the growing number of internally displaced persons and refugees. It also expressed concern over the effects of the conflict on neighbouring countries, including threats arising from the illicit transfer, destabilising accumulation, and misuse of weapons.

The penholder apparently consulted extensively with Sudan ahead of the mandate renewal negotiations. However, it seems that Sudan raised objections to the initial text, insisting on a technical rollover of the mandate and conveying its position to other Council members. Sudan apparently also opposed the inclusion of any language concerning the recent developments in the country, including the humanitarian situation, calls for a ceasefire, and the demand for humanitarian corridors.

It seems that the A3 members, China, and Russia also opposed adding new language to the draft resolution concerning the humanitarian, political, or security situation in Sudan. In its statement at the 22 May open Council briefing on Sudan, Russia expressed support for a technical rollover of the UNITAMS’ mandate, adding that “once the acute phase has passed, we could revisit the mandate”. China emphasised that, in light of the ongoing developments, UNITAMS “will face considerable challenges in its future work” and encouraged the penholder fully to respect Sudan’s views.

On the other hand, the UK, along with several other Council members—Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, and the US—supported the addition of language in the draft resolution reflecting the developments in Sudan.

As a result of these divisions, the UK put in blue a revised text containing a six-month technical rollover of UNITAMS’ mandate and omitting the language reflecting the current situation in Sudan. In lieu of trying to address the recent turmoil in Sudan in the draft resolution, it decided to do so in a separate product—a draft presidential statement—which it circulated on 29 May, requesting members to submit comments on the text. The draft apparently contained some of the language that the UK initially proposed in the draft resolution on UNITAMS’ mandate renewal. It appears that some Council members expressed the position that a technical rollover of UNITAMS’ mandate would only be acceptable if the Council is able to adopt a product reflecting the recent developments in the country.

It seems that some Council members expressed reservations about the draft presidential statement, instead calling for a press statement, and proposed several amendments. The penholder then placed a revised draft press statement under silence, until 1 June. Subsequently, Russia broke silence and proposed substantive edits to the text. Following the silence break, France proposed additional edits. An amended draft was placed under silence procedure yesterday evening (1 June) until this morning (2 June) at 9 am, and a vote was scheduled on UNITAMS’ mandate renewal for 10 am. However, agreement was still not reached on the draft press statement, and the silence procedure was extended until 11 am, while the vote on UNITAMS’ mandate was postponed to 3 pm. The silence procedure on the draft press statement was further extended several times throughout the afternoon, resulting in the postponement of the vote on the resolution until after the Council’s briefing on the DPRK. An amended draft press statement passed silence at 3 pm, paving the way for a vote on the draft technical rollover of UNITAMS’ mandate.


*Post-script: On 2 June, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2685, renewing the mandate of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) for six months, until 3 December 2023. In its explanation of vote, the UK said that the six-month technical rollover will provide the necessary time for the Council to assess the impact of recent developments in the country on UNITAMS’ ability to fulfil its vital mandate.

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