What's In Blue

Posted Mon 13 Nov 2023

UN Interim Security Force for Abyei: Vote on Mandate Renewal Resolution*

Tomorrow morning* (14 November), 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 2024. (Abyei is the disputed area along the Sudan-South Sudan border.) The draft resolution 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 2024.

The draft resolution in blue renews UNISFA’s mandate and its support to the JBVMM without making changes to the force’s tasks or structure, as most recently outlined in resolution 2660. (Resolution 2660 was a straightforward renewal of the mandate set out in resolution 2630 of 12 May 2022.) It urges the governments of Sudan and South Sudan to provide full support to UNISFA in the implementation of its mandate and deployment of UNISFA personnel, including to facilitate the smooth functioning of all UNISFA bases and JBVMM teams sites.

The US, the penholder on Abyei, circulated an initial draft of the text on 1 November and convened one round of negotiations on 7 November. The penholder then placed a revised draft under silence procedure on 8 November. The draft text passed silence on 9 November and was subsequently put in blue the same day.

It seems that the negotiations were smooth, given that Council members agreed that there is no need to update UNISFA’s mandate and structure. The smooth negotiations also apparently reflect Council members’ agreement on the important roles that UNISFA and the JBVMM play in supporting peace, security, and stability in Abyei and the broader region.

This year’s negotiations on UNISFA’s 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 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 (known as Hemeti). The fighting, which was initially centred around Khartoum, has steadily engulfed several parts of the country.

Council members last met to discuss the situation in Abyei on 6 November. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Horn of Africa Hanna Serwaa Tetteh briefed. In her remarks, Tetteh said that following the RSF’s seizure of Belila airport and oil field in Sudan’s West Kordofan state, the military confrontation between the SAF and the RSF is getting closer to Abyei and South Sudan. She warned that military developments in Sudan are likely to have adverse consequences on Abyei’s “social fabric and the already fragile coexistence between the Misserya and the Ngok Dinka [communities]”.

According to the Secretary-General’s 16 October UNISFA report, which covered developments from 19 April to 3 October, no progress was made in resolving the final status of Abyei, amidst the ongoing fighting in Sudan. It also noted that the JBVMM’s implementation of its mandate was affected significantly by the closure of Sudanese airspace in connection with the conflict, making aerial patrols impossible for the JBVMM bases in Sudan. It added that, in light of the worsening security situation in Kadugli (the capital of Sudan’s South Kordofan state), UNISFA on 7 June evacuated all internationally recruited UN staff from Kadugli to Abyei town and Entebbe, Uganda, apart from some peacekeepers, military staff officers, and military observers. The report added that, as at 19 September, “armed actors” around Kadugli had blocked the routes out of the city southwards and northwards, which created food, fuel, and other supply shortages and disrupted the electricity supply. (For more information, see the brief on Sudan/South Sudan in our November 2023 Monthly Forecast.)

In light of these developments, China apparently proposed new preambular language on the safety and security of peacekeepers. The draft resolution in blue incorporates the suggested language, which underscores the importance that the Security Council places on the safety and security of peacekeepers in the field and highlights the need for the Secretary-General, troop- and police-contributing countries, and member states to work together to ensure that UNISFA is adequately resourced and all peacekeepers in the field are willing, capable, and equipped effectively and safely to implement their mandate.

The draft resolution in blue maintains the authorised troop and police ceilings as set out in resolution 2609 of 15 December 2021 and further expresses its intention to remain seized of the recommendations outlined in the Secretary-General’s 17 September 2021 strategic review of UNISFA. The review recommended the replacement of the mission’s existing contingents—Ethiopia had previously 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, which included public calls from Sudan for the replacement of all Ethiopian troops in UNISFA. (For background, see our see our 11 May 2022 What’s in Blue story.)

During the period covered by the Secretary-General’s 16 October report, as part of the UNISFA reconfiguration, several UNISFA troop contingents—Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Viet Nam, and the Chinese medium utility helicopter unit—reached their full operational capacity. However, the final step towards full deployment of troops and contingent-owned equipment, which had been planned for completion by the end of May, was delayed because of the conflict in Sudan. In his remarks during the 6 November Council briefing, Lacroix said that the mission is expected to reach its full operational capacity by the first quarter of 2024.


Post-script (14 November, 9:50 am EST): Following the story’s publication, the vote on the resolution was moved up from the afternoon of 14 November to the morning of that day. The story was amended to reflect the change in schedule.

Post-script (15 November): On 14 November, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2708, renewing the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) for another year, until 15 November 2024. The resolution also extended for one year the mission’s support for the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM).

Sign up for What's In Blue emails

Subscribe to receive SCR publications