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Sudan/South Sudan

Expected Council Action

In October, the Council expects to receive a briefing in consultations on the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). Resolution 2416 requested that this report be submitted by 15 October. The Council is also expected to decide by 15 October whether to adopt a resolution extending 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.

The mandate of UNISFA expires on 15 November. The mission’s support for the JBVMM expires on 15 October.

Key Recent Developments

The security situation in Abyei, the disputed territory along the Sudan/South Sudan border, remains relatively stable but unpredictable, in the absence of significant progress on establishing temporary arrangements for its administration and security, pending resolution of its final status. Humanitarian needs remain substantial and are exacerbated by intercommunal tensions and a lack of basic public services. In this context, UNISFA continues to carry out its mandate, including ongoing facilitation of peaceful migration throughout Abyei, conflict prevention and deterrence, and mediation.

On 23 April, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2412, extending UNISFA’s support for the JBVMM until 15 October. The resolution stated that this would be the final such extension, unless the Council decided to continue the mission’s support for the JBVMM based on the parties’ demonstrating measurable progress on border demarcation in line with six specific measures set out in the resolution. Among other things, these measures included: maintaining clearance for all UNISFA air and ground patrols; finalising agreement on four JBVMM team sites; convening at least two meetings of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism (JPSM); withdrawing from the Safe Demilitarized Border Zone (SDBZ); making progress in establishing specific border crossing corridors (and opening two new ones) between Sudan and South Sudan; and resuming border demarcation discussions.

On 15 May, the Council adopted resolution 2416, which renewed the mandate of UNISFA until 15 November and requested the Secretary-General to provide detailed recommendations for the reconfiguration of UNISFA. The Secretary-General’s recommendations were submitted to the Council in a 20 August letter.

The letter recommended changes to the mission’s military component, including transferring troops to the JBVMM to make it fully operational based on the reduced need for a large UNISFA military presence within the Abyei Area and the assessment that the JBVMM remains vital in contributing to preventing conflict between the two countries. The full deployment of the JBVMM is of “paramount importance”, according to the Secretary-General’s letter.

On 14 September, Council members received a confidential note from the Secretary-General, requested in resolution 2412, on progress by the parties on the six specific measures set out in that resolution. The note reportedly said that standing clearance for UNISFA air and ground patrols in the Safe Demilitarized Border Zone, one of the six specified measures, has been continued by Sudan and South Sudan, but that little progress has made with regard to other measures, and that the parties had postponed JPSM meetings in recent months.

The Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of UNISFA’s mandate, which the Council requested be submitted by 15 October in resolution 2416, is expected to include reporting on: 

  • the movement of weapons into Abyei and the presence, destruction and confiscation of weapons within Abyei;
  • steps that have been taken by the Secretary-General to develop an integrated performance-policy framework and to apply it to UNISFA;
  • results of human rights monitoring as requested, including information, analysis, and data on violations and abuses of human rights; and
  • steps the parties have taken towards implementing the June 2011 Agreement on Temporary Arrangements for the Administration and Security of Abyei Area (e.g., the establishment of the Abyei Area Administration and an Abyei police service) and towards achieving a political resolution to the status of Abyei. 

Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan Nicholas Haysom briefed the Council on UNISFA on 20 September. The briefing was held in the open chamber, departing from the usual practice of receiving these briefings in consultations. In keeping with the Secretary-General’s 20 August letter, Lacroix called for changes to UNISFA’s mission concept within the current ceiling of uniformed personnel. He maintained that the JBVMM “remains a vital part of the framework that regulates the relationship between the two countries.” Lacroix also reiterated the Secretary-General’s recommendation to establish two further sector headquarters and team sites within the Safe Demilitarised Border Zone, with troops to be transferred from Abyei, in order to provide more substantive attention to the border region as a part of the JBVMM. He further noted the recommendation of the Secretary-General that UNISFA concentrate those military personnel remaining within the Abyei Area along the area’s borders to help prevent incursions by armed groups (namely, rebel groups from Sudan and South Sudan). 

Haysom said that the resolution of the final status of Abyei “above all else…would allow for the timely exit by UNISFA from Abyei.” He noted that internal problems in both Sudan and South Sudan had hindered negotiations on this issue in recent years. However, Haysom said that there is hope that both countries will now engage substantively in talks on the status of Abyei, noting that the reduced tensions between Sudan and South Sudan as a result of Khartoum’s mediation efforts in the South Sudan conflict had created a more conducive environment for negotiations. 

Key Issues and Options

A key issue for the Council is whether to maintain UNISFA’s support for the JBVMM through its monitoring and verification tasks along the border. An option is to continue the mission’s support in recognition of recent efforts made by the parties towards making it fully operational, namely the standing clearance for UNISFA ground and air patrols. Continued support could also include some or all of the 20 August recommendations of the Secretary-General related to the JBVMM; for example, this would entail an expansion of the mission’s current activities with regard to the JBVMM to include protection for AU Border Programme staff engaged in demarcating the border. Another option is to retain the mission’s support for a shorter period as a means of putting pressure on the parties to intensify efforts to fully implement the JBVMM and also to reach a political solution. A further option is for the Council to take no action to extend the mission’s support for the JBVMM, which would result in a decrease in UNISFA’s troop levels on 15 October from 4,500 to 3,959 as set out in resolution 2416

An additional key issue for the Council to consider is the appropriateness of UNISFA’s current mandate in relation to its strategic priorities and the situation on the ground ahead of the mandate renewal in November. This assessment could be informed by the 20 August recommendations of the Secretary-General and the Secretary-General’s October report. 

Council Dynamics

Over the past several years, the US has repeatedly expressed its concern that UNISFA was persisting longer than had been intended for an interim force, and that Sudan and South Sudan were taking advantage of the relative stability that UNISFA provides to delay attempts to resolve the status of Abyei and related border-security issues. At the 20 September Council meeting, US Deputy Permanent Representative Jonathan Cohen questioned whether all of UNISFA’s tasks “remain appropriate and necessary.” Regarding the JBVMM, he said that the US would not “support indefinitely a mechanism that remains underutilized and is not making progress in resolving the political issues that are at the root of UNISFA’s JBVMM support mandate.” In contrast, Ethiopia and several other Council members are of the view that suspending support for the JBVMM would undermine its effectiveness, and that the parties have taken sufficient steps towards establishing the JBVMM to merit retaining support. This difference in perspective is likely to feature in discussions ahead of deciding whether to extend support for the JBVMM in October. 

The US is the penholder on Abyei. 

UN Documents on Sudan/South Sudan

Security Council Resolutions
15 May 2018 S/RES/2416 This was a resolution renewing the mandate of UNISFA until 15 November 2018 and reduced the authorised troop ceiling of the mission from 4,791 to 4,500.
23 April 2018 S/RES/2412 This was a resolution extending UNISFA’s support to the JBVMM until 15 October 2018 and imposed additional benchmarks.
Secretary-General's Report
3 April 2018 S/2018/293 This was the Secretary-General’s latest report on Abyei.
Security Council Meeting Record
20 September 2018 S/PV.8357 This was a briefing on Sudan/South Sudan.
Security Council Letter
20 August 2018 S/2018/778 This was from the Secretary-General transmitting recommendations on the reconfiguration of UNISFA’s mandate.

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