Expected Council Action
In September, the Council expects to receive a briefing on the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) and on the report of the Secretary-General containing detailed recommendations about the reconfiguration of UNISFA, requested in resolution 2416 and submitted to the Council in August. Council members also expect to receive by 15 September a report from the Secretary-General, requested in resolution 2412, on progress in implementing any steps taken by the parties as set out in that resolution as well as resolution 2386. This report may also be covered during the briefing.
The mandate of UNISFA expires on 15 November. 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, 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 15 May, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2416, which renewed the mandate of UNISFA until 15 November and reduced the authorised troop ceiling of the mission from 4,791 to 4,500. Resolution 2416 authorised a further decrease in the troop ceiling to 3,959 on 15 October, unless the Council decides to extend the mission’s support to the JBVMM, which remains at initial operating capability. Resolution 2412, adopted on 23 April, extended the mission’s support for the JBVMM until 15 October, saying this would be the final such extension unless the parties demonstrate measurable progress on border demarcation in line with six specific measures set out in the resolution. (For more details, see our What’s in Blue stories of 22 April and 14 May.)
Resolution 2416 expressed the Council’s intention to revise the configuration and mandate of UNISFA, following recommendations to this effect in the 22 April confidential letter from the Secretary-General. The Secretary-General’s letter presented a summary of the independent and integrated review of UNISFA conducted from February to April (the mission was one of the eight peacekeeping operations subject to review, as initiated by the Secretary-General). The resolution acknowledges that “over the course of the seven years since [the] establishment of UNISFA, the mission has been able to stabilize and demilitarize the Abyei Area and that UNISFA is now an interim security force with no viable exit strategy”. It requested the Secretary-General to report by 15 August on detailed recommendations regarding the reconfiguration of UNISFA’s mandate “to create the space for a viable political process that would also serve as an exit strategy, including the role of the UN Country Teams in support of rule of law and peacebuilding, and detailed information on steps the governments should take to create the conditions for an exit strategy”.
Council members received the Secretary-General’s further recommendations on 20 August, which propose that the mission be reconfigured to play an enhanced and more proactive role in support of a political solution to resolving the final status of Abyei, including implementation by Sudan and South Sudan of two agreements concluded in 2011 on border issues and security arrangements. Acknowledging that the mission “has lacked the civilian tools to keep the parties engaged”, recommendations include appointing a civilian deputy head of mission to function as the main focal point on political matters and expanding UNISFA’s civilian component. (A 2015 decision by the Secretary-General to appoint a civilian head of mission was never implemented.) Recommended changes to the mission’s military component include transferring troops to the JBVMM to fully operationalise it, based on the reduced need for a large military presence and the assessment that the JBVMM “remains vital” in contributing to preventing conflict between the two countries and that its full deployment is of “paramount importance”. A larger police component is also recommended, including the addition of specialised police officers to provide advisory support and the transfer of some tasks from the military to the police. These proposed changes would represent an overall decrease in troop numbers.
Council members were last briefed on UNISFA on 24 April by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan Nicholas Haysom. The briefing was held in consultations and not in the open chamber, as was the case at the preceding briefing on the issue on 26 October 2017.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council is whether to maintain UNISFA’s support to the JBVMM. An option is to continue the mission’s support in recognition of recent efforts made by the parties towards its full operationalisation, including the establishment of some team sites along the border crossing corridors. Continued support could include some or all of the 20 August recommendations of the Secretary-General related to the JBVMM. 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 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 UNISFA’s troop levels decreasing on 15 October from 4,500 to 3,959, as set out in resolution 2416.
Another 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.
Over the last several years, the US has repeatedly expressed its concern that UNISFA is persisting longer than had been intended for an interim force, and that Sudan and South Sudan are taking advantage of the relative stability that UNISFA provides to delay attempts to resolve the status of Abyei and related border-security issues. During the negotiations for resolution 2416, the US again pushed for troop reductions. The reduction in the troop ceiling initially proposed by the US was slightly adjusted (from 4,222 to 4,500) as a compromise following opposition from Ethiopia (UNISFA’s primary troop-contributing country), which was supported by some other members. Ethiopia had similarly expressed concern about troop reductions during negotiations in November 2017 on resolution 2386 and in April on resolution 2412, both of which ultimately maintained a troop ceiling of 4,791, despite initial drafts seeking to reduce it. Insofar as the reconfiguration of UNISFA will likely involve further troop reductions, these dynamics are expected to arise again in discussions leading up to the mandate renewal in November.
Regarding the JBVMM, Ethiopia and several other Council members are of the view that suspending the mission’s support to the JBVMM would undermine the effectiveness of the mission, and that the parties have taken sufficient steps towards establishing the JBVMM to merit retaining support. This difference in perspective will likely 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.|
|3 April 2018 S/2018/293||This was the Secretary-General’s latest report on Abyei.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|26 October 2017 S/PV.8078||This was a briefing by Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions Alexander Zuev and Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan Nicholas Haysom 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.|