posted on Mon 13 May 2019 9:28 PM
UN Interim Security Force for Abyei Mandate Renewal

Tomorrow (14 May), the Security Council is expected to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) until 15 November 2019. An initial draft was circulated to Council members by the US, the penholder on UNISFA, on 3 May. Two rounds of negotiations among all 15 members were held on 7 and 9 May. A final draft passed silence today and is now in blue.

During negotiations, the three African members, supported by China, and to a lesser extent by some other members, called for a rollover of the current mandate, given the evolving internal political situations in Sudan and South Sudan. However, the US and other members were opposed to such a rollover.

The initial draft circulated by the US would have reduced the authorised troop ceiling from its current authorised level of 4,140 to 3,303 with an increase of the authorised police ceiling from 345 to 640 police personnel. However, as a compromise to those members seeking a rollover of the present mandate, the Council decides in the draft in blue to reduce the troop ceiling to 3,550 and authorise a police ceiling of 640 (as envisioned in the initial draft). These numbers were arrived at to reflect the same decrease in troops as increase in authorised police personnel (that is, 590 persons). The police ceiling of 640 consists of an increase of 295 police to be authorised under this mandate renewal, along with the increase of 295 as-yet undeployed police from the previous mandate renewal under resolution 2445 of 15 November 2018.

According to the Secretary-General’s most recent report (S/2019/319), as at 8 April the mission contained only 40 individual police against the authorized total of 345 decided on in resolution 2445. The failure to deploy the additional police was due to delays in Sudan’s issuance of visas, the report said. In this regard, the draft in blue contains new language expressing “deep concern that the Government of Sudan has not promptly issued visas to support the deployment of personnel critical for the mandate of UNISFA”.

On 12 April, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2465, which extended until 15 October UNISFA’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. However, it decided that as of 15 October, UNISFA’s authorised troop ceiling would decrease by 557 troops, unless the Council again extends the mission’s support for the JBVMM. The draft in blue revises this number from 557 to 585 troops, to reflect updated figures on the number of UNISFA troops currently part of the JBVMM.

The decrease in troops and increase in police personnel contained in the draft in blue, as well as resolution 2445, could be seen as reflective of the situation in Abyei, the disputed area between Sudan and South Sudan, that has “remained generally calm, with sporadic incidents of violence”, according the Secretary-General’s report. The report further notes that the biggest challenge in Abyei is criminality as a result of the adverse economic situation and the prevalence of small arms. Additionally, it notes that law and order challenges persist and the Abyei Police Service has not yet been established.

UNISFA was established in 2011, and in recent years, some members have expressed concern that what was intended to be an interim force remains in place because the underlying political challenges that led to its formation have not been resolved. In this respect, the Secretary-General’s report states that “the mission must adapt to the situation on the ground, as well as preserve the important gains that it has achieved and, most important, reinvigorate the political process, which would allow the mission to develop its exit strategy”.

Along with troop and police levels, another recurring issue around the renewal of UNISFA’s mandate has been whether to appoint a civilian Deputy Head of Mission. Following disagreement on the issue last year, resolution 2445 only expressed the Council’s “intention to request the Secretary-General to appoint a civilian Deputy Head of Mission”, without going so far as to request the appointment be made then. The concern during negotiations in November about such an appointment came from Council members including China, Côte d’Ivoire, Kuwait and Russia as well as then Council member Ethiopia, apparently because Sudan was not supportive of such an appointment at that time.

During this round of negotiations, it seems that Sudan was no longer as opposed to the appointment. The draft in blue thus retains the request made in the initial draft circulated for the Secretary-General to appoint a civilian Deputy Head of Mission for UNISFA. The requested appointment is consistent with the views of the Secretary-General, who stated in his 20 August 2018 letter (S/2018/778) that the mission “has lacked the civilian tools to keep the parties engaged in the advancement of their dialogue politically” to resolve the final status of Abyei, and recommended the appointment of a civilian Deputy Head of Mission to function as the main focal point on political matters as well as expanding UNISFA’s civilian component. Language requesting “a political section” for UNISFA, also recommended in the Secretary-General’s most recent report, was removed from the final draft as a compromise.

As a compromise to those members who would have preferred a rollover of the mandate, and following concerns raised by some members regarding the scope of the role to be played by the civilian Deputy Head of Mission, along with the need to consider the views of Sudan and South Sudan, the draft in blue expressly states that the civilian Deputy Head of Mission will be appointed “to further facilitate liaison between and engagement with the parties in a manner consistent with the Agreement on Temporary Arrangements for the Administration and Security of the Abyei Area, including agreement to establish the Abyei Police Service”. This language regarding the scope of the role was apparently arrived at based on discussions with Sudan and South Sudan.

The draft in blue also contains some other additional preambular language, including on small arms and light weapons, as well as recalling resolution 2467 of 23 April on sexual violence in conflict and its request to ensure the timely deployment of Women Protection Advisors to relevant UN peace operations. Both additions were put forward by Germany.

In terms of reporting, the draft in blue requests the Secretary-General to inform the Council by a note, no later than 31 July, on progress in implementing UNISFA’s mandate, on the troop reduction and police increase, and on the issuance of visas to support implementation of the mandate.

The initial draft circulated by the US contained additional reporting requirements, which were largely retained in the version in blue and are reflective of the US’s position that UNISFA is persisting longer than intended for an interim mission and that an eventual exit strategy is needed. In this regard, the draft requests the Secretary-General to report by 15 October “on updated recommendations for the reconfiguration of the UNISFA mandate, including a transition strategy that would allow for an eventual exit for the mission”. Additionally, it requests the Secretary General “to provide an evaluation of UNISFA’s support to the JBVMM to be reported no later than 15 September 2019” and to conduct “a military and police capability study to include realigning military troops and associated equipment to match the security situation in Abyei”.

These additional reporting requirements are also in line with resolution 2465, which expressed the Council’s “intention to request the Secretary-General to update recommendations on the reconfiguration of UNISFA’s mandate, including on UNISFA’s support to the JBVMM, taking into account the current political and security situation, in order to contribute to creating the conditions for a viable exit strategy for UNISFA”.

The Council received a briefing on 30 April from Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix on the Secretary-General’s report (S/PV.8519). The Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Parfait Onanga-Anyanga (appointed in March) also briefed. Lacroix told the Council that UNISFA continues to play a stabilising role in the Abyei Area and along the border regions, and emphasised “that it is imperative that the gains achieved by UNISFA, as well as the communities in Abyei, be preserved and used to advance towards a political resolution of the border issues between the Sudan and South Sudan.” Referring to the situation in Sudan following the ousting of President Omar al-Bashir on 11 April by the Sudanese military, Lacroix said that “thus far there has been no visible adverse impact on UNISFA’s operations. It is too early to say whether that will provide opportunities for the settlement of the Abyei dispute.” Onanga-Anyanga said the “current situation in the Sudan does not preclude a consolidation of the recent improvement of bilateral relations between the Sudan and South Sudan. However, the new authorities in the Sudan may need some time to resume active engagement in such bilateral relations, including concerning the border, the Two Areas [South Kordofan and Blue Nile] and Abyei.”