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UN Interim Security Force for Abyei: Council to Vote on Draft Resolution

Tomorrow (15 May), the Security Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) until 15 November. An initial draft was circulated to Council members by the US, the penholder on UNISFA, on 7 May. One round of negotiations among all 15 members was held on 9 May, and a revised draft circulated the next day. Additional bilateral negotiations resolved remaining differences, and a final draft was put in blue today.

The draft in blue reduces the authorised troop ceiling of the mission from 4,791 to 4,500, with a further decrease to 3,959 on 15 October, unless the Council decides to extend the mission’s support to the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM), which is tasked with monitoring and verification activities along the Sudan-South Sudan border. UNISFA was originally authorised in June 2011 (S/RES/1990), while responsibility for supporting the JBVMM was added to the mission’s mandated tasks in December 2011 (S/RES/2024). On 23 April, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2412, which 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 story of 22 April).

A reduction in the troop ceiling initially proposed by the US was slightly adjusted (from 4,222 to 4,500) in the draft in blue, as a compromise following opposition from Ethiopia (the primary troop contributing country to UNISFA), supported by some other members. Ethiopia had similarly expressed concern about troop reductions during negotiations in November 2017 on resolution 2386 and in April 2018 on resolution 2412, both of which ultimately retained the troop ceiling, despite initial drafts seeking to reduce it. The present troop reduction takes into account the current vacancy rate within the mission (as of March, 4,485 of 4,791 authorised military personnel were deployed).

The US has long been concerned that UNISFA is persisting longer than 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 final status of Abyei—a disputed area straddling the Sudan-South Sudan border—and related border security issues.

The draft recalls, as in previous UNISFA resolutions in 2016 and 2017, “that the Security Council welcomed in resolution 2205 (adopted on 26 February 2015), the decision of the Secretary-General to appoint a civilian head of mission”. Following objections by Sudan in 2015, the appointment was never made. The initial draft circulated by the US included a request, now removed, for the Secretary General to appoint a civilian head of mission “to assess the situation on the ground, engage with the parties and to provide further recommendation on the future of the mission”. This request was not supported by several members, such as Russia, China, Ethiopia and Kuwait for various reasons, including that Sudan had previously not supported such an appointment and that the role of the Special Envoy on Sudan and South Sudan is sufficient in the current context. Major General Gebre Adhana Woldezgu of Ethiopia was appointed in April as UNISFA’s new Force Commander, replacing Major General Tesfay Gidey Hailemichael, who was the Acting Head of Mission and Force Commander.

On the status of Abyei, the draft in blue expresses “disappointment that the parties have taken few steps to implement the Agreement on Temporary Arrangements for the Administration and Security of Abyei Area and to achieve a political resolution to the status of Abyei”. It requests the parties to update the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) on steps taken in three areas outlined in the draft resolution, and invites the AUHIP to update the Council on such progress, by 15 October. These three areas relate broadly to the resolution of the final status of Abyei; implementation of all Abyei Joint Oversight Committee decisions; and reconciliation and engagement of the Misseriya and Ngok Dinka communities. (The Misseriya pass through Abyei each year to graze their cattle; the Ngok Dinka reside year-round in Abyei, and consider it their ancestral homeland.)

The draft reflects aspects of the Secretary-General’s letter of 22 April on the independent and integrated review of UNISFA conducted from February to April (as one of the eight peacekeeping operations subject to review by June, as initiated by the Secretary-General). In particular, the draft 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 also takes note “of the need to reconfigure the mission in order to create the space for a viable political process that would also serve as an exit strategy”.

The draft expresses the Council’s “intention to revise the configuration and mandate of UNISFA in light of recommendations contained in the Secretary-General’s 22 April 2018 letter”. It requests the Secretary-General, in consultation with all relevant stakeholders, in particular the governments of the Sudan and South Sudan, to report no later than 15 August with detailed recommendations on the reconfiguration of UNISFA’s mandate. It further welcomes the Secretary-General’s initiative to undertake a military and police capability study, which may inform the review of UNISFA’s mandate for reconfiguration.

The draft also takes note of the Secretary-General’s most recent report on the situation in Abyei dated 3 April (S/2018/293), “commending the UN Police for activities to advise and mentor the local population in the absence of the Abyei Police Service, urging both parties to urgently establish the Abyei Police Service, welcoming UNISFA’s enhanced role in fostering intercommunal dialogue, and urging all parties to continue the dialogue”. The draft requests the UN to deploy additional UN police immediately in order to meet the authorized police ceiling of 50 (as of March, 37 police personal were deployed). It also urges the governments of Sudan and South Sudan, along with UNISFA, to develop a roadmap towards establishment of the Abyei Police Service by 15 October. Language contained in the initial draft urging the two governments to establish the Abyei Police Service by 15 October, rather than just a roadmap, was adjusted after some members advocated giving the parties a more manageable task.

In relation to reporting, the draft requests the Secretary-General to provide a written report by 15 October on the implementation of UNISFA’s mandate, including on the movement and presence of weapons; human rights monitoring; steps that have been taken by the Secretary-General to apply an integrated performance policy framework to UNISFA; and the steps taken in the three areas specified for the political resolution of the status of Abyei.

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