Members also Discuss Joint Border Mechanism, Mandate of Abyei Force
The Security Council today requested the Secretary‑General to set up a dedicated team to assist the electoral process in South Sudan towards the country’s democratic future, as members also discussed the impact of the 25 October military coup d’état in Sudan on the bilateral border administration.
At the outset of today’s meeting, the 15‑member organ endorsed a presidential statement (to be issued as document S/PRST/2021/20), presented by Kenya, Council President for October, by which the Secretary‑General is requested to establish an integrated electoral assistance team led by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), in support of the electoral road map detailed in the peace agreement of 2018.
In the statement, the Council underscored that elections must be preceded by an inclusive, transparent constitution-drafting process, carried out in an environment that respects freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, and encourages civic engagement.
The Council then urged the South Sudanese authorities to make progress on key milestones, including the necessary security arrangements, the establishment of the legal framework for elections, and the establishment of a functioning National Election Commission both in Juba and at the subnational level.
Today’s meeting took place as the 15 November expiration date approaches for both the mandate of the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) and its support to the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism, which monitors the demilitarized zone along the border between Sudan and South Sudan.
Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, Under‑Secretary‑General for Peace Operations, said that the United Nations strategic review of UNISFA proposes two viable options for the reconfiguration of the mission. One would keep overall force numbers close to what they are currently, and the second would slightly reduce the troop ceiling, a move that will require more operational adjustments but should encourage Sudan and South Sudan to move forward on outstanding issues with increased urgency.
It is also recommended that the United Nations establishes a rule of law support strategy, and keeps the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism intact, he said, adding that negotiations towards a political settlement concerning Abyei remain crucial building blocks towards an exit strategy for UNISFA. In that regard, a set of benchmarks should be established in close coordination with the two countries, including specific requirements for the inclusion of women.
On the latest event in Khartoum, he said: “It is too early to know what the impact of this week’s developments… will mean for UNISFA on a day-to-day basis.” But all parties in Sudan are, and have been, strong supporters of the Force, he said, noting that planning towards a full replacement of the current military contingent with a multinational one will continue in full speed.
Injecting his observation, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General for the Horn of Africa, said the tragic events unfolding in Sudan following the unconstitutional change of Government reflect the shaky transitions that many countries are going through, adding that it will be critical to urgently restore constitutional order, consistent with the Constitutional Declaration as well as the 2018 peace agreement.
Noting encouraging signs, including a deepening relationship between Sudan and South Sudan, demonstrated by high‑level visits and initiatives in support of each other’s peace processes, he added: “While most of what I am reporting on may sound a bit removed from the current situation in Sudan which could negatively impact bilateral relations, I sincerely hope that the recent positive trend will not be derailed.”
Thabo Mbeki, Chairperson of the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel and former President of South Africa, recalled that civil war broke out in 1965 between what are now Sudan and South Sudan and ended with a peace accord in 1972. That agreement stated that the people of Abyei must decide where the Area belonged — to the North or South — but the accord was never implemented. The African Union presented a proposal to both Governments in 2012 on how they should address administration, security and establishment of institutions in Abyei.
The African Union must now approach the two Governments again, he said, reminding them they signed the Abyei Protocol in 2005, which states there must be a referendum for the residents of the Area. Steps must be taken to determine Abyei’s final status in achieving area stability.
The representative of Tunisia, speaking also for Kenya, Niger and the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, stressed the importance of adequately endowing UNISFA’s rule-of-law capacity and then endorsed the Secretary‑General’s recommendation to extend UNISFA’s mandate and its support to the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism for six months.
India’s delegate agreed with the Secretary‑General’s assessment that a final decision on the drawdown of UNISFA should be deferred, in view of a pending consensus on the sensitive issue between the Sudan, South Sudan and Ethiopia.
Many Council members condemned the military coup in Sudan, with Estonia’s delegate saying “it is a great loss for the Sudanese people, who have worked so hard towards a democratic transition and it could potentially destabilize the wider region.”
Speaking after Council members, Sudan’s representative highlighted steady progress made in bilateral relations with South Sudan in recent months, stressing that three memorandums of understanding have been signed, and agreements have been reached on several issues, including opening border crossings, resuming the movement of goods and passengers, and removing all barriers to banking transactions. He reiterated Sudan’s commitment to cooperating with the Secretariat on the smooth replacement of peacekeeping troops with more neutral forces.
South Sudan’s representative said his country’s Government, the African Union and the United Nations should determine an interim legal framework that would regulate operations of international organizations in the Abyei Area, as issuing visas and other documents should not be the monopoly of Sudan. An agreement must be reached also on a programme that would return and resettle Dinka Ngok. These communities should be provided with social and economic services as well as opportunities for their livelihoods under UNISFA protection, he said.
Also speaking today were the representatives of the United States, Ireland, China, Norway, Russian Federation, Viet Nam, United Kingdom, France and Mexico.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 12:04 p.m.
JEAN‑PIERRE LACROIX, Under‑Secretary‑General for Peace Operations, presenting the Secretary‑General’s latest report on the situation in Abyei (document S/2021/881) and the strategic review of the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), said the mission successfully continued its work to protect the people of that area through its military and mine action presence, support to intercommunal dialogue, women’s participation in political life and the rule of law. UNISFA’s humanitarian and recovery work reached more than 103,000 vulnerable people during the last reporting period from 16 April to 15 October.
It is encouraging that both South Sudan and Sudan have now established national committees on the question of Abyei, and the warming of their relations was visible in the Area, where most of the threats to the community were of a criminal nature, not military nature, he said. UNISFA spent significant energy and resources on the complex military and logistical planning required for the Force to transition from a single contingent to a multinational peace operation. Most of the new challenges during the reporting period related to the mandate of the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism. Representatives of the community in Gok Machar made it difficult, and eventually impossible, for UNISFA to continue to support the implementation of the Mechanism’s mandate.
The strategic review of UNISFA followed the request from the Security Council for a possible drawdown and exit strategy for the Force in its resolutions 2550 (2020) and 2575 (2021), he continued. Over the past 10 years since the establishment of UNISFA, the improved relationship between the two Governments has started bearing fruit in the border areas as well as Abyei. The Secretary‑General’s recommendations for UNISFA’s future build on this new reality. The review team identified a significant trust deficit that remains between the communities in Abyei, particularly the Misseriya and Ngok Dinka. The review team also noted an important space for United Nations peacebuilding, humanitarian, recovery and development assistance, he said, asking the Council to provide UNISFA with a continued, and somewhat strengthened, mandate in this particular area — while slowly but steadily identifying areas where the military and security side of the Force could start preparing for an eventual drawdown.
On the situation in Khartoum, he said: “It is too early to know what the impact of this week’s developments… will mean for UNISFA on a day-to-day basis.” But all parties in Sudan are, and have been, strong supporters of the Force, he said, noting that planning towards a full replacement of the current military contingent with a multinational one will continue in full speed. With respect to the military side of UNISFA, the strategic review proposes two viable options for the Force. One option would keep overall force numbers close to what they are currently, and the second proposes a slightly reduced troop ceiling, a move that will require more operational adjustments but should encourage Sudan and South Sudan to move forward on outstanding issues with increased urgency. It is also recommended that the United Nations establishes a rule of law support strategy.
An additional outcome of the strategic review was the need for the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism to remain as is, he said. It is regrettable that there have been challenges in three of the Mechanism’s five locations. A lack of implementation of the Security Council mandate could jeopardize the overall peace and security in the border areas, in breach of the status of forces agreement between the Government of South Sudan and UNISFA. Negotiations towards a political settlement concerning Abyei remain crucial building blocks towards an exit strategy for UNISFA. As part of defining a strategic vision for the Force, it is important that a set of benchmarks be established in close coordination with the two countries. These benchmarks should contain specific requirements for the inclusion of women. They should be built around the joint mechanisms that the parties have already established towards the settlement of the Abyei issue.
PARFAIT ONANGA-ANYANGA, Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General for the Horn of Africa, said the review of the implementation of resolution 2046 (2012) takes place against the backdrop of multifaceted challenges posing a serious threat to the stability of several countries in the peninsula and the region; an already precarious situation compounded by the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic. “The tragic events unfolding in Sudan following the unconstitutional change of Government reflect the shaky transitions that many countries are going through,” he said, adding that it will be critical to urgently restore the constitutional order, consistent with the Constitutional Declaration as well as the Juba Peace Agreement.
Turning to his engagement with national authorities, he said despite pandemic restrictions, he engaged with those of both countries during the review period, in New York, remotely, and in person in Khartoum and Abyei between 6 and 8 September, as part of consultations with the Governments of Sudan, South Sudan and Ethiopia on the future status of UNISFA. Noting encouraging signs, including a deepening relationship between Sudan and South Sudan, demonstrated by high-level visits and initiatives in support of each other’s peace processes, including the start of peace talks in Juba between the Government of Sudan and the faction of Abdelaziz Al‑Hilu’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement — North (SPLM-N) on 26 May and the launch of South Sudan’s permanent constitution-making process, he added, “While most of what I am reporting on may sound a bit removed from the current situation in Sudan which could negatively impact bilateral relations, I sincerely hope that the recent positive trend will not be derailed.” Further, he noted that the agreed upon resumption of export and border trade reached between South Sudan President Salva Kiir and Sudan Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has not yet materialized, due to unfolding events in Khartoum.
He went on to outline progress undertaken by both countries, which have agreed on a road map to review and follow up on implementing all 2012 cooperation agreements and on removing barriers to banking transactions. He pointed out that while both countries favour the resumption of Abyei Joint Oversight Committee meetings, the last of which took place in 2017, they disagree on the agenda and are yet to set a new meeting date. He hoped that both countries will withdraw all armed forces by 31 December, the deadline set by the Joint Political and Security Mechanism, so that the Committee meetings can focus on the Mechanism’s mandate of political and administrative oversight of the yet-to-be constituted Abyei Executive Council, provide guidance for the timely implementation of various agreements, and facilitate a sustainably secure and stable environment in Abyei. “The long-standing deadlock has hindered any progress in Abyei, besides leaving the Area with a clearly defined status that has continued to stoke instability,” he stressed. However, despite lingering disagreements on matters including the final status of Abyei, the mediation efforts by both countries augur well for their long-term peaceful coexistence, he said, calling on Khartoum and Juba to build on the progress achieved so far and to resolve the conflict in the Blue Nile, and South Kordofan states, adding that the international community must redouble efforts in support of this goal.
THABO MBEKI, Chairperson of the African Union High‑Level Implementation Panel and former President of South Africa, noted that civil war broke out between Sudan and South Sudan in 1965 and ended with a peace accord in 1972. That agreement stated that the people of Abyei must decide where the Area belonged — to the North or South — but the accord was never implemented. After renewed conflict in the Area, the Abyei Protocol was drawn up in 2005, which again stated the people must decide whether they belonged to the North or South, this time in a referendum, but such an exercise has not taken place. The African Union presented a proposal to both Governments in 2012 on how they should address administration, security and establishment of institutions in Abyei. The African Union Peace and Security Council and Government of South Sudan accepted the proposal, but Khartoum rejected it, and it has never been implemented.
The African Union must now approach the two Governments again, he said, reminding them they signed the Abyei Protocol in 2005, which states there must be a referendum for the residents of the Area. Steps must be taken to determine Abyei’s final status in achieving area stability, he said, and any remaining disagreements resolved. A key roadblock is the issue of who in the Abyei Area is eligible to vote in the referendum, he said, stressing the need to find consensus between the Governments and local community on this matter. Discussions must also occur between the local Dinka and Misseriya communities over revenue sharing and economic development of the Area. Adding that the Security Council mandate for UNISFA must continue, he stressed the importance of maintaining stability and avoiding rising tensions or possible future conflict.
RICHARD M. MILLS (United States) said UNISFA’s mandate renewal is happening against the alarming developments in Khartoum, condemning the military takeover of the Government of Sudan. Alarmed about the situation in Gok Machar, he said lack of South Sudan’s political will resulted in the relocation of UNISFA and undercut its ability to support the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism. He urged the Government of South Sudan to take adequate action to address the situation, also calling for greater support for United Nations police, who play an important role in the Force. UNISFA’s work has been critical to improving the living conditions of people in Abyei, where the participation of women notedly increased.
ALI CHERIF (Tunisia), also speaking for Kenya, Niger and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, noted that the African Union remains engaged with the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan, as they further their political and economic ties towards a lasting resolution of Abyei’s final status. The increasing rapprochement between the two countries, while commendable, has yet to be matched with perennial stability in Abyei and along the border. UNISFA and its component supporting the joint border monitoring mechanism should be able to perform their security and protection tasks unimpeded. Welcoming the convening of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism meeting in September, he called on Sudan and South Sudan to convene future meetings of this body to iron out difficulties and enable progress on the border demarcation process. Progress in the establishment of joint governance institutions, including police and the courts, would have a direct and positive impact on the rule of law in Abyei. Stressing the importance of adequately endowing UNISFA’s rule-of-law capacity in light of the growing populations and economic activity in the main areas, he endorsed the Secretary‑General’s recommendation to extend UNISFA’s mandate and its support to the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism for six months.
BRIAN PATRICK FLYNN (Ireland), expressing deep concern about developments this week in Sudan, which could threaten relations with South Sudan, said civilian leaders must be released immediately, and democratic transitional institutions fully restored. Sustaining the rapprochement between Sudan and South Sudan is crucial to sustainable peace in Abyei, he added, urging the two countries to find a peaceful solution to its status and demarcation of the border. He lauded UNISFA’s engagement with civil society organizations on gender issues and the Ngok Dinka Paramount Chief’s pledge to further the participation of women in traditional leadership structures. However, major obstacles to women’s participation in decision-making and political processes remain, he noted, with just a single woman now serving as minister in the Juba-appointed administration in Abyei. He expressed further concern over the security deterioration in Gok Machar and United Nations team sites, including threats to the safety of peacekeepers. Sadly, unacceptable breaches of the status of forces agreement resulted in the death of an Ethiopian peacekeeper on 14 September, he said, offering deep condolences to the family of the deceased and Government of Ethiopia.
ANDRE LIPAND (Estonia) said his Government strongly condemns the military coup of 25 October in Sudan. It is a great loss for the Sudanese people, who have worked so hard towards a democratic transition and it could potentially destabilize the wider region. Estonia is concerned about the serious deterioration of the operating conditions of UNISFA and strongly condemns the recent attacks on the Force in Gok Machar and its team sites. He called on the Government of South Sudan to give the mission unimpeded ability to carry out its mandate, and for UNISFA to address the community’s concerns. Estonia is concerned about the continued cycle of intercommunal violence, its negative impact on civilians and alarmed by the increase in sexual violence cases. He encouraged authorities to work together to create more accountability for offenses, so as to deter additional violations. He called on Sudan and South Sudan to take steps to build a viable political process to resolve the final question of Abyei and reiterated Juba’s call to strengthen the mission’s civilian component.
SUN ZHIQIANG (China) noted a continuing improvement in the relationship between both parties, and encouraged them to adhere to agreed upon steps to maintain peace and stability and bring about a political settlement, including the settlement of the issue of the final status of Abyei. Stating his support for the mediation efforts of the African Union and efforts by UNISFA to effectively protect civilians, he underlined the importance of resolving intercommunal conflicts as law enforcement alone cannot bring about long‑term stability. Expressing in principle support for the extension of the UNISFA mandate, he voiced concern about the recent death of a peacekeeper, and stressed the importance of securing the understanding and support of local people, thereby addressing issues in the implementation of status of forces agreement. Reiterating his views from the 26 October consultations, he called on all parties to act in the interest of their people, and to undertake dialogue to maintain political stability and to take steps to implement the Juba Peace Agreement in an orderly manner.
AMARNATH ASOKAN (India) said the safety and security of peacekeepers must be a top priority and it is deeply concerning that a request for an urgent MEDIVAC was refused in the Gok Machar area, which could have saved the life of a United Nations peacekeeper. While the overall security situation has remained calm, sustained violent incidents in the Ngok Dinka and Misseriya communities are concerning. He commended UNISFA’s efforts to hold meetings between the two communities. Efforts need to focus on the early convening of the Abyei Oversight Committee and promoting intercommunal dialogue, which is essential to the peace process in Abyei. Turning to the mission’s operational issues, India called on both Sudanese and South Sudanese authorities to enable quick resolution of long pending issues. These issues include visas for police personnel, reaching an agreement on the civilian Deputy Head of Mission and operationalization of the Athony airstrip. He again underscored the importance of adhering to the status of forces agreement by the South Sudan authorities. Noting the lack of consensus reviewed in the Secretary‑General’s “drawdown of UNISFA” report, India agrees with his assessment that a final decision should be deferred, in view of a pending consensus on this sensitive issue between the Sudan, South Sudan and Ethiopia.
TRINE SKARBOEVIK HEIMERBACK (Norway) said her Government is deeply alarmed by the current situation in Sudan, where the gains made during the transition are now at serious risk. Norway also remains deeply concerned about the relocation of UNISFA from Gok Machar, as well as the violation of the status of forces agreement during serious incidents in September. Norway encourages South Sudan to urgently engage with local communities in Gok Machar to address, and resolve, misunderstandings about the role of UNISFA and the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism. Norway strongly encourages the mission’s continued work to support women-led peace initiatives, since they are an integral part of the grassroots peace process. Her country also welcomes the continued strengthening of relations between Sudan and South Sudan and urges their leaders to use their close relationship to craft an agreement on the final status of Abyei. Until the parties agree on all pending issues, UNISFA, with its strong and clear mandate, is still needed. The implementation of joint mechanisms, as stipulated in the June 2011 agreement, remains important. This will strengthen cooperation and build trust between the communities on the ground.
IVAN P. KHOROSHEV (Russian Federation) noted that the situation in the Abyei Area has recently been relatively stable, but added that security threats persist, especially from armed groups. Stressing the need for the two Governments and relevant stakeholders to pool their efforts in determining the Area’s final status, he said efforts to implement to Abyei Protocol must continue, with more consistent dialogue between the parties. Adding that efforts must also be made to establish constructive relations among communities on the ground, he highlighted the importance of ascertaining the root of tensions in Gok Machar, adding that the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism represents a cornerstone for the Area’s security architecture. In maintaining stability and avoiding rising tensions in the Area, UNISFA’s mandate should be renewed, he said, with inputs from Khartoum and Juba.
HAI ANH PHAM (Viet Nam) called on Sudan and South Sudan to timely resolve their issues through peaceful means, and to resume not only dialogue, but also practical actions and progress on the ground. Encouraging further efforts by UNISFA in promoting confidence among relevant parties, as well as among all of Abyei’s communities, he expressed concern about continued incidents related to intercommunal violence, crime and the presence of armed groups, including at UNISFA team sites. Expressing condolences to the Government of Ethiopia and family of the Ethiopian peacekeeper who lost his life recently, he highlighted the imperative to respect the status of forces agreement. Calling for an enhanced safety and security environment for United Nations personnel and strengthened efforts to address humanitarian challenges, he stressed the essential role of UNISFA in maintaining stability in Abyei. Viet Nam supports the renewal of the mission’s mandate, he noted.
ALICE JACOBS (United Kingdom) called on the Sudanese military to course correct, release those detained and allow peaceful protests, warning that the recent developments may have a negative impact on the situation in Abyei and the already difficult operating circumstances for UNISFA. Recalling that the Council has repeatedly welcomed the recent rapprochement between the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan, she said this renewed engagement, however, has not translated into tangible improvements in Abyei. The situation in Gok Machar is another example of the operational challenges UNISFA faces in fulfilling its mandate. Noting limited progress on the Council’s repeated requests to facilitate the operationalization of the Antony airstrip, the issuing of outstanding visa requests and the appointment of a civilian Deputy Head of Mission, she called on both parties to address these longstanding limitations, as the Council considers the reconfiguration of the peacekeeping mission in Abyei. She then took note of the options for reconfiguration proposed in the Secretary‑General’s strategic review of the mission.
SHERAZ GASRI (France) called the attacks against UNISFA personnel in Gok Machar unacceptable, urging the South Sudanese authorities to implement the status of force agreement. Noting the outcome of the strategic review, she expressed support for a reconfiguration of UNISFA that considers the enhanced rapprochement between Khartoum and Juba while preserving the Force’s capacity to protect civilians. Sudan and South Sudan should also resume dialogue at the local level to address the security issues and move towards the establishment of joint administrations in the border areas. Condemning the coup d'état in Sudan, she expressed support for the Sudanese transitional Government. France supports the decisions of the African Union’s Peace and Security Council, as the coup seriously undermines the transition defined in the Constitutional Document of August 2019, the only framework allowing the maintenance of the international community’s support for the country.
JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico) noted that several efforts at rapprochement had taken place in recent months on the question of Abyei, culminating in the Juba meeting in August. Condemning developments this week in Sudan, he expressed hope they would have no impact on stability in the Abyei Area. Adding that distrust still exists between the Dinka and Misseriya communities of Abyei, he stressed the need to redouble efforts to facilitate dialogue in reducing tension between them, underscoring the importance of women’s participation in any decision-making. Expressing regret that the deterioration of security has forced a relocation of Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism staff, he urged South Sudan to raise Abyei residents’ awareness about the United Nations presence and the importance of UNISFA’s work. Noting that the main threat to security in the area is the presence of armed elements, he said police services are key to maintaining security and urged relevant authorities to authorize these units.
AMMAR MOHAMMED MAHMOUD MOHAMMED (Sudan) stated that steady progress has been made in bilateral relations between Khartoum and Juba in recent months, including through regular exchanges of visits between officials of the two countries, most notably the visit made by Prime Minister Hamdok to Juba in August. During these meetings, three memorandums of understanding were signed, and agreements were reached on a number of issues, including opening border crossings, resuming the movement of goods and passengers, and removing all barriers to banking transactions. He noted that the matter of Abyei was discussed in the meeting of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism in September in Juba, paving the way towards peaceful coexistence and an understanding on the final status of Abyei. Sudan depends on friendly relations with South Sudan and the positive momentum it provides in resolving all issues, particularly the situation in Abyei, including the establishment of an interim administrative and security mechanism stipulated in the Agreement reached between both parties in 2011.
However, he expressed concern about the events of the past weeks, which have led to the withdrawal of the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism team from some sites, and called for the de-escalation of regional tensions, and for parties to refrain from unilateral actions that could threaten stability. He reiterated Sudan’s commitment to cooperating with the Secretariat on the smooth replacement of peacekeeping troops with more neutral forces, and went on to welcome recent consultations in Abyei, which included local community leaders.
AKUEI MALWAL (South Sudan) expressed his deepest condolences to the family and UNISFA for the peacekeeper who lost his life in Gok Machar. One of the lessons learned from that incident is that better and early communication between the United Nations and South Sudanese authorities as well as between them and community leaders is crucial. In addition, considering unfortunate political events in Sudan since 25 October, he proposed that Ethiopian peacekeepers be retained in the region and engagement with Addis Ababa on how best to rotate existing troops. He urged the international community, with guidance from the United Nations and African Union, to work with the South Sudan Government in preventing the people of Abyei from being victimized by events beyond their control.
The South Sudan Government, the African Union and the United Nations should also determine an interim legal framework that would regulate operations of international organizations in the Abyei Area, he said, as issuing visas and other documents should not be the monopoly of Khartoum. The South Sudan Government and the international community should also agree on a programme that would return and resettle Dinka Ngok, who have been living as refugees and displaced persons, to their original homes. These communities should be provided with social and economic services as well as opportunities for their livelihoods under UNISFA protection, he said.