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SC/14868
22 April 2022
9020th Meeting (AM)

Recent Flare-Up of Violence Threatens Apparent Calm between Sudan, South Sudan, Speakers Warn, as Security Council Considers Mandate of Abyei Security Force

Juba Representative Blames Abrupt Ethiopian Withdrawal as Khartoum Delegate Voices Concern over Neighbour’s Troop Presence

With the final status of Abyei still unresolved, an alarming recent flare-up of violence killing civilians and peacekeepers threatens the apparent calm between Sudan and South Sudan, speakers told the Council today, as that body also looked towards a possible future renewal of the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) mandate.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, briefed the Council by video-teleconference, saying that that whereas the overall security situation in the Abyei Administrative Area is calm, the deficit of trust between the Misseriya and Ngok Dinka communities remains of great concern — with intercommunal violence resulting in the deaths of 29 people since last October.  While UNISFA is carrying out more frequent and longer-range patrols, it is first and foremost for the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan to renew their engagement on the final status of Abyei, he emphasized.

He cautioned that there has been no progress on the deployment of the three formed police units mandated by the Council, with the humanitarian situation having deteriorated since he last briefed members.  Humanitarian workers went from servicing 103,000 vulnerable people to a stunning 240,000, with 26 people killed and many more injured in violence between different Dinka communities in February and March.  Two humanitarian workers also lost their lives, he noted.

He noted there has also been no progress on re-operationalizing some Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanisms team sites after UNISFA was forced to relocate in 2021 — stressing that South Sudan must enable the Joint Mechanism’s return as soon as possible.  Recalling that there were three direct attacks against UNISFA patrols in the past two months alone — in which one peacekeeper was injured — he demanded an immediate end to such direct, serious violence and called upon the relevant authorities to investigate those incidents.

Hanna Serwaa Tetteh, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, briefed members on implementation of resolution 2046 (2012) in the context of the uncertainty and unresolved internal difficulties that followed the 25 October 2021 coup in Sudan.  She said the removal of the civilian Government in Khartoum halted the momentum towards resolving outstanding issues, adding that the Joint Political and Security Mechanism — one of the rare mechanisms bringing the two countries together to review outstanding political and security issues — was an obvious casualty of that coup.  She went on to note the exchanges of high-level visits between Khartoum and Juba.  “I have understood that bilateral relations between Sudan and South Sudan are good,” she said, expressing hope that the approach may both address the recurrent violence in Abyei and lead to settlement of the area’s final status.

In the ensuing debate, delegates noted the dangers that renewed clashes pose to a fragile region.

The representative of the United States emphasized that a long-term solution can only be worked out through diplomacy.  Expressing regret that no meetings of any joint institutions or mechanisms have been held since the last briefing in 2021, she stressed that resignation to the status quo is simply unacceptable.  She went on to urge the appointment of a civilian deputy head of mission for UNISFA, improvement of its relations with communities on the ground, and the deployment of more police to address criminality.  Calling upon Sudan to issue visas for United Nations personnel, she urged UNISFA to support community dialogue through outreach to local communities, explaining that many people do not understand the mission’s mandate and have unrealistic expectations.  Sudan must also allow the Force access to Anthony Airfield, which is necessary for the safety and security of peacekeepers, she added.

Gabon’s representative, also speaking for Ghana and Kenya, underlined the need for the African Union to play a high-level role in defining Abyei’s final status, with the essential support of the international community.

Ireland’s representative welcomed the recent issuance of temporary visas for two human rights officers after their long-delayed deployment to Abyei.

Delegates further addressed the key role of UNISFA in promoting intercommunal peace talks.

South Sudan’s representative said the recent attacks can be directly linked to the security vacuum created by the abrupt departure of Ethiopian forces, emphasizing that the Misseriya are keen to exploit it.  He went on to state that the Security Council, the African Union and IGAD must engage the parties in finalizing Abyei’s status to create the necessary security and improved relations for which the Ngok Dinka have been longing.  While reconciliation is an important aspect of humanity, he cautioned it must be genuine, address core issues and ultimately aim to reach a lasting solution between parties and communities.  He warned, however, that reconciliation is difficult to realize in the face of continuous attacks, loss of life, displacement and looting without accountability for the perpetrators thereof.  As such, South Sudan questions what the Council means when it repeatedly calls for reconciliation, he said.

Sudan’s representative recalled Khartoum’s successful mediation, which resulted in the signing of the Revitalized Peace Agreement.  He went on to affirm that Sudan is dedicated to accelerating an agreement on Abyei’s final status, while expressing concern over the death of a peacekeeper that led to the withdrawal of teams working for the Joint Border and Verification Monitoring Mechanism.  Recalling that Sudan has called for easing tensions without unilateral actions that could jeopardize UNISFA’s activities — since Abyei must be free of any armed presence — he said it is, therefore, unfortunate that South Sudanese armed forces are within the buffer zone.

Also speaking today were representatives of the United States, India, United Arab Emirates, France, Brazil, Russian Federation, China, Mexico, Albania, and the United Kingdom.

The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 11:40 a.m.

Briefings

JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, spoke by video-teleconference, saying that whereas the overall security situation in the Abyei Administrative Area is calm, the deficit of trust between the Misseriya and Ngok Dinka communities remains of great concern.  UNISFA worked tirelessly with the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan, while engaging with community leaders on both sides, to reach agreement on the current dry season’s migration route, he added.  However, failure to agree resulted in cancellation of the intercommunal dialogue event that the mission had organized in Entebbe, Uganda.  He went on to report that intercommunal violence resulted in the deaths of 29 people since last October, including two women, and 30 others from both communities were injured last week.

To address those incidents, UNISFA continued its community engagement work and is carrying out more frequent and longer-range patrols, he said, while emphasizing that it is first and foremost for the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan to renew their engagement on the final status of Abyei.  Significant progress has been made in developing the Abyei Joint Programme, he added, noting the participation of representatives from his own Department, the Development Coordination Office and the United Nations country teams of South Sudan and Sudan in an advanced stage of consultations with women, young people, elders and other community members.  However, the Force continued to face challenges in documenting human rights violations and abuses due to its lack of human rights expertise, he remarked.

Encouraged that a team of human rights officers were granted temporary visas to conduct an assessment mission in Abyei last March, he said that during the reporting period, a rule of law team from his department successfully conducted a four-week assessment of a strategy to develop support for the rule of law, which will also inform any potential engagement of the Sudan and South Sudan United Nations country teams.  He cautioned, however, that there has been no progress on the deployment of the three formed police units mandated by the Council, pointing out that the humanitarian situation has deteriorated since he last briefed members.  Humanitarian workers went from servicing 103,000 vulnerable people to a stunning 240,000, he reported, adding that 26 people were killed and many more injured in violence between different Dinka communities in February and March.  Two humanitarian workers also lost their lives, he noted.

He went on to report that there has been no progress on re-operationalizing the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanisms team sites 11 and 12 and the headquarters of Sector 1 in Gok Machar after UNISFA was forced to relocate in 2021.  The Government of South Sudan must continue its efforts to enable the Joint Mechanism’s return, as soon as possible, to all locations previously agreed between the parties during the Joint Political and Security Mechanism meeting of September 2021, he said.  Underlining the need to ensure the safety and security of UNISFA peacekeepers, he recalled that there were three direct attacks against its patrols in the past two months alone, in which one peacekeeper was injured.  One attack last week involved a rocket-propelled grenade, he said, demanding an immediate end to such direct, serious violence.  He called upon the relevant authorities, consistent with their obligations under the status-of-forces-agreement, to investigate the incidents as a matter of priority.  He sought the Council’s support for the Secretary-General’s recommendation to extend UNISFA’s mandate for a further period of six months, until 15 October 2022.

HANNA SERWAA TETTEH, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Horn of Africa, briefed members on implementation of resolution 2046 (2012), pointing out that it is taking place in the context of uncertainty and unresolved internal difficulties following the coup in Sudan on 25 October 2021.  The removal of the civilian Government in Khartoum halted the momentum towards resolving outstanding issues, she said, adding that an obvious casualty of that coup was the Joint Political and Security Mechanism — one of the rare mechanisms bringing the two countries together to review outstanding political and security issues.

Recalling recent discussions with senior leaders of both countries, she said:  “I have understood that bilateral relations between Sudan and South Sudan are good.”  Both have continued to engage in high-level visits to the other’s territory, and although President Salva Kiir Mayardit and General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan did not dwell on the Abyei issue, they did agree to focus on cooperation along the border between Sudan and South Sudan, she noted.  Such cooperation will start with an approach to peace through the development of “unitized” oil fields, including in the Abyei area, she said, expressing hope that such a proposed approach to peace may be a starting point not only for addressing the recurrent violence in the Abyei area but also towards settlement of the area’s final status.

She said that while the coup has had a clear, negative effect on bilateral relations between Sudan and South Sudan, and despite each country still grappling with internal conflict, they continue to complement one another in their efforts for peace and to build on progress achieved so far.  Sudan and South Sudan both emphasize the need to scale-up humanitarian assistance to displaced and vulnerable communities, and they both recognize the need for peace in their territories and in the region, which will enable them to foster cooperation through neighbourly relations.  She pledged to continue to engage with both countries — and to encourage, as appropriate, key regional actors including the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) — to defuse tensions, advance implementation of all cooperation agreements and consolidate improved bilateral relations.

Statements

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) expressed support for UNISFA’s reconfiguration while noting “there is a great deal of work ahead of us” requiring renewed diplomatic engagement in Abyei.  “Let’s be crystal clear,” she emphasized.  The long-term solution can only be worked out through diplomacy.  Expressing regret that no meetings of any joint institutions or mechanisms have been held since the last briefing in 2021, she stressed that resignation to the status quo is simply unacceptable.  She went on to urge the appointment of a civilian deputy head of mission for UNISFA, improvement of its relations with communities on the ground, and the need for more police to address criminality, expressing concern about the attacks in February and March.  Calling upon Sudan to issue visas for United Nations personnel, she urged UNISFA to support community dialogue through outreach to local communities, explaining that many people do not understand the mission’s mandate and have unrealistic expectations.  Sudan must also allow the Force access to Anthony Airfield, which is necessary for peacekeeper safety, she added.

MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon), also speaking for Ghana and Kenya, pointed out that the absence of strong institutions in Sudan and South Sudan — especially in the areas of justice and security — is weakening the Abyei area.  He called on both to implement the recommendations and conclusions of the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism and the Joint Political and Security Monitoring Mechanism, while emphasizing the need for the two Governments to meet regularly and actively participate in the former.  He went on to stress that Abyei’s final status must be defined, and to that end, a high-level role for the African Union and the support of the international community are essential.  Concerned about the violence and intercommunal clashes in Abyei, he called upon all parties to refrain from measures that might exacerbate tensions and to cease all activity that could harm the local population.  Turning to the humanitarian situation, he underscored the need to improve living conditions by providing access to basic services, including water, health, education and communications.  Humanitarian assistance must be strengthened, and all measures taken to ensure aid workers are protected and enjoy unimpeded access to those in need.  He went on to urge both countries to fully respect the status-of-forces agreement and to facilitate the administrative measures necessary for UNISFA to fulfil its mandate.

RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India) emphasized that convening the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee is a priority, as it has not met since November 2017.  He welcomed efforts to reconvene the Joint Traditional Leaders Peace Conference, now scheduled to take place next month.  Calling for establishment of the Abyei Police Service, he expressed concern over attacks against UNISFA and violations of free movement.  He went on to note that an Indian contingent of 570 peacekeepers will soon be joining UNISFA.

SUOOD RASHED ALI ALWALI ALMAZROUEI (United Arab Emirates) emphasized the need to address the root causes of the tensions behind continued intercommunal clashes, attacks against the Force and other incidents that have frustrated its operations.  There is also need to strengthen community relationships, he stressed, encouraging UNISFA to continue its regular engagement with local communities to ensure their voices are heard.  He also welcomed the mutual support of Sudan and South Sudan for each other’s paths towards peace, which demonstrates the continuing improvement in their relations, he noted.  The United Arab Emirates welcomes the Secretary-General’s recommendation to extend UNISFA’s mandate for an additional six months, he declared, while underlining the importance of taking Khartoum’s and Juba’s views into consideration when discussing that matter.

SHERAZ GASRI (France) expressed regret at the lack of progress in redeploying UNISFA in the three sites it was forced to evacuate at the end of 2021.  Calling upon Sudan and South Sudan to ensure security and freedom of movement for the Force, in line with their commitment under the status-of-forces agreement, she emphasized that South Sudan, in particular, must reduce tensions with local communities to re-establish support for the mission and for the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism.  Failing that, she cautioned, the Council will have to draw the necessary conclusions when it next meets to consider renewal of UNISFA’s mandate.  She went on to point out that the domestic and regional challenges facing Sudan and South Sudan are impeding resolution of their border dispute, further complicating the quest for peace.

CÍCERO TOBIAS DE OLIVEIRA FREITAS (Brazil) said processes, timelines and solutions in the search for common ground will only advance through fair, credible negotiations.  Highlighting the need for a regional dimension of such talks, he noted that the Secretary-General has appropriately encouraged the African Union to intensify its mediation efforts.  If support from IGAD and the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region is available, then a subregional dimension could be reinforced and additional channels of negotiation created, he said.  Turning to the situation on the ground, he said the fact that frequent cycles of violence make humanitarian assistance and protection of civilians dangerous and keep more than 70 per cent of local children out of school, sums up the local human rights situation and the substantial challenges that Abyei’s people face.

MARTIN GALLAGHER (Ireland) acknowledged the support and collaboration of Sudan, South Sudan and the new troop-contributing countries in UNISFA’s reconfiguration, and welcomed the recent issuance of temporary visas for the long-overdue deployment of two human rights officers to Abyei.  Calling upon Sudan and South Sudan to facilitate the permanent deployment of relevant human rights expertise, he emphasized the need for their Governments to urgently address other issues that undermine the mission’s operational capability, obstacles to implementation of its mandate, including restrictions to Force personnel’s freedom of movement, and the risk of attacks against UNISFA.  A solution to Abyei’s final status requires Sudan and South Sudan to agree rapidly on a process to find a political settlement, he said, stressing that demarcation of the border is an important part of a final resolution.

ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation), noting the recent stability, despite episodes of intercommunal violence, welcomed the readiness of both sides to establish mutually beneficial cooperation, including mutual exploitation of disputed oil resources, such as those in Abyei.  While describing UNISFA as an important factor in guaranteeing stability, she emphasized that it must adhere closely to its mandate, the primary objective of which is to maintain security by helping Sudan and South Sudan find a mutually acceptable solution to their border dispute.  She went on to stress that pressure and accusations will not resolve problems related to peacekeeping activities and fulfilling the benchmarks of the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism, adding that the position of both countries must be taken into account when the Council considers the renewal of UNISFA’s mandate.

DAI BING (China) said that, whereas communal conflicts and crimes continue in Abyei, it is heartening that Sudan and South Sudan have continued to exercise restraint, adding that the relationship between Khartoum and Juba continued to improve during the reporting period, with both concentrating on advancing their respective political processes.  He went on to point out that, with the reconfiguration of UNISFA’s military components progressing in an orderly manner, Ethiopian peacekeepers have fulfilled their mandates under extremely difficult conditions, in close cooperation with Sudan and South Sudan.  As a new troop contributor to the Force, China has deployed a helicopter unit in Abyei and will follow up with a quick-reaction force as soon as possible, he pledged, adding that, pending the final status of Abyei, his delegation supports the renewal of UNISFA’s mandate in principle.

JUAN GÓMEZ ROBLEDO VERDUZCO (Mexico) pointed out that the October 2021 coup in Sudan, as well as the many challenges confronting South Sudan, has reduced their focus on the situation in Abyei.  However, the recent improvement in relations presents an opportunity to resume the search for a lasting agreement that should not exclude any mechanism for the peaceful settlement of disputes.  Expressing concern over the human rights situation, he called upon the authorities in Khartoum and Juba to allow the deployment of human-rights experts within UNISFA, in line with its mandate.  With intercommunal clashes continuing, he said, the Force should continue to promote peace talks as necessary, with the full, effective participation of women and youth.  He went on to underscore the need to ensure the safety of UNISFA personnel, urging authorities to guarantee their security and freedom of movement.

ENIAN LAMCE (Albania) said UNISFA is at a critical point as it is restructured into a multinational mission, commending troop contributors Ghana, Pakistan and Bangladesh, whose battalions have already been deployed.  Citing the recent violence that increasingly targets peacekeepers, he urged the parties to demonstrate the political will to end conflict.  While there is no progress on the political agreements or border demarcation, Khartoum and Juba must address the population’s socioeconomic grievances, he emphasized.  United Nations actors and all other stakeholders must place a stronger focus on implementing the women, peace and security agenda, with human-rights monitoring and expertise integrated into UNIFSA’s mandate, he stressed.  Albania calls upon Sudan and South Sudan to ensure the Force, as well as the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mission, can carry out their mandates unimpeded, he said, underlining the need for Khartoum to issue all visas requested for the mission’s police component.

MONA JUUL (Norway), expressing concern over the high level of tension in and around Abyei, called upon the Misseriya and the Ngok Dinka to refrain from attacks in connection with the seasonal migration.  Emphasizing that UNISFA must remain fully operational and ready to use force when necessary to protect civilians at risk of physical violence, she noted that whereas the mission plays an invaluable role in providing security and stability, there has been no progress on the most contested issue — whether Abyei belongs to Sudan or South Sudan.  While that remains unresolved, the implementation of joint mechanisms is paramount, as it will strengthen cooperation and build trust among communities, she stressed.  “The current impasse on the final status of Abyei reflects the severe democratic challenges that mark the transitions in both Sudan and South Sudan,” she declared, encouraging both countries to promote inclusive political processes that consider the local people’s views.

JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom), President of the Security Council for April, spoke in his national capacity, urging both countries to organize a further meeting of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee, and encouraging the African Union to intensify its mediation efforts to help facilitate such efforts.  He called upon the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan to remove the operational obstacles to full implementation of UNISFA’s mandated tasks to improve the lives of ordinary citizens in Abyei, who continue to suffer, and limit the Force.  South Sudan must also allow the re-operationalization of the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism headquarters in Gok Machar, he emphasized.  The United Kingdom is concerned about the two armed attacks on UNISFA personnel and the outbreak of violence, during which two humanitarian workers were killed and activities suspended, he said.

AKUEI BONA MALWAL (South Sudan) said the Secretary-General’s report comes at a time when Abyei’s security is uncertain, with perpetual, systematic and coordinated attacks having killed, displaced and looted the property of the Ngok Dinka.  Recalling that his delegation has repeatedly raised concerns about the security vacuum created by the abrupt departure of Ethiopian forces, he said the recent attacks can be directly linked to that vacuum, emphasizing that the Misseriya are keen to exploit it.  He called upon the Security Council, the African Union and IGAD to engage the parties in finalizing Abyei’s status, saying that such a step will create the necessary security and improved relations for which the Ngok Dinka have been longing.

Furthermore, he continued, the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism is crucial in supporting the obligations of both countries to demarcate their common border, in accordance with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement [signed in Naivasha, Kenya, on 9 January 2005 by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Government of Sudan].  Reconciliation is an important aspect of humanity, but only when it is genuine, addresses core issues and ultimately aims to reach a lasting solution between parties and communities, he stressed, warning, however, that it is difficult to realize in the face of continuous attacks, loss of life, displacement and looting without accountability for the perpetrators thereof.  As such, South Sudan questions what the Council means when it repeatedly calls for reconciliation, he said.

AMMAR MOHAMMED MAHMOUD MOHAMMED (Sudan), noting the improved recent bilateral relationship between his own country and South Sudan, recalled Khartoum’s successful mediation, which resulted in the signing of the Revitalized Peace Agreement.  He noted that Sudan’s current proposals take into account the spirit and text of that accord, including a road map and timetable for implementation, he said.  Khartoum’s role is not only to strengthen stability and security in South Sudan, but also as a main guarantor in monitoring implementation of the agreement, he emphasized.  As part of the Khartoum-Juba rapprochement, the visit to the Sudanese capital by the adviser to the President of South Sudan in March included discussions on Sudan’s proposal for joint administration of Abyei, he said, adding that Khartoum awaits a response from Juba.

Recalling a meeting in Juba of the Joint Security and Political Mechanism in September 2021, he said Sudan is dedicated to accelerating an agreement on Abyei’s final status.  However, Khartoum is concerned about recent incidents, he said, recalling that the death of a peacekeeper led to the withdrawal of teams working for the Joint Border and Verification Monitoring Mechanism.  Sudan has called for easing tensions without unilateral actions that could jeopardize UNISFA’s activities, he noted.  Abyei must be free of any armed presence, and it is unfortunate that South Sudanese armed forces are within the buffer zone, he added, citing the negative impact on peace and security of their presence.  He went on to welcome UNISFA’s implementation of 16 quick-impact projects, as well as the Secretary-General’s recommendation to renew its mandate for an additional six months.

For information media. Not an official record.