Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA)

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
September 20, 2018


Thank you, Under-Secretary-General Lacroix, for your briefing and the explanation of recommendations for UNISFA’s reconfiguration. Special Envoy Haysom, thank you for your briefing, and let me take this opportunity to express our gratitude for all of your contributions as Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan. We’re sorry to lose your skills and your knowledge on this portfolio, and we wish you the best of luck in your next role with the UN in Somalia.

The United States appreciates UNISFA’s successful work to stabilize Abyei and specifically commends Ethiopia for its contributions. The Mission’s efforts to stabilize the area and work with local communities to strengthen ties, resolve disputes, and increase peace and security have greatly contributed to the general calm in this contested area between Sudan and South Sudan.

It is time now to ensure that we reconfigure this Mission to reflect the new realities on the ground and better address its existing security and administrative concerns, as the Council unanimously endorsed in the recent mandate renewal.

Our analysis of the Secretary-General’s reconfiguration recommendations is that they are a good start to align UNISFA with the realities on the ground, but they do not go far enough.

We believe the significant security gains in recent years warrant a reduction of overall uniformed personnel in the Mission. The improved security situation in the Abyei area and the other border areas no longer demands the current level of military personnel.

Thanks to the firm benchmarks established by this Council, there has been some progress in the past year operationalizing the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism. However, the parties have not met all the benchmarks outlined by the Council, as other speakers have pointed out. Over half a decade since its creation, the JBVMM has still not realized its full potential.

We regret the parties have not convened a Joint Political and Security Mechanism meeting and progress on other benchmarks appears stalled. We urge the parties to take steps to meet benchmarks laid out in resolution 2412 before the October 15 deadline.

The Security Council should not – and the United States will not – support indefinitely a mechanism that remains underutilized and is not making progress on resolving the political issues that are at the root of UNISFA’s JBVMM support mandate, especially if the parties are unwilling to commit fully to the political process and disregard UN Security Council benchmarks.

We agree with the Secretary-General that a reorientation towards a police-style Mission is necessary to solidify the peace and stability that the Ethiopian peacekeepers have worked so hard to secure. Establishment of the Abyei Police Service and provision of a full spectrum police service remain essential steps in maintaining this ability while also enabling UNISFA’s eventual withdrawal.

We agree with the Secretary-General that a strong civilian component is necessary for UNISFA to operate effectively and create space to resolve underlying political issues. This civilian component would assist both sides and all communities in maintaining stability, preventing intercommunal conflict, and implementing past agreements.

We appreciate the AU High-Level Implementation Panel’s role in facilitating settlement of the Abyei dispute. We urge AUHIP to continue its mediation efforts to reach agreement on Abyei’s final status and to continue encouraging the parties to implement past agreements.

In missions that generally work well, such as UNISFA, we must give credit where it is due, so thank you to Ethiopia and the others who are providing personnel and resources to this Mission.

However, we must think critically about efficiently managing our scarce resources and applying them appropriately to the tasks at hand. We must also question whether all of those tasks remain appropriate and necessary. Peacekeeping missions, even ones that generally work well, must have exit strategies and adapt to reflect changing circumstances and the realities of the situation on the ground.

For UNISFA, this means reconfiguration towards realistic troop and police allocations, a strong civilian presence, and renewed commitment by the parties to find a permanent solution to the outstanding issues.