The UN Security Council unanimously adopted four resolutions on Monday, with its 15 members voting by email for the first time because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Members voted to keep troops in Sudan's restive Darfur region until the end of May and maintain the UN political mission in Somalia until June 30. They extended the mandate of the UN panel of experts monitoring sanctions against North Korea until April 30, 2021, and they stressed the importance of supporting the UN's far-flung peacekeeping operations.
The UN's most powerful body has been meeting by video because of COVID-19, which has hit New York City, where the UN has its headquarters, exceedingly hard. The last council meeting in the headquarters complex was on March 12, when a resolution was adopted extending the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan and welcoming "encouraging developments" toward peace.
A resolution sponsored by the United Kingdom and Germany extends the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur known as UNAMID until May 31 when the council said it will decide on "the responsible draw-down and exit" of UNAMID. The council said it also intends to establish "a follow-on presence to UNAMID" at the same time.
The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when ethnic Africans rebelled, accusing the Arab-dominated Sudanese government of discrimination. The government in Khartoum was accused of retaliating by arming local nomadic Arab tribes and unleashing them on civilian populations — a charge it denies. In recent years, as the result of a successful government military campaign, the rebellion has been reduced to a single rebel faction.
There has been pressure, including from the Trump administration, to scale down the UNAMID force in response to reduced fighting and security conditions. It was established in 2007 and was one of the UN's most expensive operations, with a ceiling of 15,845 military personnel and 3,403 police in June 2016.
In July 2018, the Security Council voted to dramatically cut the force, with a target to end the mission on June 30, 2020, but the mass street protests by a pro-democracy movement which began in late 2018 and led to last year's ouster of Al-Bashir and a military-civilian transitional government caused a delay.
As of January, UNAMID had over 4,300 military personnel, more than 2,100 international police, and about 1,500 civilian staff. The resolution adopted Monday will maintain that force for two months.
A proposed UN Security Council resolution obtained by AP earlier this month would replace UNAMID with a UN political and peace-building mission whose primary aim would be to support Sudan's fragile transition to democracy including in drafting a new constitution and preparing for elections. But that proposal could be changed before the council makes a final decision on UNAMID and a follow-on mission at the end of May.
China, which holds the rotating council presidency in March, sponsored a resolution adopted unanimously stressing "the crucial role" that UN peacekeepers play "in achieving conditions for stability and a lasting peace," and urging countries where they are deployed to ensure their freedom of movement.
UN peacekeeping currently has over 100,000 field personnel including military, police and civilians from over 120 countries deployed in 13 active missions across three continents.
The resolution expresses "grave concern about security threats and targeted attacks" against peacekeepers in many missions, condemns "in the strongest terms" all violence and killings of peacekeeping personnel, and calls for prompt investigation and prosecution of those responsible for attacks against them.