March 2011 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 February 2011
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Expected Council Action

In March, at the initiative of China, the Council is expected to hold an open debate on Somalia with the participation of the Secretary-General. The Somali government and the AU have also been invited to speak. A presidential statement seems likely. A key objective for the debate is to demonstrate a more strategic Council approach to the issue of Somalia.

Also, in March, it seems likely that there will be some action on the assets-freeze provision of the Somalia sanctions regime. In resolution 1916 the Council decided to establish an exemption to this provision for payments “necessary to ensure the timely delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance in Somalia” and this is set to expire on 19 March. The Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia is due to report to the Sanctions Committee on the impact of the exemption, and a briefing is expected by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. In addition, the chair of the Sanctions Committee, Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, is due to report to the Council on the work of the Committee. (Resolution 1844 calls for the Committee to report to the Council every 120 days.)

It is also possible that the Council will act on the recommendations presented in January by the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Legal Issues related to Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, Jack Lang. At press time negotiations were underway on a draft resolution prepared by Russia, taking up many of Lang’s proposals.

The International Contact Group on piracy off the Coast of Somalia is scheduled to meet on 21 March in New York and the International Contact Group on Somalia is also expected to meet in March, in Kampala.

Key Recent Developments
Following a briefing in the Council on 14 January by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, Council members agreed on a press statement expressing support for Mahiga’s work “in helping Somalis work towards post-transitional arrangements” and expressed their intention to monitor the situation closely. They also called on the Somali government to “redouble its efforts” to complete the remaining transitional tasks and on the international community to provide additional resources and support to the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

In recent weeks, however, discussions on Somalia have intensified in various forums and in the process it has become clear that there is no real strategic consensus on how to handle the end of the so called “transitional period” in Somalia. (The five year transitional period as defined by the 2004 Transitional Federal Charter of Somalia was extended by two years by a parliament vote in January 2009 and expires in August this year.)

On 26 January, Mahiga announced that he had started consultations with key stakeholders on the remainder of the transitional period and the nature of “post-transitional” arrangements. He said there was “unanimous agreement” both inside and outside Somalia that the transition could not be extended beyond August. He admitted, however, that the constitutional process would not be completed in time and stressed the need for a political solution.

On 30 January, the subregional organisation, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), took a contrary position, saying that it was important “to extend the term of the current Transitional Federal Parliament while the remaining political dispensation be handled by the people of Somalia.” IGAD also expressed disappointment that the Council in resolution 1964 had ignored the AU Peace and Security Council’s requests to the UN Security Council relating to Somalia, which included authorisation for increased funding for AMISOM from UN-assessed contributions, imposition of a naval blockade and no-fly zone over Somalia and effective implementation of sanctions. (Please see our 8 December 2010 Update Report on Somalia for more details.)

The AU, at its summit on 31 January, increased the pressure by calling on the UN Security Council to provide greater support to AMISOM and “fully assume its responsibilities towards Somalia and its people,” including through increased funding from UN-assessed contributions. It also emphasised the need to broaden the reconciliation process and complete all remaining transitional tasks.

On 3 February the Somali parliament, ignoring Mahiga’s position, voted to extend its mandate for another three years. The vote was widely criticised. Mahiga called it a disappointing decision taken in haste without the required level of discussion and consultation and said the UN, the AU and IGAD would meet soon with the Somali political leadership to discuss the way forward.

On 23 February, AMISOM, IGAD and the UN Political Office in Somalia announced in a joint communiqué that they had adopted a joint regional strategy to support the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in the management of the transitional period.

Also in February, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos, following her first official visit to Somalia, said severe drought had exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in the country. Malnutrition rates among children had risen and 2.4 million people or 32 percent of the population were now in need of aid.

According to recent reports by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the number of casualties registered in Mogadishu in 2010 was the highest since 2000, when record keeping began. It increased from 5,000 in 2009 to more than 6,000 last year, of which nearly 40 percent were women and children.

Violence in Mogadishu appeared to intensify over the last few weeks. There were reports of heavy fighting between Al Shabaab and pro-government forces supported by AMISOM. On 21 February a suicide car bomb exploded at a police base in Mogadishu, reportedly killing at least six policemen and several civilians. On 25 February, the Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission for Somalia, Boubacar Gaoussou Diarra, congratulated AMISOM on its recent offensive in Mogadishu and said the mission had succeeded in gaining control of three key strategic positions.

Late in February, in response to Lang’s call in January for urgent action to strengthen international counter-piracy efforts, Russia started consultations with Council members on a draft resolution. A key focus of the text appeared to be on legal issues related to piracy. It would request the Secretary-General to explore further Lang’s proposal to establish a new court system for prosecution of suspected pirates comprising specialised courts in Somaliland and Puntland and a specialised extraterritorial Somali court in a third country.

Developments in the Sanctions Committee
The Sanctions Committee on 9 February met for the first time under its new chair, Indian ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, and heard the mid-term briefing by the coordinator of the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, Matt Bryden. Among Bryden’s key points was the fact that Al Shabaab, the Islamist rebel group, is now financially self-sufficient, having enough tax income from areas under its control not to rely on outside assistance. The government forces are still very poorly organised and lack a command and control structure. Moreover, Bryden expressed concern over the presence of private security companies in Somalia and said the Monitoring Group would investigate their operations. The Committee was also briefed by Interpol’s Special Representative to the UN, Michael Olmstead.

Human Rights-Related Developments
During a press conference at UN headquarters on 3 February, Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, commented on the use of child pirates in and around Somalia. Coomaraswamy said that she had visited Somalia in November and engaged with underage pirates in Puntland, where children were clearly being used for criminal activities. Her office took the view that the children should not be prosecuted as adults.

Key Issues
A key issue for the Council in March is the growing sense that the former strategy of building a credible transitional authority in Somalia has failed. Related issues include whether anything can be salvaged from the old strategy or whether a new approach is needed that is less centred on creating a strong central government and relies more on local and regional authorities. A closely connected issue is whether the Council needs to be more accommodating to the views of the AU on this issue and, as a result, be much more engaged on Somalia itself rather than on symptomatic issues such as piracy.

A key immediate issue is how to respond to the Somali parliament’s decision to unilaterally extend its mandate.

Another key issue is the slow progress toward the deployment of the additional 4,000 AMISOM troops authorised by the Council in December and the related issue of UN support for AMISOM.

An interesting question is whether Council members will be ready to enter into a frank assessment of whether there has been measurable progress on the four objectives listed in resolution 1964 to be taken into account for future Council decisions on AMISOM. Those objectives are progress on transitional tasks; adoption of a national security and stabilisation plan; development of Somali security institutions; and reconciliation and consolidation of security in Somalia based on military objectives integrated into a political strategy.

A further issue relating to the Council’s thematic work is the continuing violations against civilians being committed in Somalia, including against women and children. The Council’s repeated call on the parties to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law have had little impact. (Human Rights Watch recently reiterated its call for an international commission of inquiry to investigate such violations.) A related issue is whether the TFG has made progress in developing an action plan to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

The extremely difficult humanitarian situation, which may deteriorate even further as a result of the drought, remains an issue.

While it is symptomatic of the wider issues in Somalia, the question of piracy is still real and the recommendations presented by Lang are now squarely on the table as an issue for the Council in March.

On the sanctions side, an issue is whether to take up the message from the AU (which seems to be to do it properly and enforce the resolutions). A more minor but practical issue is whether to extend the humanitarian carve-out relating to the assets-freeze provision and whether to continue the reports every 120 days from the Humanitarian Coordinator. (Some in the humanitarian community consider this reporting requirement to be excessive.)

A final issue is whether the Sanctions Committee should designate additional individuals or entities for targeted sanctions, in particular pirate leaders.

One option for the Council in March is to continue the status quo—essentially deferring the question of a new strategic approach.

A second option is to continue the status quo on the situation in Somalia itself, and for the piracy issue to become the main focus.

A third option is to use creatively the very rare opportunity of a month in which both China and Russia are separately leading with initiatives in the Council. Coincidentally both these permanent members are focusing on Somalia. Their initiatives do not seem to be in competition with each other and this situation perhaps presents an option of two separate outcomes—one addressing the issues on land including the conditions under which support would continue to be given to the TFG and another in a separate meeting to adopt a resolution on piracy.

A possible option, given the presentational appeal of a single combined strategy, might be to address all these issues in one decision. But given the technical issues involved in the piracy issue and the complex issues on the political side, and the consequent need to conduct negotiations involving different sets of experts, that could be problematic.

Procedurally, in view of the strong interests by many states not members of the Council, one option for the Council would be to finalise the terms of any decisions only after the expected open debate so as to allow the views of all interested parties to be taken into account.

If the Council is ready to move towards a substantive political outcome some options might include:

  • deciding to signal higher priority for the situation in Somalia by meeting much more frequently and requesting more briefings (as it did with the situation in Sudan) and undertaking a small Council mission to the region;
  • expressing full support for the Special Representative’s positions on the transitional period;
  • noting that the Somali parliament through its unilateral extension of its “transitional” mandate risked losing the support of the international community;
  • stressing the need for a broader and more devolved approach to the reestablishment of state institutions in Somalia—consistent with maintaining the territorial integrity of the state but involving all Somali players, including Somaliland and Puntland—in effect a regions up approach as opposed to a top down approach; and
  • convening a frank private meeting with the AU and Uganda and Burundi (the AMISOM troop-contributors) to clarify whether the Council really does support the AU position of using military force to defend the institutions of a centrally governed state in Somalia, and if so what it is prepared to do to respond to the AU requests for assistance, and if not, to explore what this means in terms of alternatives including possibilities of building capacity and strengthening security from a regions up perspective and the role for and levels of support for AMISOM in such a scenario.

On piracy, Lang has set out a number of options which he describes as a comprehensive approach. Options for the Council include:

  • limiting its focus to strengthening existing solutions and leaving it to the international contact group on piracy to continue discussions on ways to strengthen prosecution;
  • endorsing Lang’s set of proposals;
  • expressing support for the establishment of a new court system as proposed by Lang but adding a more international component; or
  • deciding on a more radical approach based on the idea that treating Somali piracy as essentially a criminal law problem is no longer sufficient. In addition to enhanced provisions for prosecution and trial of captured pirates, the Council could also adopt a new determination that Somali piracy has now become a serious threat to international peace and security and justifies the application of wider force. The Council could under Chapter VII authorise UN member states acting under an organised coalition to declare wide areas of ocean, including high seas, as enforcement zones and in such zones to use “all necessary means” against pirate vessels or suspected pirate vessels and require that all legitimate vessels in such areas travel in designated lanes or convoys. It could also request the coalition to provide assets to enforce the arms embargo utilising the kind of language used in its “no fly” resolutions for the former Yugoslavia.

Regarding the Somalia sanctions regime, options include:

  • adopting a resolution extending for another four months the humanitarian exemption to the assets freeze provision of the Somalia sanctions regime as established by resolution 1916 (it would then expire at the same time as the mandate of the Monitoring Group) and requesting the Humanitarian Coordinator to report to the Sanctions Committee every 180 days instead of every 120 days; or
  • deciding not to renew the humanitarian exemption.

Council Dynamics
The situation in Somalia appears to be of increasing concern to Council members. There seems to be a general sense that the Council needs to step up its approach. Many members cite Sudan and the successful holding of the referendum in January as an example of how consistent, high-level Council attention can have a positive impact. They would like to see a similar strategic approach to Somalia and have welcomed the willingness of China, as Council President in March, to organise an open debate. Historically, China has played an active role on Somalia in the Council, including a period when it was the lead country.

At press time, no details had yet emerged on the specific directions that the Council might go in the planned presidential statement. Members were still waiting to see if Mahiga would succeed in ironing out some of the differences among key stakeholders and provide some guidance on the way forward. But given the underlying differences, including resistance by France, the UK and the US to the AU requests, it is unclear whether there is a willingness to find real compromises that would add up to a comprehensive strategy.

The Council is also divided on what action to take on piracy. Russia and France favour the establishment of specialised piracy courts, a view that is also shared by most other Council members. The UK and the US, however, are not convinced about this option as they have concerns about the costs and time lags involved. It remains to be seen whether the recent killing of four Americans who had been taken hostage by Somali pirates off the coast of Oman, will have an impact on the US approach.

On sanctions, the extension of the humanitarian carve-out in resolution 1916 seems uncontroversial, but most Council members are waiting for the conclusions of the Humanitarian Coordinator’s report to inform their position The US, however, seems to favour an extension.

The UK is the lead country on Somalia in the Council.

UN Documents

Selected Security Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/1964 (22 December 2010) renewed the authorisation of AMISOM until 30 September 2011 and raised its troop level to 12,000.
  • S/RES/1950 (23 November 2010) renewed for a period of 12 months the anti-piracy measures of previous Council resolutions.
  • S/RES/1916 (19 March 2010) extended the mandate of the Monitoring Group for another 12 months with the addition of three new members, decided that the assets-freeze provisions of resolution 1844 would not apply to funds “necessary to ensure the timely delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance in Somalia” and requested the UN humanitarian aid coordinator for Somalia to report to the Council every 120 days.
  • S/RES/1844 (20 November 2008) imposed targeted sanctions relating to the situation in Somalia.

Selected Presidential Statement

  • S/PRST/2010/16 (25 August 2010) was on piracy off the coast of Somalia.

Latest Secretary-General’s Reports

  • S/2010/675 (30 December 2010) was the latest regular report on Somalia.
  • S/2010/556 (27 October 2010) was on piracy off the coast of Somalia.
  • S/2010/394 (26 July 2010) provided options for addressing Somali piracy.

Selected Meeting Records

  • S/PV.6473 (25 January 2011) was a briefing by the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Legal Issues related to Piracy off the Coast of Somalia Jack Lang.
  • S/PV.6467 (14 January 2011) was the most recent briefing by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia.

Selected Letters

  • S/2011/30 (24 January 2011) was from the Secretary-General transmitting Jack Lang’s report on piracy.
  • S/2010/580 (23 November 2010) was from the chair of the Sanctions Committee transmitting the latest 120-day report of the Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia in accordance with resolution 1916.

Selected Council Press Statements

  • SC/10154 (14 January 2011) was a press statement on Somalia.
  • SC/10097 (29 November 2010) was on the most recent review of resolution 1916.

Other Relevant Facts

Special Representative of the Secretary-General

Augustine Mahiga (Tanzania)


Maximum authorised strength as of January 2011: 12,000 troops, plus maritime and air components

Strength as of February 2011: about 8,000 Ugandan and Burundian troops

Duration: February 2007 to present: Council authorisation expires on 30 September 2011; AU mandate expires on 17 January 2012.


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