May 2012 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 April 2012
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AFRICA

Liberia

Expected Council Action
The Council is planning to visit to Liberia late in May, as part of a trip to three West African states.

The special report of the Secretary-General on the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), which was submitted in April under the terms of resolution 2025, was initially expected to be discussed in May, but its discussion is now likely to be postponed till after the trip. A midterm report of the Panel of Experts monitoring the implementation of the Liberia sanctions regime renewed by the Council on 14 December 2011 is due by end of May.  

UNMIL’s mandate expires on 30 September.

Key Recent Developments
On 26 April, the Special Court for Sierra Leone sitting in The Hague found Charles Taylor, Liberia’s former President, guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity for his support of Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front rebels in the 1990s. Taylor, who was forced to resign as President in 2003 shortly before UNMIL was established, has been in detention since 2006.

On 20 February, a UN assessment mission, led by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, arrived in Liberia and stayed until 2 March. The mission collected views and data on the political and security situation from Liberian government officials, UN officials on the ground, political party leaders, civil society groups, members of the donor and diplomatic communities, NGOs, and officers of the national police, army and other security agencies. The Secretary-General’s report (S/2012/230) submitted to the Council on 16 April, extensively details the mission’s findings.

In September 2011, Liberia became somewhat contentious as a Council agenda item after EU members—France, Germany, Portugal and the UK—raised issues relating to financing and competing demands for peacekeeping resources, citing UNMIL’s extended stay in Liberia (the mission was established in 2003). As a result, there were unexpectedly prolonged Council discussions before the adoption of a resolution renewing UNMIL’s mandate. The EU members insisted that an assessment mission should be deployed to the country to conduct a thorough midterm review.

The 16 April report is unlikely to assuage their anxieties. Noting that the peace in Liberia is fragile and the significant economic and political gains made so far are “vulnerable to disruption”, the report singled out the “enormous risk” posed by “the large population of unskilled, unemployed, war-affected youths, many of whom are former combatants, lacking livelihood opportunities.” There is also the problem of land disputes, “which remain a serious conflict trigger, exacerbated in many instances by long-standing divides between ethnic groups or communities.”

The problem is that Liberia’s security agencies are incapable of maintaining stability without the support of UNMIL, the report states. The report noted that the 4,200-strong national police force probably needs to be expanded to 8,000, but improving the very poor conditions of service for the force is even more urgent. However, according to the report, this seems unlikely to happen soon since Liberia’s security budget is “facing a shortfall of $86 million over the next three years” at the current national budget allocation. An increase in the allocation of only one percent, the report notes, will bring the deficit down to $25 million. (The country’s economy has been growing by more than 7 percent since 2006, and the national budget has risen from $84 million in 2005 to $516 million in 2011-2012.)

Key legislation that bears on state and human security remains pending, the report said, including proposed laws on gun control, drug control, prison reform and rules governing police conduct. The security sector, the report also said, is being rebuilt or built from scratch without proper “governance structures” despite the fact that the national security strategy emphasised the need for accountable and democratic security architecture. According to the report, concerns remain about the “disproportionate use of force against civilians in responding to public disorder”, as happened a day before the run-off presidential elections held on 8 November 2011.

The report deals with the Liberian Armed Forces in only one paragraph, noting that the army “does not have appropriate training and equipment”, even for the limited role of border monitoring. The total strength of the army at the time of the assessment mission was 1,982, with an attrition rate of 10 percent and an ill-discipline as a major concern. The army’s development, the report notes, “is constrained by limited opportunities and resources to conduct practice operations as needed.”

On the political front, though, the report noted that a key benchmark for the transition of UNMIL—successful nation-wide elections in 2011—was achieved. On 16 January, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was re-elected to a second term in largely peaceful, free and fair elections, was inaugurated. National reconciliation, however, remains an issue, and the national judicial systems remain inadequate, burdened by “systemic challenges such as an outdated legal framework and the absence of accountability mechanisms.” Moreover, the writ of the state does not extend to all areas of the country, and there “remains a sense of mistrust between the population and officials, whose capacity is limited, despite efforts to enhance good governance.”

In view of the foregoing, the report recommends a very careful adjustment of UNMIL’s security presence over the next three years. UNMIL’s total troop strength at present is 7,952; the report recommends the repatriation of 4,200 troops in three phases between August 2012 and July 2015, leaving the mission’s military strength at approximately 3,750 troops for the foreseeable future. The report recommends that UNMIL’s police component adds three formed police units over the next three years to its current strength of 498 advisers and 845 officers in seven formed units. Endorsing the recommendation of a UN assessment mission that considered the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), the report noted that military equipment that UNMIL no longer required for operations in Liberia, including an aviation unit of three armed helicopters, should be transferred to UNOCI.

Significantly, the assessment report on UNOCI, submitted to Council members on 29 March, expressed unease about the whereabouts of thousands of Liberian mercenaries who served in Côte d’Ivoire and about weapons caches that are believed to be in the border areas between Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia. It noted that despite the “political will expressed at the highest levels in Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia, so far no national strategy has been developed in either country to address, in a more comprehensive manner, border security and the issue of Ivorian and Liberian former combatants.”

Some of these concerns had been expressed in the 30 November 2011 Panel of Experts report, which was discussed by the Council on 9 December. A substantial part of that report dealt with the impact of the return of an estimated 4,500 Liberian mercenaries who had been hired and deployed by former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, noting that many of these are now engaged in illicit gold mining and can be easily mobilised.

Key Issues
The key issue for the Council is to assist Liberia in achieving steady security, with its national institutions able to maintain order and stability independently of UNMIL.

A related issue is to ensure an eventual smooth transition of UNMIL from a large peacekeeping mission to a possible successor presence, probably a small political office similar to the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone. 

Council Dynamics
While there are concerns among some Council members about the slow pace of UNMIL’s transition, Council members seem to agree that a successful and properly-timed transition is key to long-term national and regional stability. Council members are keenly aware of the salience of the issues relating to the mission in Liberia for regional peace and security, in particular the illicit movement of arms across the border between Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire. The upcoming trip to West Africa will likely help members to formulate more comprehensive positions.

The US is leading on Liberia in the Council.

UN Documents

Security Council Resolutions

  •  S/RES/2025 (14 December 2011) renewed the sanctions regime and the mandate of the Panel of Experts monitoring the sanctions.
  • S/RES/2008 (16 September 2011) extended the mandate of UNMIL until 30 September 2012.
  • S/RES/1961 (17 December 2010) renewed for 12 months an arms embargo on Liberia, assets freezes, and travel bans on selected individuals.
  • S/RES/1521 (22 December 2003) called for establishing the panel of experts as part of a sanctions regime.

Latest Secretary-General’s Report

  • S/2012/230 (16 April 2012) was a special report of the Secretary-General on UNMIL.
Meeting Record
  • S/PV.6619 (16 September 2011) was the transcript of the Council’s discussions on UNMIL.

Other Relevant Facts

UNMIL Special Representative of the Secretary-General

Vacant

UNMIL Force Commander

Maj. Gen. Muhammad Khalid (Pakistan)

Chairman of the Sanctions Committee

HE Abdullah Hussain Haroon (Pakistan)

Panel of Experts on Liberia

Christian Dietrich (US), finance and coordinator; Caspar Fithen (UK), natural resources; and Katrine Kristensen (Denmark), arms

Full Forecast