Expected Council Action
In September, the Council will consider the Secretary-General’s latest report on the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and likely renew the mission’s mandate. Karin Landgren, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Liberia and head of UNMIL, and Ambassador Staffan Tillander (Sweden), Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) country-specific configuration for Liberia, are expected to brief, to be followed by consultations.
UNMIL’s mandate expires on 30 September.
Key Recent Developments
The Secretary-General’s 24th progress report on UNMIL (S/2012/641) submitted to Council members on 15 August, added to two other recent reports on Liberia: the Secretary-General’s special report on UNMIL of 16 April 2012 (S/2012/230) and the 20 June midterm report of the Panel of Experts (PoE) of the Liberia Sanctions Committee (S/2012/448). Both were discussed on 29 June, when Assistant Secretary-General for peacekeeping, Edmond Mulet, briefed the Council on the former report and Council members then held consultations also addressing the PoE report.
The three reports amplify a key anxiety: though UNMIL has been in operation since 2003, there are still critical gaps in Liberia’s governance and security apparatuses. The Secretary-General has determined, however, that none of the “current and projected threats facing Liberia” are of a military nature, and in the most recent report, reiterated the recommendation of his 16 April special report for 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. (UNMIL’s total troop strength in April was 7,950.) The special report also recommended the addition of three formed police units to UNMIL’s police component over the same period (UNMIL police’s current strength is 498 advisers and 845 officers in seven formed units).
The special report was submitted to Council members before their visit to Liberia on 19-20 May, and its recommendation concerning UNMIL troop numbers was clearly on Council members’ minds during their meeting with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and members of the cabinet, as well as during their visit to the National Police Training Academy. Reporting the trip to the Council on 31 May, Ambassador Susan Rice (US), who led the delegation, said that members focused on security and rule-of-law institutions, reconciliation and positioning for the drawdown of UNMIL. Council members were particularly concerned at that point by the security challenges on the Liberian-Ivorian border, which they visited. Rice reported that President Sirleaf briefed the Council members on national priorities and called for greater international support for the Liberian National Police in line with an expected decrease in UN security personnel. Council members were aware of the “challenges to improving” internal security, with Rice noting that these involved “financial limitations, staffing and supporting remote security outposts, and the threat posed by international drug traffickers and organised criminals.”
The 15 August report of the Secretary-General highlights some of these challenges, noting that though the security situation in Liberia “remains generally stable” it is still fragile. It reported a 13 June incident in which police investigating an alleged rubber theft in Buchanan, in the interior of the country, came under fire, probably from ex-combatants operating in the area. It also reported the eruption of violence during a student protest march in Monrovia, the capital, on 18 July, and the more troubling developments at the border with Côte d’Ivoire in which seven UN peacekeepers and at least 27 civilians were killed on 8 June. The incidents, the report said, led to the closure of the Liberian border with Côte d’Ivoire on 9 July. The border remained closed at press time.
The report appears unusually sharply critical of the Liberian government’s shortcomings in the areas of governance and reconciliation, both of which bear directly on security. Notwithstanding a commitment President Sirleaf reportedly made to the opposition last year to create “an inclusive administration”, the report said that by 1 August only 11 out of the 447 persons she had appointed to the cabinet and other government positions were not publicly affiliated to the governing party. Even members of the governing Unity Party have protested Sirleaf’s apparent nepotism, with her sons and other relatives appointed to top positions in the government. The report also states that although the Anti-Corruption Commission has investigated 25 high-profile cases since March 2009, and has submitted six to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution, “no prosecution has been completed and there have been no convictions.” In fact, the report said, the Sirleaf administration “remains unresponsive to audits of public institutions,” and so far “no action has been taken to implement the recommendations contained in 45 audit reports prepared over the past three years by the General Auditing Commission.”
Furthermore, the report says that despite a phenomenal growth in the country’s fiscal situation—the 2012/13 budget amounted to $649 million, representing an increase of about 25 percent over the previous year’s—the government has proposed reduction in funding for the police and immigration. This in spite of “an overall increase of $3 million for the security sector, mainly in support of the Armed Forces” of Liberia, the report said. On the critical issue of controlling the exploitation of natural resources—which was a key factor in the country’s civil war—the report notes the following: “Limited commitment to comply with the minimum standards of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme for Rough Diamonds remains apparent. The Presidential Task Force on Diamonds has not met in a year, while its technical committee convened in early July for the first time in seven months. The Government’s capacity to control diamond mining and trade, a vital part of the certification scheme, continues to be weak, with the network of regional offices of the Government Diamond Office lacking basic capacity to monitor the movement of diamonds out of affected counties. The US Agency for International Development has indicated that it will discontinue funding for the property rights and artisanal diamond development programme established in 2010 to assist the Government to improve compliance, partially owing to insufficient commitment.”
Human Rights-Related Development
On 3 August, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed concern about draft legislation currently being considered by Liberia’s House of Representatives that would broadly criminalise homosexual behaviour. The legislation has already been passed by the Senate. OHCHR called on Liberia to implement the international human rights treaties that it has ratified, including the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, observing that laws criminalising homosexual acts between consenting adults violated individuals’ rights to privacy and to freedom from discrimination. OHCHR said that laws criminalising homosexuality can have a negative impact not only on gay and lesbian people but also on vulnerable populations such as people living with HIV who might be in need of treatment but will not come forward because of fear of prosecution, stigmatisation and discrimination.
The key issue for the Council is to carefully manage a smooth transition of UNMIL from a large peacekeeping mission to an eventual successor presence, probably a small political office similar to the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone.
Striking a balance between the need to wind down the mission and doing it when the gains from UNMIL’s work have taken root is a key related issue, particularly in view of the developments on the Liberia-Côte d’Ivoire border.
Financing is a critical problem. The Secretary-General’s 15 August report notes that as of 26 July 2012, the unpaid assessed contributions to the special account for UNMIL amounted to $142.6 million, and that the appropriation for the mission by the General Assembly on 21 June 2012 was $496.4 million, compared to $525.6 million for the period from 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2012.
Options for the Council include:
- adopting a resolution renewing the mandate of UNMIL that incorporates the Secretary-General’s recommendation regarding the drawing down of UNMIL’s military component;
- adopting a resolution renewing the mandate but making the drawing down of the military component of the mission contingent on the security situation in the country, particularly on the border with Côte d’Ivoire; and
- in either case, including a strong message to the Liberian authorities regarding the acute need for institutional reforms is a further option.
While Council members are generally impressed by the performance of Liberia’s economy since 2006, there are growing concerns that critical governance and security areas in the country are being overlooked. While some fear that the timeline set by the Secretary-General for UNMIL’s military drawdown may be unrealistic, there is a feeling that a strong message ought to be sent to the Liberian authorities to make important political decisions, and to start taking over security responsibilities across the country.
The US leads on Liberia in the Council.
Selected UN Documents
|Security Council Resolutions|
|14 December 2011 S/RES/2025||This resolution extended the sanctions regime on Liberia and the mandate of its Panel of Experts.|
|16 September 2011 S/RES/2008||This resolution extended the mandate of UNMIL until 30 September 2012 and called on UNOCI and UNMIL to coordinate strategies and operations in the Liberia-Côte d’Ivoire border regions.|
|15 August 2012 S/2012/641||This report of the Secretary-General on UNMIL provided an update on developments since 16 April 2012.|
|16 April 2012 S/2012/230||This was a special report of the Secretary-General on UNMIL.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|31 May 2012 S/PV.6777||This was the briefing on the Council’s visit to West Africa from 18 to 24 May.|
|Panel of Experts Report|
|24 May 2012 S/2012/448||This was the midterm report of the Panel of Experts supporting the sanctions regime.|
Other Relevant Facts
UNMIL Special Representative of the Secretary-General
Karin Landgren (Sweden)
UNMIL Force Commander
Maj. Gen. Muhammad Khalid (Pakistan)
Chairman of the Sanctions Committee
Abdullah Hussain Haroon (Pakistan)
Panel of Experts on Liberia
Augusta Muchai (Kenya), arms and coordinator; Caspar Fithen (UK), natural resources and Christian Dietrich (US), finance