Expected Council Action
In December the Council will be briefed by the chair of the 1521 Liberia Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Masood Khan (Pakistan) on the final report of the Panel of Experts (PoE). The Council is likely to adopt a resolution renewing sanctions, lifting some of them. The resolution will also likely renew the mandate of the PoE, which expires on December 13, though the mandate could see changes.
The mandate of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) expires on 30 September 2014.
Key Recent Developments
The Council last considered Liberia when it renewed the mandate of UNMIL on 18 September in resolution 2116. It authorised UNMIL to proceed with the second phase of its drawdown plan by reducing its military component over the next year by a further 1,129 military personnel. (The plan envisions leaving in place 3,750 troops by July 2015, along with 1,795 police.)
The1521 Liberia Sanctions Committee was briefed on 19 November by the PoE on its final report. The report investigates weapons flows and the presence of armed groups in border areas, with primary concern for the Côte d’Ivoire border and details the inability of Liberia to strengthen regulation of arms. Concerns are expressed about natural resource management and the potential threats of unregulated and illegal exploitation of resources to Liberia’s stability. The PoE also assesses information on individuals facing asset freezes and whether they still pose a threat while flagging growing drug trafficking and instances of mercenaries recruited by former National Patriotic Front generals to go to Mali.
Staffan Tillander, the chair of the Liberia configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), visited the country from 15-20 September. Tillander attended a security sector reform workshop and met government officials, including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
On 26 September the Special Court for Sierra Leone rejected the appeal of former President Charles Taylor, who was convicted in April 2012 for war crimes during Sierra Leone’s civil war from 1991 to 2002. The Council issued a press statement welcoming the Court’s decision (SC/11133). Taylor was transferred to the UK to serve his 50-year sentence.
At a press conference in Monrovia on 3 October, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of UNMIL Karin Landgren told reporters that Liberian security forces had “not been able to scale up their presence and effectiveness” in areas where UNMIL had left. She described land rights policy and management of natural resources as potential sources of new conflict if improperly handled. Landgren also said that “progress remains slow” in combating corruption.
The Johnson Sirleaf administration has been a target of growing criticism. On 17 September, amidst calls of nepotism and corruption, one of Johnson Sirleaf’s sons resigned as the head of the National Oil Company of Liberia and as a senior presidential advisor.
On 6 October the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission released its second report in a series on public officials’ assets declarations. Twenty-two officials were identified as having “deliberately refused” to cooperate, including Defense Minister Brownie Samukai and Police Director Chris Massaquoi. Both denied the allegations.
Before a planned 9 October protest against Johnson Sirleaf as part of the “Ellen Step Down” campaign, police arrested Mulbah Morlu, vice-chairman of the opposition party Congress for Democratic Change, and 10 others, charging them with criminal conspiracy and sedition. They were released after several hours in detention.
Rodney Sieh, managing editor of the newspaper FrontPage Africa, was released from jail on 8 November. Sieh was arrested in August for not paying a $1.5 million libel damage award to a former agriculture minister. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International were among the groups that claimed the case undermined press freedom, in particular reporting on corruption, and they urged Liberia to bring its libel laws up to international standards.
A first-of-its-kind joint council of chiefs and elders meeting was held in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County, from 17-19 October. This brought together border communities from Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire, as well as representatives from UNMIL and the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire. Presidents Johnson Sirleaf and Alassane Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire attended the closing ceremony on 19 October, with both governments agreeing to a joint communiqué on security and development in the border region.
On the same day in Zwedru, Johnson Sirleaf launched the National Palava Hut reconciliation program. The Palava Hut program is to complement efforts to promote justice and accountability for crimes committed during the civil war by using traditional dispute resolution mechanisms.
The key issue for the Council will be deciding which sanctions measures should be lifted.
Whether and how to revise the PoE’s mandate is a related issue.
The Liberia sanctions regime has been in place for 10 years, and the Council does not like missions or sanctions regimes to exist indefinitely.
An extensive list of individuals and entities remain targeted for asset freezes and travel bans (25 individuals and 30 entities). Most are believed to no longer pose a threat to Liberia nor meet the criteria for listing.
Liberia’s failure to adopt a firearms control act and to ensure the marking of arms and ammunition constrains the Council from lifting the arms sanctions. Concerns also exist over armed groups in the interior.
Moreover, some of the root causes of the civil war are still present: a weak state security presence in the interior, corruption, land-rights issues and poor natural-resource management. In addition, new sources of potential threats are emerging, such as organised crime and drug trafficking, in particular from Nigeria.
Despite the conclusion of the Taylor trial, the Council is wary about lifting the asset freezes targeting Taylor and his family.
The Council may consider the following options:
- keeping the arms embargo while revising measures dealing with asset freezes and travel bans;
- calling on Liberia to adopt a firearms control act;
- maintaining the mandate of the PoE to monitor sectors where sanctions have been removed; or
- changing the mandate of the PoE to focus less on natural resource reporting.
An option in the Sanctions Committee is to delist specific individuals no longer posing a threat whether or not the overall sanctions measures are changed through a resolution.
There is some pressure from within the Council to lift the sanctions by members who believe they are not very effective and should not exist indefinitely, especially when this could free up Council resources to deal with other issues.
The US is more cautious, but is open to scaling back the sanctions and considers it necessary to address the extensive designations.
Other members seem frustrated by Liberia’s lack of progress in expanding its security capabilities and combatting corruption, which undermines development of its institutions and governance. They therefore may be reluctant to significantly change sanctions that can contribute to containing several of these problems.
The US is the penholder on Liberia.
UN DOCUMENTS ON LIBERIA
|Security Council Resolutions|
|18 September 2013 S/RES/2116||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNMIL until 30 September 2014.|
|12 December 2012 S/RES/2079||This resolution renewed for a year both the sanctions regime on Liberia and the mandate of the Panel of Experts.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|27 September 2013 SC/11133||Welcomed the judgement of the Special Court for Sierra Leone’s appeals chamber that upheld the fifty-year jail term of former Liberian President Charles Taylor.|
|12 August 2013 S/2013/479||This was a report of the Secretary-General on UNMIL.|
|Sanctions Committee Documents|
|19 November 2013 S/2013/683||This was the 2013 final report of the Panel of Experts on Liberia.|
|23 May 2013 S/2013/316||This was the midterm report of the Panel of Experts on Liberia.|