Expected Council Action
In September, the Council is expected to receive a briefing by Karin Landgren, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), regarding the Secretary-General’s latest report on UNMIL (S/2014/598) and other recent developments. Ambassador Mårten Grunditz, chair of the Liberia configuration of the Peacebuiding Commission (PBC), is also likely to brief. A meeting of UNMIL troop-contributing countries has also been scheduled. The Council is likely to adopt a resolution renewing UNMIL’s mandate, which expires on 30 September.
Key Recent Developments
Liberia is facing a public health crisis due to an outbreak of Ebola virus disease. On 6 August, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared a 90-day state of emergency; on 8 August, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak in West Africa an international health emergency; and on 11 August, the National Electoral Commission announced an indefinite postponement of the campaign period for senatorial elections scheduled for 14 October. On 16 August, a crowd attacked a facility used to isolate suspected Ebola cases in West Point, a densely populated slum in Monrovia. As of press time, the fates of 17 escaped patients were unknown, but they are presumed to pose a significant risk of further spreading Ebola. On 20 August, the government forcibly quarantined West Point, resulting in clashes between residents and security forces. Initially confirmed in Guinea on 22 March, as of 20 August there have been an estimated 1,082 cases and 624 deaths due to Ebola in Liberia and a total of 2,615 cases and 1,427 deaths in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria, according to WHO.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Dr. David Nabarro as UN Senior Coordinator on Ebola Virus Disease on 12 August. On 15 August, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet and Under-Secretary-General for Field Support Ameerah Haq briefed UNMIL troop- and police-contributing countries (TPCCs). Landgren also briefed from Monrovia via video-teleconference. The meeting was focused on preventive measures for UNMIL personnel (e.g., limiting movement and exposure) and contingency plans to ensure their health, none of whom have yet contracted Ebola. On 18 August, the PBC configurations for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone held a joint informal meeting, also attended by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support Judy Cheng-Hopkins, to discuss the implications of Ebola for regional peacebuilding. The Resident Coordinators for the three countries briefed the configuration members via video-teleconference. Due to the rapid escalation of the Ebola outbreak, on 28 August the Secretary-General transmitted a letter to the Council president recommending a three-month technical rollover for UNMIL (modifying the recommendation previously made in his report of 15 August).
In what the Secretary-General’s report referred to as Liberia’s “most serious security incident in almost three years” (S/2014/598, paragraph 15), more than 500 people gathered on 3 July in Nimba county to protest against the ArcelorMittal iron ore company, alleging that the company had failed to comply with its social commitments. The situation escalated into a clash between the protestors, some of whom were reportedly armed, and the national police backed by UNMIL. Significant damage was done to company property and 57 people were arrested. On 10 July, Johnson Sirleaf said that the demonstration a week earlier had been an “attack” on the economy and that those arrested would be prosecuted. Raising broader questions regarding the stability of the natural resources sector in Liberia, the incident in July had precedents, with three protests against agriculture (Golden Veroleum) and mining companies (ArcelorMittal and BHP Billiton) in March and April.
The Council last addressed Liberia on 16 June when Ambassador Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein (Jordan), chair of the 1521 Liberia Sanctions Committee, briefed members in consultations. On 16 July, the President of the Security Council sent a letter to the Secretary-General requesting a report to the Council by 1 October that would assess the progress of Liberia toward the termination of sanctions and provide recommendations for UN assistance to Liberia to monitor the border with Côte d’Ivoire and manage arms and ammunition (S/2014/504). The report was to be based on the findings of an assessment mission to be undertaken by the Department of Political Affairs in coordination with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and UNMIL. Due to the outbreak of the Ebola epidemic, at press time it was unclear when the assessment mission would be deployed.
The Ebola outbreak in Liberia raises difficult questions regarding three interconnected issues: the government’s capacity to deliver services and maintain stability, the pace and scope of the international response to Ebola in West Africa, and the impact of a rapidly deteriorating public health situation on the operational capabilities of UNMIL. The government has mismanaged its response to the Ebola outbreak on numerous levels—e.g., inadequate public education and insecure health centres—but Liberia also lacks the necessary resources to adequately respond to a public health crisis of this magnitude. That suggests “the international effort to stem the outbreak is dangerously inadequate”, as Médecins Sans Frontières recently noted. Finally, it remains unclear how profoundly the measures being taken to protect the health of UNMIL personnel, which apparently include restricting staff movement, will affect the ability of UNMIL to fulfil its mandate.
The principal issue facing the Council is the UNMIL renewal within the broader context of the Ebola outbreak.
One option would be to renew UNMIL for a period of one year, including a change in the force structure and a revision of the mandate as recommended in the report of the Secretary-General: a reduction of 988 military personnel by mid-2015, adding logistical support for electoral assistance and creating a good offices role for the Special Representative.
Another option would be to roll over the UNMIL mandate for a more limited timeframe, such as a three-month interim period, and thus refrain from making any substantive revisions to the mandate until there is more clarity regarding the scope of the Ebola outbreak and its full operational implications for UNMIL.
Council and Wider Dynamics
In the period prior to the Ebola outbreak, the Council had been taking steps toward drawing down UNMIL and phasing out the 1521 Liberia sanctions regime. Resolution 2116, adopted on 18 September 2013, authorised the second of three stages in troop reductions, with a decrease of 1,129 troops by September 2014. Resolution 2128, adopted 10 December, decided to review the sanctions regime in six months “with a view to modifying or lifting all or part of the measures”, dependent upon progress toward meeting the criteria for their termination.
While the long-term trend toward scaling back UNMIL has been clear for some time, what impact the recent Ebola outbreak could have on these plans within the short to medium term remains ambiguous. If the situation deteriorates further, the government will undoubtedly continue to require the assistance of UNMIL to maintain stability in the country. On the other hand, there may also be strong pressure from the UNMIL TPCCs (Bangladesh, China, Ghana, India, Jordan, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines and Ukraine among others) to considerably accelerate the drawdown of the peacekeeping operation, if not evacuate it outright.
The US is the penholder on Liberia and Jordan is chair of the 1521 Liberia Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON LIBERIA
|Security Council Resolutions|
|10 December 2013 S/RES/2128||This resolution modified the Liberian sanctions regime.|
|18 September 2013 S/RES/2116||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNMIL until 30 September 2014.|
|Security Council Letter|
|16 July 2014 S/2014/504||This letter requested an assessment mission on sanctions and a report to the Council prior to 1 October.|
|15 August 2014 S/2014/598||This was a report of the Secretary-General on UNMIL.|