Expected Council Action
As requested in resolution 2176, the Council is scheduled to be briefed prior to 15 November on the situation in Liberia, particularly regarding the Ebola crisis and the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). The briefers are likely to include Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous and Ambassador Mårten Grunditz (Sweden), chair of the Liberia configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission. The briefing will be followed by consultations.
Key Recent Developments
The Ebola crisis continues to worsen in West Africa. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of 25 October there were a total of 10,114 cases and 4,912 deaths due to Ebola within the region. Liberia has been the worst-affected country, with 4,665 cases and 2,705 deaths (Sierra Leone has had 3,896 cases and 1,281 deaths; Guinea has had 1,553 cases and 926 deaths). The rate of transmission has been most intense in the capital city Monrovia where 305 new cases have been reported within the most recent one-week period.
Meanwhile, the political and security situation in Liberia is becoming increasingly volatile. On 17 September, the inspector general for police denied local media reports that Vice President Joseph Boakai was under investigation in connection with an alleged plot to form an interim government. On 27 September, a group of approximately 1,000 people violently protested after discovering a body they believed had been shot at a Monrovia checkpoint of the Liberia National Police. On 6 October, Minister of Justice Christiana Tah announced her resignation, saying that her position had been repeatedly undermined. She said that included interference by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf regarding an investigation into corruption allegations within the National Security Agency, which is headed by one of Sirleaf’s sons. On 8 October, Sirleaf suspended by proclamation Senate elections scheduled for 14 October. On 10 October, the House of Representatives declined a request by President Sirleaf to further restrict political and civil rights—e.g. electoral rights, freedom of movement and freedom of speech—under the state of emergency. Sirleaf’s suspension of the elections was contested on 13 October by the House and Senate, which maintained that such a decision was a legislative, not executive, prerogative. A definitive date for holding the postponed elections has not yet been agreed upon.
Due to the operational uncertainty created by the escalation of the Ebola outbreak, the Council effectively postponed for three months decisions regarding the potential modification of UNMIL’s mandate. Following a briefing and consultations on UNMIL on 9 September, the Council adopted resolution 2176 on 15 September, renewing the mandate of the peacekeeping operation until 31 December. Resolution 2176 also expressed the Council’s intention to subsequently renew UNMIL’s mandate until 30 September 2015, pending consideration of the Secretary-General’s update and analysis in the upcoming mid-November briefing.
In the interim, two UNMIL staff members have died from Ebola, the first on 25 September and the second on 13 October. On 10 October, UNMIL announced it had quarantined 41 personnel, including 20 soldiers, following the second infection. As of 28 October, all but two staff had completed the quarantine period. (The Philippines has been the one troop-contributing-country [TCC] to withdraw from UNMIL, having announced on 23 August that due to safety concerns their 115 troops would depart Liberia as soon as possible.) According to information provided to the Council by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, UNMIL’s activities in response to the Ebola outbreak include: coordination, information and outreach; training of Liberian government workers; monitoring and advocacy; providing equipment, logistics assistance and engineering support; and supporting the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER).
The severity of the Ebola crisis in West Africa has prompted the creation of the first UN emergency health mission. On 17 September, the Secretary-General sent letters to the General Assembly and the Security Council announcing his intention to establish a system-wide, inter-agency mission, UNMEER. At the initiative of the US, the Council held an open debate on the Ebola crisis on 18 September and adopted resolution 2177, which determined that “the unprecedented extent of the Ebola outbreak in Africa constitutes a threat to international peace and security”. The following day, the General Assembly adopted a resolution welcoming the establishment of UNMEER. On 23 September, Anthony Banbury was appointed Special Representative and head of UNMEER, which is now headquartered in Ghana. As of 28 October, the Ebola Response Multi-Partner Trust Fund had only $8.8 million in deposits, $19 million in commitments and $88.2 million in outstanding pledges (out of $1 billion required).
In a speech at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on 16 September, US President Barack Obama announced that the US would commit substantial resources to combat the Ebola crisis in West Africa, including: deployment of up to 3,200 troops; a public commitment to spend more than $1 billion; deployment of more than 170 medical and disaster response experts; and the construction of a hospital for infected health workers, which is underway, and plans to build 17 Ebola treatment units in Liberia. Ambassador Samantha Power underscored the US commitment to tackle the Ebola outbreak with a trip to West Africa in late October, where she visited Ghana, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Power called on other UN member states, in addition to the US and the UK (which has been active in Sierra Leone), to contribute doctors, medical supplies and financial resources to fight Ebola in West Africa. Power has also praised Cuba’s sending doctors to the affected region.
The Council most recently addressed the Ebola crisis in West Africa during a briefing and consultations on 14 October. Banbury, Ladsous and Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tayé-Brook Zerihoun briefed. Banbury emphasised the urgent need for substantial human, material and financial resources to combat Ebola; Ladsous discussed the escalating security risks associated with deepening political and social divisions in Liberia; and Zerihoun focused on the regional dimensions of Ebola’s impact, including the adverse implications for cross-border cooperation on security and trade. Representatives of Guinea-Conakry, Liberia and Sierra Leone also addressed the Council.
Human Rights-Related Developments
During its 27th session, the Human Rights Council adopted a presidential statement on 26 September deploring the loss of life in West Africa due to Ebola and urging states to be mindful of human rights and the negative effects of stigmatizing victims when implementing measures to limit the spread of the virus.
On 16 October, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein referred to Ebola as a monumental crisis, adding that the critical importance of rights to health, education, sanitation, development and good governance were not being discussed sufficiently. Also, he announced that his office is drawing up guidelines regarding the use of quarantines, which if imposed injudiciously could violate a wide range of human rights and accelerate the spread of Ebola.
The West Africa Regional Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a paper in September, A human rights perspective into the Ebola outbreak, highlighting various fundamental human rights impacted by the outbreak and providing recommendations.
The principal issue for the Council remains the continued stability of Liberia. The government’s inadequate response to the Ebola crisis thus far has further exacerbated public perceptions of illegitimacy and threatened to provoke protest. The national police and military lack capacity, which underlines the continued importance of UNMIL’s deployment within the country. Coping with the health risks Ebola poses for peacekeepers while also maintaining sufficient operational mobility in order to fulfil its mandate remains a critical challenge for UNMIL.
The most likely option for November is for the Council to take no action, as it is highly unlikely to modify UNMIL’s mandate until the following month (the peacekeeping operation’s mandate expires 31 December).
While the meeting has been scheduled explicitly for the purpose of an update on UNMIL, the Council could also request participation by a wider range of briefers, including representatives of UNMEER and WHO.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Among Council members, the US has shown the most initiative in response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. (It has also made the most significant national commitment of resources on the ground in Liberia.) A record number of 134 co-sponsors for resolution 2177 on Ebola, the establishment of the first UN emergency health mission and the unanimous adoption of the General Assembly resolution on UNMEER all suggest there is now broad support among member states for tackling the Ebola outbreak, although lagging deposits to the trust fund raise questions about the depth of this commitment.
However, the evolving dynamics with TCCs for UNMIL may be more complicated, particularly with a precedent having been established by the withdrawal from Liberia of 115 Filipino peacekeepers. There seems to be consensus among Council members, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Liberian government regarding the need for UNMIL’s continued deployment. Nonetheless, there is also a possibility that some TCCs may eventually withdraw due to the health risks to their peacekeepers. This could also be due, at least in part, to domestic political pressure on the governments of TCCs for the repatriation of troops.
The US is the penholder on Liberia, and Jordan is the chair of the 1521 Liberia Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON LIBERIA
|Security Council Resolutions|
|18 September 2014 S/RES/2177||In this resolution, the Council determined that the unprecedented extent of the ebola outbreak in Africa constituted a threat to international peace and security.|
|15 September 2014 S/RES/2176||This was a resolution which requested an update on the situation in Liberia by 15 November and renewed the mandate of UNMIL for a period of three months.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|14 October 2014 S/PV.7279||This was a briefing on the ebola epidemic in West Africa by Special Representative Anthony Banbury, head of UNMEER, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping HervÃ© Ladsous and Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs TayÃ©-Brook Zerihoun.|
|29 September 2014 S/PV.7268||This was the Security Council open debate on the ebola epidemic in Africa.|
|9 September 2014 S/PV.7260||This was a briefing by Special Representative Karin Landgren briefed on the UNMIL report as well as on the rapid escalation of the ebola outbreak.|
|Security Council Letters|
|29 September 2014 S/2014/707||This letter transmitted an assessment of the Liberia sanctions regime.|
|17 September 2014 S/2014/679||This letter from the Secretary-General concerned the establishment of UNMEER.|
|General Assembly Documents|
|19 September 2014 A/RES/69/1||This General Assembly resolution welcomed the intention of the Secretary-General to establish UNMEER.|
|Human Rights Council Documents|
|26 September 2014 A/HRC/PRST/27/4||This HRC presidential statement urged states to respect human rights when implementing measures to combat Ebola.|