March 2015 Monthly Forecast

Posted 27 February 2015
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AFRICA

Liberia

Expected Council Action

In March, the Council is expected to receive a briefing from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), assessing the impact of Ebola on stability in Liberia and presenting options for resuming the drawdown of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).

Key Recent Developments

The Council last addressed Liberia in December, when it adopted resolutions 2188 and 2190. Resolution 2188 concerned Liberia sanctions; it reaffirmed the asset freeze (which was not time-limited), renewed the travel ban and arms embargo on non-state actors for nine months and extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts for ten months. Resolution 2190 renewed the mandate of UNMIL until 30 September 2015. In addition to requesting that the Secretary-General provide reporting on UNMIL in the usual six-month cycle (a mid-term report by 30 April and a final report by 15 August), resolution 2190 also requested the Secretary-General to submit an interim update by 15 March specifically assessing the impact of Ebola on stability in Liberia and providing options for resuming the drawdown of UNMIL.

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), as of 15 February, there have been 23,253 cases of Ebola and 9,380 deaths, predominantly occurring in Guinea (3,108 cases and 2,057 deaths), Sierra Leone (11,103 cases and 3,408 deaths) and Liberia (9,007 cases and 3,900 deaths). Among the three countries, Liberia appears to have made the most progress recently in reducing the rate of transmission, with only 11 new cases within the three weeks prior to 15 February (in comparison to 230 new cases in Sierra Leone and 156 new cases in Guinea during the same period). The geographic dispersion of new cases in Liberia has also been decreasing, as only Montserrado county—which includes the capital city, Monrovia—has had any new Ebola cases during the four weeks preceding 15 February. At a briefing on Ebola held in the General Assembly on 18 February, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted the progress made by Liberia and called on donors to maintain their support for fighting Ebola. 

Relative to the height of the Ebola outbreak just a few months ago, the political situation seems to be improving. On 20 December 2014, the country held senate elections, which had been postponed since 14 October due to the Ebola outbreak. According to preliminary data by the National Elections Commission (NEC), voter turnout was only about one-quarter of eligible voters, which some observers attributed to voter apathy but others suggested was due to Ebola concerns. On 22 December, Special Representative of the Secretary-General Karin Landgren issued a statement praising the peaceful conduct of the senate elections. On 3 January, the NEC certified the results for 12 of the 15 senate seats that were up for election (the three remaining seats are being contested in the judiciary). In the high profile race for the populous Montserrado county seat, opposition candidate George Weah, a former world soccer player of the year, defeated independent candidate Robert Sirleaf, son of the president, by the wide margin of 78 percent to 11 percent.

While current trends suggest that Ebola-related insecurity in Liberia has decreased significantly, the final report by the Panel of Experts transmitted to the Council on 19 November identified several other risk factors that remain relevant. First, the Ebola outbreak exposed a systematic lack of training and competency in civil-military relations and human rights among the armed forces. Second, there is an urgent need for a national regulatory framework for arms and ammunition and the development of the state’s institutional capacity in this area. Third, as the border regions with Côte d’Ivoire remain highly porous, Ivorian mercenaries and non-state militias continue to pose a risk to the stability of Liberia. Significant resources are required, particularly for increasing the capacity of the border control force and national police. Finally, the Panel remains concerned by the potential for Liberia to become a transhipment country for illicit drugs, similar to Guinea-Bissau and Guinea. Such drug-trafficking could finance non-state armed groups and undermine stability.

Key Issues

In March, the principal issue for the Council will be assessing—after receiving input from DPKO—to what extent Ebola remains a threat to peace and stability. Depending on the conclusions drawn, related issues will be deciding what is required for UNMIL’s force structure and the peacekeeping operation’s drawdown.

Options

There are essentially two main options for the Council with respect to UNMIL, both of which are largely dependent upon the analyses of DPKO and the Council regarding the current and projected threat to peace and stability posed by Ebola:    

  • if it is determined that insufficient progress has been made in mitigating the Ebola threat, then the Council could decide to further postpone drawdown of UNMIL (4,299 military, 115 military observers and 1405 police deployed as of 31 January out of 4,811 military and 1,795 police authorised); or
  • if it is determined that Ebola no longer presents a significant threat to peace and stability in Liberia, then the Council could decide to resume UNMIL’s phased drawdown as outlined in resolution 2066, which would entail a reduction to approximately 3,750 military personnel by July.

As the Council stated in resolution 2190, the “modalities” of resuming the phased drawdown could also need adjusting in light of the upcoming update. In other words, the Council recognised the Ebola outbreak may also affect how UNMIL draws down.

Given that the Ebola outbreak exposed several systemic problems in Liberia, an additional option would be for the Council to stress the need for training and competency in civil-military relations and human rights among the armed forces; the development of national regulatory framework for arms and ammunition; and for increasing the capacity of the border control force and national police.

Council and Wider Dynamics

The Ebola outbreak has had a considerable impact on the Council’s approach to Liberia. The policymaking momentum has shifted—at least temporarily—from a scheduled drawdown of UNMIL and a probable phasing out of sanctions toward maintaining the force levels of UNMIL and retaining sanctions measures. In resolution 2190, however, the Council clearly signalled its intention to continue the drawdown of UNMIL once the health crisis subsided. Thus, as the intensity of the Ebola outbreak diminishes in Liberia, it is probable that Council members will eventually revert to earlier policy positions on UNMIL. Assuming DPKO’s assessment of Ebola’s threat to peace and stability is in line with what the latest WHO data regarding declining transmission rates apparently suggest, it seems likely there will be broad support in the Council for resuming UNMIL’s drawdown. Under this scenario, what would remain unclear are the specific adjustments to “modalities” DPKO and the Council would deem necessary to adjust the three-phase process outlined in resolution 2066 in light of Ebola’s impact on the country. Some members may also insist that the systemic problems in Liberia that came into sharp relief in the context of the Ebola crisis be taken into consideration when formulating the concept of the drawdown.

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
15 December 2014 S/RES/2190 This was a resolution extending the mandate of UNMIL until 30 September 2015 and adding a good offices role for the Special Representative and a mandate for UNMIL to provide electoral assistance.
21 July 2014 S/RES/2166 This resolution condemned the downing of Malaysia Airline flight 17 and called for an investigation of the crash.
9 December 2014 S/RES/2188 This was a resolution on Liberia that renewed the arms embargo on non-state actors, targeted travel ban, mandate of the Panel of Experts and the asset freeze on Charles Taylor, his family and associates.
Security Council Meeting Records
12 November 2014 S/PV.7310 This was a briefing on UNMIL.
Secretary-General’s Reports
15 August 2014 S/2014/598 This was a report of the Secretary-General on UNMIL.
Sanctions Committee Documents
19 November 2014 S/2014/831 This was the final report of the Liberia Panel of Experts.
Useful Additional Resources

Ebola Situation Report, WHO, 18 February 2015.

Martin Sajdik, “How to Stop the Next Pandemic”, US News and World Report, 5 February 2015.