Expected Council Action
In March, the Council is expecting a briefing from Farid Zarif, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), on the Secretary-General’s midterm report and other recent developments. In addition, Ambassador Olof Skoog (Sweden), chair of the Liberia Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, may brief.
Key Recent Developments
The 2014 Ebola crisis focused the Council’s discussion of Liberia primarily on the effects of the epidemic on the country. With the gradual containment of the epidemic in the last months of 2015, the discussion in the Council has shifted towards the planned drawdown of UNMIL. When it last discussed Liberia in September 2015, the Council adopted resolution 2239, effectively setting 30 June as the date when Liberian authorities should take over security responsibilities from UNMIL. The resolution mandated the continued drawdown of UNMIL to a total of 1,240 military and 606 police personnel by this deadline. Pending the impact on the security situation, the Council could decide on the withdrawal of UNMIL and a transition to another form of UN presence in the country.
Despite the deadline, there are some doubts regarding the capacity of the Liberian authorities to handle the transition within the timeframe. There are a number of legislative reforms in the security sector that the legislature has not passed. The most notable among these are bills on the police, the immigration service and firearms and ammunition control. Moreover, the Liberian government has struggled to secure adequate funding for transition activities in light of the economic slowdown and a drop in global commodity prices. Initially, the government estimated the cost of the transition at $104 million. Later, the government reduced the estimated funding needs to $38 million, without revising any of the set criteria and planned activities. Out of this sum the government could only secure $10 million. The inadequate financial resources for the transition leaves Liberia in a precarious position and possibly dependent on donor contributions.
During the Joint Council of Chiefs and Elders meeting between Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire held in January, the issue of the withdrawal of UNMIL was raised by the Ivorian President, Alassane Ouattara. He said that he would ask the UN Secretary-General to extend UNMIL’s mandate until after Liberia’s elections in 2017. On 29 January, Ouattara and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf sent a joint letter to the Secretary-General containing this request. Following Ouattara’s comments, Liberian defence minister Brownie Samukai reaffirmed the readiness of Liberian security forces for the transition, while guaranteeing that the military will not interfere in the election process or its outcome. However, he noted that an international presence during elections in Liberia would be of great importance, considering the process of handover from one administration to another.
On 14 January, the World Health Organization declared Liberia free of Ebola but cautioned that new outbreaks were still possible. Liberia has been declared Ebola-free on two previous occasions, but the disease returned. However, this is the first time since the outbreak of the epidemic that all three of the most-affected countries (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone) are Ebola-free.
Though limited in scope, the sanctions regime for Liberia remains active. The Council significantly reduced sanctions measures when it adopted resolution 2237 in September 2015. The resolution renewed the arms embargo for non-state actors while terminating the travel ban and asset-freeze measures. On 12 November, US President Barack Obama signed an executive order lifting US sanctions on Liberia, citing the significant progress the country has made.
The most prominent issue for the Council is maintaining stability in Liberia amid the imminent UNMIL drawdown, as well as the possible modification or termination of the sanctions regime.
Risk factors for insecurity in Liberia include: inadequate government regulation of arms and ammunition; a lack of control over insecure border areas; potentially contentious upcoming national elections in neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea; incomplete national reconciliation and transitional justice processes; widespread corruption and a lack of public-sector transparency and accountability; and economic dependence on natural-resource exports. Large-scale agriculture and the extractive industries are recurring sources of social unrest over labour and land issues.
Council members are unlikely to take action on Liberia in March. In light of UNMIL’s upcoming drawdown, Council members could begin their thinking about possible modifications to the mission’s mandate that could be incorporated during the renewal in September.
With no scheduled meetings on UNMIL until September, the Council could also request additional briefings in the months leading up to the start of the transition in June in order to keep abreast of developments on the ground.
Council and Wider Dynamics
With the Ebola epidemic officially contained, the Council seems to be solely focused on the upcoming drawdown of UNMIL. Council members seem to be unanimous in their support for the mission’s drawdown and the transition of security responsibilities to the Liberian authorities. This view was reaffirmed in September 2015, when the Council adopted resolution 2239. Support for the drawdown also comes from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), which has maintained this position for some time now. There seems to be a prevailing view in DPKO that UNMIL’s drawdown is overdue, considering that the mission has lasted more than 13 years and that the country has been relatively stable for several years. DPKO and the Council seem to share the view that there are more urgent conflict situations to which peacekeeping resources could be applied.
With the transition approaching in June, Liberian authorities seem to be confident in their ability to take over security responsibilities from UNMIL. Council members will have the opportunity to get a better understanding of the transition process in August when the regular report of the Secretary-General on UNMIL is expected to be published. Resolution 2239 also requested the Secretary-General to conduct an assessment mission to Liberia and provide recommendations for the Council by November. Council members’ approach to UNMIL’s mandate renewal in September will be contingent on findings in the next Secretary-General’s report, while recommendations from the assessment mission due in November will be instrumental to discussions on possible reconfiguration of the mission.
The US is the penholder on Liberia, and Ukraine is the chair of the 1521 Liberia Sanctions Committee.
|Security Council Resolutions|
|17 September 2015 S/RES/2239||This was a resolution renewing the mandate of UNMIL until 30 September 2016 and continuing the drawdown of UNMIL, to 1,240 military personnel and 606 police personnel by 30 June.|
|2 September 2015 S/RES/2237||This was a resolution that renewed the arms embargo on non-state actors for nine months but terminated the asset freeze and travel ban.|
|22 February 2016 S/2016/169||This was a report on UNMIL.|
Peacebuilding Commission Document
Chairperson’s Summary, 2 December 2015