Expected Council Action
In May, the Council expects a briefing by Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko (Ukraine), chair of the 1521 Liberia Sanctions Committee, on the final report of the Panel of Experts and other sanctions-related matters, followed by consultations.
Sanctions measures—including an arms embargo on non-state actors—expire on 2 June, and the mandate of the Panel of Experts expires on 2 July.
The Council is expected to review and possibly terminate the sanctions regime.
Key Recent Developments
With the Ebola epidemic now contained, despite some new cases in April, the Council and the Liberian authorities have directed their attention towards the imminent drawdown of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). Resolution 2239, adopted in September 2015, authorised a further reduction in the number of UNMIL’s personnel and mandated that the transition of security responsibilities from UNMIL to the Liberian authorities be completed by 30 June. Parallel to the drawdown of UNMIL, the Council took action to ease the sanctions in September 2015, when it adopted resolution 2237 which renewed the arms embargo on non-state actors but terminated the asset freeze and travel ban. The resolution also reaffirmed the readiness of the Council to readjust or possibly terminate sanctions “in light of the stability in Liberia and the subregion”.
On 17 March, Special Representative of the Secretary-General Farid Zarif briefed the Council on the situation in Liberia, including transition-related activities. Though he said that some in the political opposition and civil society question the country’s readiness for the transition, Zarif was confident that Liberia would meet all transition targets set by UNMIL and the government by the deadline. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has repeatedly said that the authorities are ready to assume security responsibilities related to the transition. However, both Sirleaf and Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara appealed to the Secretary-General in January to maintain the UN peacekeeping presence in both countries pending the conclusion of the 2017 presidential elections in Liberia, given the potentially destabilising impact of the vote.
The implementation of the transition plan by Liberian authorities has been uneven due to funding difficulties and the inability of the authorities to adopt compulsory legislation on security sector reform and arms and ammunition control, among other factors. Because of the global decline in commodity prices, the Liberian economy suffered considerable losses this year. This negatively affected the government’s budget and consequently the funds allocated for the transition. Regarding the major gap in funding, Zarif appealed to bilateral and international partners to provide support for this and other aspects of the transition.
Progress on the legislative front was made on 17 March when the legislature ratified the law on police and immigration. On 13 April, the legislature approved a land authority act, which is supposed to provide a basis for land reform. In addition, the act would enable the creation of the body charged with governing all land-related matters, a task previously undertaken by several different ministries. However, a crucial law on firearms and ammunition control has yet to be adopted.
A surge in terrorist activity in the region in the past couple of months raised concerns about the security situation in Liberia. In the last six months, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb orchestrated attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso and, on 13 March, in neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire. Following the attacks in Côte d’Ivoire, Sirleaf went to Abidjan, where she and Ouattara held talks on security issues. Both leaders stressed the need for coordinated regional and international counterterrorism efforts, while Ouattara also advocated advancing a regional approach through the Economic Community of West African States.
Though the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Liberia free of Ebola in January, new cases of the virus were reported in April. Guinea also witnessed a surge in new cases of Ebola. Working with the authorities of Liberia and Guinea, WHO determined the existence of an epidemiological link between the flare-ups in both countries. As a result, the Liberian authorities have activated emergency response mechanisms to contain the spread of the virus while hundreds of people in the southern regions of Guinea have been given the experimental Ebola vaccine.
Developments in the Sanctions Committee
On 11 April, the 1521 Liberia Sanctions Committee held informal consultations. The meeting was primarily focused on the final report of the Panel of Experts. Issues that were discussed included the failure of Liberia to adopt arms and ammunition control legislation as well as risk factors posed by the surge in terrorism in the region and Liberia’s lack of capacity to deal with this phenomenon. On a positive note, Council members took note of the adoption of the police and immigration act.
The primary issue for the Council will be to examine the usefulness of sanctions in Liberia and consider further modifying or terminating the sanctions regime.
Given the imminent drawdown of UNMIL and the transition of security responsibilities to Liberian authorities on 30 June, a prominent issue for the Council will be maintaining stability in the country.
In light of the recent attacks in the region and neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire, the risk posed by terrorism is an emerging issue.
A likely option for the Council is to terminate the current sanctions regime, which currently only includes an arms embargo on non-state actors.
The Council could also decide to keep the sanctions regime unchanged for a limited time period or pending the successful transition of security responsibilities from UNMIL to the Liberian government.
In the second half of 2015, the Council started taking a more active approach towards the drawdown of UNMIL and further easing of sanctions. These processes were put on hold during 2014 and the first half of 2015 because of the Ebola epidemic. In September 2015, the Council showed its determination to ease the sanctions regime and authorise a further drawdown of UNMIL by unanimously adopting resolutions 2237 and 2239 respectively. By adopting these resolutions, the Council signalled its desire to gradually end the UN’s current role in Liberia and ease sanctions, given that the country has been relatively stable for the past 13 years.
The P3 in general and the US in particular seem to be keen on terminating the sanctions regime, despite the fact that while making some progress, Liberia failed to fully implement a number of reforms and legislative adjustments recommended by the Panel. The majority of the elected members also seem to favour further easing or terminating sanctions, though some E10 members tend to be more cautious in this regard. Despite this, it seems unlikely that elected members would directly oppose a resolution to terminate the sanctions, should the US decide to end the regime. There is also a prevailing view in the Council that the regular problems that the Panel has been identifying in its reports are issues less of security than of governance, for which sanctions are not viewed as an appropriate tool. In the regional context, the decision to end sanctions and drawdown the UN mission in Côte d’Ivoire further reinforces the view of the Council that the region is relatively stable.
The US is the penholder on Liberia, and Ukraine serves as 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.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|17 March 2016 S/PV.7649||This was a briefing on the Secretary-General’s UNMIL report.|