Expected Council Action
In August, 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 report, which is due 15 August, and recent developments. Ambassador Olof Skoog (Sweden), chair of the Liberia configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, may brief as well.
Key Recent Developments
During the past several months, the Council’s discussions on Liberia were mainly focused on the imminent drawdown of UNMIL. In September 2015, the Council adopted resolution 2239, which in addition to extending UNMIL’s mandate until September 2016, set up guidelines for the continuing drawdown of UNMIL and set 30 June as the deadline for the Liberian authorities to take over security responsibilities from the UN mission. In addition, the resolution called for the Secretary-General to conduct an assessment mission to Liberia and to provide the Council with his recommendations by November 2016. In the upcoming months, the Council is likely to evaluate the effects of UNMIL’s drawdown and ultimately decide on the mission’s withdrawal, as well as its transition to another form of UN presence in the country.
In addition to the ongoing drawdown of UNMIL, the Council had been gradually easing sanctions on Liberia during the past several years. In September 2015, the Council adopted resolution 2237, which modified the sanctions regime by terminating the asset freeze and travel ban measures. In adopting resolution 2288 on 25 May, the Council lifted the remaining sanctions on Liberia, an arms embargo on non-state actors, and effectively terminated the Liberia sanctions regime, which had been active since 2003. Following the adoption, the Liberian representative noted that despite some contesting views about their usefulness, the sanctions played an important role in the post-conflict recovery and stabilisation of Liberia.
On 4 June, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) held its annual summit in Senegal. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected the next chairperson of the organisation, succeeding Senegalese president Macky Sall. Following the election, Sirleaf outlined some of the main priorities during her leadership of the organisation, which include consolidating peace and security in the region and ensuring that ECOWAS members boost their efforts in fighting the surge of terrorism in the region. Sirleaf will also seek to promote economic development, including financial stability and greater trade integration between the members of ECOWAS.
On 30 June, UNMIL formally handed over security responsibilities to Liberian authorities. Both the Liberian authorities and the UN characterised the transition as one of the most important milestones in recent Liberian history, given that UNMIL had ensured security in the country since 2003. Following the transition, the UN mission will still maintain 1,240 military and 606 police personnel, as mandated by resolution 2239. Although Liberia did not meet some of the benchmarks set by the UN before the transition, Sirleaf expressed her confidence that Liberian security forces are indeed ready to assume security responsibilities.
Both Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Zarif welcomed the transition of security responsibilities in Liberia. In addition to hailing the government for this milestone, Ban recognised the important role played by regional and sub-regional organisations and bilateral partners in supporting the consolidation of peace, security and stability in the country. Zarif said UNMIL would still maintain its presence in Liberia and noted that the Council would ultimately decide on the future of the mission based on the Secretary-General’s recommendations of the assessment mission in November.
Some in the political opposition and civil society groups have been vocal in opposing UNMIL’s drawdown. They claim that Liberian authorities are still not ready for the transition and for ensuring security during the upcoming presidential elections in 2017.
On 9 June, the World Health Organization declared Liberia Ebola-free for the fourth time since the initial outbreak, following the most recent flare-up in new cases reported in April.
UNMIL played an important role in the presidential elections in 2005 and 2011 when Sirleaf was twice elected. Given that Sirleaf will not run for re-election in 2017, Liberia will undergo its first democratic handover of the presidency at a time when Liberian authorities will be exclusively entrusted with providing security in the country. Considering these circumstances, the 2017 presidential elections could potentially present a risk factor. In January, Sirleaf and Côte d’Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara sent a letter to the Secretary-General requesting that UNMIL’s mandate be extended until after the elections in 2017.
The most prominent issue for the Council will be maintaining stability in Liberia, given the ongoing drawdown of the mission and the 30 June transfer of security responsibilities from UNMIL to Liberian authorities.
Following the recent surge in violent attacks in the region, the threat posed by terrorism is an increasingly pressing issue for the Council.
Looking ahead, the potential for destabilisation during and following the 2017 presidential elections could be an issue.
Although UNMIL’s mandate does not expire until 30 September, the Council could adopt a resolution that would extend the mission’s mandate in its current configuration until the end of 2016, pending the Secretary-General’s recommendations based on the assessment mission due by 15 November. Resolution 2239 requires that the Council review by 15 December “Liberia’s overall capacity to ensure security and stability after the conclusion of the security transition on 30 June 2016 and security conditions on the ground, to consider the possible withdrawal of UNMIL and transition to a future United Nations presence”.
Alternatively, the Council could take no action in August.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Following the containment of the Ebola epidemic earlier this year and the decision to terminate the sanctions regime in May, the Council seemed to shift its focus exclusively towards the ongoing drawdown of UNMIL and eventual withdrawal of the mission. The Council showed its commitment towards scaling down the UN’s presence in Liberia when it adopted resolution 2239, which mandated the transition of security responsibilities to Liberian authorities and the further drawdown of UNMIL.
Even though the Council seems unanimous in its view that the UN mission should continue its drawdown towards eventual withdrawal, some members seem to be more cautious regarding the timing of such decisions. While it assumed security responsibilities in June, the Liberian government is facing budgetary shortages that are likely to affect the allocation of funds needed for the transition. There are also a number of institutional and legislative reforms that are yet to be implemented. Moreover, there is a growing apprehension among Liberians regarding UNMIL’s drawdown, especially considering the potential destabilising effects of the 2017 presidential elections. The P3 in general and the US in particular seem to be supportive of a more rapid drawdown of UNMIL. The US was also one of the main proponents of terminating Liberia’s sanctions regime this May. The elected members are in principle in favour of an UNMIL drawdown, but more cautious than the P3. However, it seems unlikely that elected members would directly oppose the lead of the US on this issue. The recommendations from the assessment mission, due in November, are likely to influence the course of the Council’s actions towards possible termination of the mission. The US is the penholder on Liberia.
UN Documents on Liberia
|Security Council Resolutions|
|25 May 2016 S/RES/2288||This was a resolution that terminated the Liberia sanctions regime, including remaining arms measures, the mandate of the Panel of Experts and the 1521 Sanctions Committee.|
|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.|
|22 February 2016 S/2016/169||This was a report on UNMIL.|