Expected Council Action
The mandate of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) expires on 30 September. The Council is expected to adopt a resolution in September renewing the mission’s mandate in its current configuration for a period of three months, pending the recommendations of the Secretary-General’s assessment mission due in November.
Key Recent Developments
Over the course of the year, the UN has continued its gradual disengagement from Liberia. In May, the Council lifted its remaining sanctions, an arms embargo on non-state actors, and terminated the Liberia sanctions regime, which had been in place since 2003. As mandated by resolution 2239, on 30 June, UNMIL formally transferred security responsibilities to Liberian authorities.
Resolution 2239 also called on the Secretary-General to conduct an assessment mission to Liberia and provide the Council with recommendations by November on the future of the UN mission. By the end of the year, the Council is likely to evaluate the effects of UNMIL’s drawdown and decide whether and when to withdraw UNMIL, and on the transition to another form of UN presence in Liberia.
At the height of its engagement in Liberia following the end of the conflict in 2003, UNMIL numbered more than 15,000 uniform personnel. Subsequent to the 30 June transfer of security responsibilities, UNMIL’s presence was reduced to 1,235 military and 507 police personnel. This relatively small UN contingent will continue to support, within its capacities, the Liberian government in protecting civilians should the security situation deteriorate. Furthermore, until at least mid-2017, the quick reaction force within the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire will stand ready to provide support to UNMIL in case of a serious threat to peace and stability in Liberia.
The security situation has remained relatively stable following the transition of security responsibilities to Liberian authorities. Leading up to the transfer, there was noticeable anxiety among the general population regarding UNMIL’s drawdown. Some in the political opposition and in civil society groups have continued to express concerns about the readiness of Liberian authorities for the transition, and especially for ensuring security during the presidential and legislative elections scheduled for October 2017.
The Liberian government has already started to prepare for the 2017 legislative and presidential elections. Current Vice President Joseph Boakai and opposition candidate Alexander Cummings have declared their intent to run for the presidency. In addition, 23 political parties have been registered, while more than 20 other political parties await approval to register.
Following the end of the conflict in 2003, Liberia held presidential elections in 2005 and 2011, and current President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected both times. There will be no incumbent at the 2017 elections because the Constitution bars the president from serving more than two terms in office. Sirleaf stated on multiple occasions that she would not pursue a run for the presidency in 2017. In July, with her support, Sirleaf’s Unity Party formally nominated Boakai as its candidate for the 2017 elections. Since its deployment in 2003, UNMIL has played a crucial role in all presidential and legislative elections. The 2017 elections are potentially risky, given that they will mark the first democratic handover of the presidency at a time when the Liberian authorities will be in sole charge of providing security in the country.
The fallout from a May report exposing bribes to Liberian officials by a UK mining company has continued to impact the political climate in Liberia. The report, published by the NGO Global Witness, exposed alleged corruption on the part of a number of senior government officials, including Alex Tyler, the speaker of the House of Representatives. Following an investigation launched by Sirleaf, several of those involved, including Tyler, have been arrested and indicted on various charges of corruption. The representatives in the legislature remain split between those who support Tyler and those who demand his resignation. The corruption scandal has also negatively affected the relationship between the executive and the legislature and has prevented progress on various reforms.
On 25 August, Council members held consultations on UNMIL, with a briefing by Farid Zarif, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Liberia. In his briefing, Zarif devoted significant attention to the 30 June transition of security responsibilities. While commending the government on achieving this important milestone, Zarif called on the Liberian government to implement outstanding legislative and institutional reforms. Zarif noted that UNMIL started adjusting its own engagement following the security transition which has necessitated a review of the nature and form of the future support and cooperation between Liberia and UNMIL. In this regard, Zarif informed members that there are ongoing consultations between the UN and Liberian government on the revised institutional framework for such cooperation.
Maintaining stability in Liberia remains the core issue for the Council, given the ongoing drawdown of the mission and the 30 June transfer of security responsibilities from UNMIL to Liberian authorities, and the potential for destabilisation leading up to or during the 2017 presidential elections.
The most likely option for the Council is to extend the mission’s mandate in its current configuration for three months, as recommended by the Secretary-General in his latest report on UNMIL. This would ensure the continuity of the mission pending the Secretary-General’s recommendations based on the assessment mission. Resolution 2239 requires the Council to 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”.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Despite the Council’s unanimous view that the UN mission should continue its drawdown towards an eventual withdrawal, some members seem to be wary regarding the timing of such actions. The overall security situation on the ground has remained relatively stable, even after the transition of security responsibilities from UNMIL to the Liberian authorities.
The Liberian government, however, is facing budgetary deficits that are almost certain to affect the allocation of funds to the transition process. In addition, a number of legislative and institutional reforms have yet to be implemented. Crucial legislation on police and immigration services and on firearms and ammunition control is still awaiting adoption. The government seems to be confident in its ability to maintain control of the security situation, but there is growing concern among Liberians regarding UNMIL’s drawdown, given the potentially destabilising effects of the 2017 presidential elections. The P3 in general and the US in particular seem supportive of a more rapid drawdown of UNMIL. The US was also one of the main proponents of terminating Liberia’s sanctions regime in May. The elected members seem to be in favour of UNMIL’s drawdown in principle, 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 regarding possible termination of the mission.
The US is the penholder on Liberia.
|Security Council Resolutions|
|25 May 2016 S/RES/2288||terminated the Liberia sanctions regime.|
|17 September 2015 S/RES/2239||authorised a further drawdown of UNMIL to 1,240 military personnel and 606 police by 30 June 2016.|
|12 August 2016 S/2016/706||was on UNMIL.|