Expected Council Action
The mandate of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) expires on 31 December. The Council is expected to hold consultations and subsequently adopt a resolution on UNMIL in line with the Secretary-General’s recommendations contained in his report on the assessment mission to Liberia. Briefings by DPKO and the Peace Building Commission are likely.
Key Recent Developments
By the end of December, when the current UNMIL mandate expires, the Council will consider options for the possible withdrawal of UNMIL and the nature of the future UN presence in the country. The UN has been gradually disengaging from Liberia for several years, though this process was disrupted at the height of the Ebola epidemic in 2014 and part of 2015. In the context of this disengagement, the past year has been particularly noteworthy because of several developments. In May, the Council lifted the remaining sanctions on Liberia, terminating the sanctions regime, which had been in place for 13 years. On 30 June, UNMIL further downsized and formally transferred security responsibilities to the Liberian authorities in line with resolution 2239 adopted in September 2015. In light of UNMIL’s mandate expiry in September, the Council adopted a technical rollover resolution, renewing the mission’s mandate until the end of the year. This allowed time for the Secretary-General to provide the Council with recommendations from the assessment mission as mandated by resolution 2239.
The main objective of the assessment mission was to provide the Council with recommendations on the possible withdrawal of UNMIL and the evaluation of the capacity of Liberian authorities to ensure stability and security on the ground. El Ghassim Wane, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, led the 11-day mission, which concluded on 8 September. The mission’s team met with representatives of the government, civil society, the security apparatus, religious communities and the UN country team, among others. On 7 September, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf met with Wane and other members of the mission. Sirleaf acknowledged that the main challenge for Liberia will be holding “a free, fair, transparent, credible and violence-free presidential election in 2017″. She emphasised that Liberia would need some assistance for the elections but that despite some challenges, the Liberian authorities were ready to fulfil their security responsibilities. Earlier this year, Sirleaf and Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara appealed to the Secretary-General 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.
On 15 November, the Secretary-General published the findings of the assessment mission. The report noted that the overall security situation in Liberia improved significantly over the 13 years of UNSMIL’s deployment and that there is no imminent threat to Liberia’s security. However, the Secretary-General recognised that there are still a number of challenges facing Liberia. The most prominent ones are the lack of progress on security sector reform, the rule of law and national reconciliation.
In the light of the findings of the assessment mission, the Secretary-General’s main recommendation to the Council was to keep Liberia on its agenda under Chapter VII of the Charter. This would allow time to test the capacities of Liberia’s authorities to maintain stability in the country, especially in the context of the 2017 elections. Nevertheless, the Secretary-General provided the Council with three options: withdrawing UNMIL and establishing a successor peacekeeping mission with military and police advisory capacity that would be in operation by the 2017 elections; retaining UNMIL with its current mandate and armed components; or further drawing down UNSMIL by March, leaving only 28 military personnel and two formed police units, providing deterrence and standby support for the Liberian authorities during the elections.
The effects of the Ebola epidemic and the decline in commodity prices have had a negative impact on Liberia’s economy during 2014 and 2015. On 2 November, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projected that Liberia’s economy would contract by 0.5 percent during 2016, while 3 percent growth is expected next year. The IMF observed that the economic slowdown affected the government’s budget, with revenues falling short of planned targets. The IMF projects that the pressure on the budget will continue in 2017, given the increased expenditures resulting from Liberia’s takeover of security responsibilities and from organising the presidential elections.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 14 October, UNMIL and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report titled “Addressing Impunity for Rape in Liberia”, based on information gathered by UN human rights officers between January 2015 and last March. The document indicates a high number of rapes reported in all 15 counties across the country, with a total of 803 cases in 2015, and finds that impunity prevails. Rape victims are not able to obtain justice as a result of institutional weaknesses, corruption, lack of due diligence by the government and logistical and financial constraints. The report provides a number of recommendations to the government, national and international stakeholders and the UN.
The most imminent issue for the Council is the future of UNMIL, including options for a further drawdown and the subsequent termination of the mission.
Maintaining stability in the country remains an issue, especially in the aftermath of the 30 June transfer of security responsibilities from UNMIL to Liberian authorities.
Looking ahead, an issue for the Council could be a potential for destabilisation in the lead-up to and during the presidential elections in late 2017, and subsequent democratic handover.
The Council could adopt a resolution that would adjust UNMIL’s armed component in line with an option provided by the Secretary-General in his report on the assessment mission.
Another option would be to terminate UNMIL followed by the establishment of a successor mission in Liberia.
The elected members, while in favour of UNMIL drawdown, tend to be more cautious than the P3, especially the US, which seem to be more assertive in pursuing a rapid drawdown. Earlier this year, the US led a successful effort to terminate Liberia’s sanctions regime when the Council adopted resolution 2288. Given the potential for violence and Liberians’ overall low confidence in country’s security structures, some members seem to believe that UNMIL’s presence would be useful prior to and during the 2017 elections. While the report of the assessment mission and its recommendations will provide the basis for deliberations on the next UNMIL resolution, the US is likely to continue to guide the negotiations process. Even if some members have concerns regarding the process, it is unlikely that they would challenge the lead of the US, the penholder on Liberia.
The prevailing view among Council members is that UNMIL’s withdrawal is imminent, given the relatively stable security situation in Liberia. Further reinforcing this view is the recent transfer of security responsibilities to Liberian authorities in June as demonstrated by the lack of any major incidents following the transition. During the past several years, the Council has clearly demonstrated its willingness to continue the gradual drawdown of the mission with the aim of eventual withdrawal. The DPKO has also held the view that the drawdown of the mission is overdue.
|Security Council Resolutions|
|14 September 2016 S/RES/2308||This was a resolution which extended UNMIL’s mandate, in its current configuration, for an additional three months.|
|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.|
|15 November 2016 S/2016/968||This was a report on the assessment mission to Liberia.|
|12 August 2016 S/2016/706||This was the report of the Secretary-General on UNMIL.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|14 September 2016 S/PV.7770||This was a vote on resolution 2288.|