Expected Council Action
In December, the Council is expected to receive a briefing from Farid Zarif, the Special Representative and head of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). Ambassador Olof Skoog (Sweden), Chair of the Liberia configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), is also expected to brief.
Key Recent Developments
Liberia is in the midst of two major transitions: the election of a new government and the withdrawal of UNMIL by the end of March 2018 after more than 14 years in the country.
On 10 October, presidential and legislative elections were held. Twenty candidates contested in the presidential race to succeed President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, whose second term expires in January 2018. The winner will be the first to assume the office since the end of the war in a change of president through a democratic election. No candidate secured a majority, requiring a run-off election between the top two finishers: George Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change, who received 38.4 percent of the vote, and Liberia’s current vice-president, Joseph Boakai, who received 28.8 percent. National, regional and international observers determined that despite some difficulties, the polls had been credible and well conducted.
Weah, a former international football star, was the runner-up to Johnson Sirleaf in the 2005 presidential race. His running mate for vice-president, Jewel Taylor—the former wife of convicted war criminal Charles Taylor—has created some concerns. Johnson Sirleaf’s failure to endorse Boakai, her vice-president for 12 years, caused speculation that she favoured other candidates.
Third-place runner-up Charles Brumskine, who received 9.6 percent of the vote, filed a challenge with the National Elections Commission (NEC), alleging “massive systematic irregularities and fraud”. His challenge was supported by Boakai’s Unity Party, which accused Johnson Sirleaf of interfering in the process, and was also backed by the All Liberian Party. On 6 November, the day before the runoff election, the Supreme Court ruled that the runoff should be suspended until the NEC completes an investigation into the charges. On 24 November, the NEC ruled that there was not sufficient evidence to support the fraud claims and that irregularities did not affect the results. Boakai’s Unity Party and Brumskine’s Liberty Party filed an appeal with the Supreme Court on 27 November.
The situation has sparked international concerns about whether the challenges can be resolved and the runoff can be held before Johnson Sirleaf’s constitutionally mandated term ends in January. On 10 November, the AU Liaison Office in Liberia, the Office of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission in Liberia, and UNMIL issued a joint statement, calling on all parties to complete the ongoing motions and conclude the electoral process “without undue delay”. On 14 November, the EU delegation to Liberia and EU member states with embassies in Liberia (France, Germany, Sweden and the UK) similarly encouraged the conclusion of the complaint process “without unnecessary delay.” A 15 November press release by the US embassy in Monrovia noted, “No accredited Liberian, regional, or international group suggested that the cumulative anomalies observed reflect systemic issues sufficient to undermine the fundamental integrity of the electoral process”. Council members issued a press statement on 22 November, calling for the resolution of disputes and pending litigation with a view to permit the timely conclusion of the electoral process.
Other developments in recent months included the Council’s adoption of a presidential statement on 24 July expressing support for the Liberian peacebuilding plan. The statement further encouraged the engagement of donors and the international community more broadly to address capacity gaps that were identified by a mapping exercise of the UN Country Team (UNCT) in order to execute the plan. Council members last met on Liberia in consultations on 23 August, when Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations El Ghassim Wane briefed on preparations for the elections.
Developments in the Peacebuilding Commission
The PBC’s Liberia configuration last met on 21 November. Zarif provided an update on the electoral process, while UNMIL Deputy Special Representative and Resident Coordinator Yacoub El Hillo, along with the Executive Coordinator of the UNDP’s Multi-Partner Trust Fund Office, Jennifer Topping, briefed on a multi-partner trust fund that is being developed for Liberia. Also participating through video teleconference were Liberia’s Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs and Deputy Minister of Finance and Development Planning, who, inter alia, noted a review mechanism for Liberia’s peacebuilding plan had been established.
Human Rights-Related Developments
Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour visited Liberia from 1 to 3 August. According to a statement issued by Gilmour on 4 August, an agreement was signed with the government during his visit for the opening of a UN Human Rights Office in early 2018 to conduct human rights monitoring and reporting and to provide technical assistance to state institutions, the Independent National Commission for Human Rights, civil society, and other partners. The statement also stressed the need for the government to address “the appalling frequency of rape”, including of young girls, and discrimination and abuse of lesbian, gay and transgender people and people with disabilities.
Key Issues and Options
Concluding the electoral process ahead of the 22 January 2018 expiration of President Johnson Sirleaf’s second term is a key issue.
Ensuring a smooth transition following the drawdown of UNMIL is another key issue. This includes how to address the UNCT’s capacity and financial requirements for its role in implementing Liberia’s peacebuilding plan and ensuring coordinated efforts by other international partners in Liberia. Tasks that loom ahead related to factors that have been identified as potential risks and root causes of past conflict include: extending government services beyond Monrovia, continuing to professionalise security services, increasing access to justice, and addressing issues of land rights and reconciliation.
The Council may monitor developments in the electoral process and exert further pressure if necessary. Regarding the broader transition from UNMIL, one option is for the Council to signal support over the coming months for an enhanced Resident Coordinator’s Office, which would possess adequate political capacities while encouraging the PBC to focus on mobilising support for continuing peacebuilding needs.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Members appear frustrated over the hold-up in resolving electoral complaints, especially after observers determined the elections were conducted credibly, and thus irregularities would not have affected the overall results.
More broadly, Liberia is being perceived as a test for the UN system in conducting more effective transitions and fulfilling the Secretary-General’s “sustaining peace” approach. A number of members view this as an opportunity for the PBC to show it can play a constructive role. Skoog, as the PBC chair for its Liberia configuration, has committed to advocacy efforts to help raise the estimated $130 million needed over the next two years for peacebuilding activities. As part of its current role on the PBC and as a Council member, Sweden has promoted additional Council attention on Liberia, collaborating, for example, with the US, the penholder on Liberia, in proposing the Council’s July presidential statement.
There appears to be a disconnect between discussion in New York, such as the wide support for Liberia’s peacebuilding plan, and fatigue among Liberian donors who feel the government has been too dependent on aid.
The US is the penholder on Liberia.
UN DOCUMENTS ON LIBERIA
|Security Council Resolution|
|23 December 2016 S/RES/2333||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNMIL for a final period until 30 March 2018.|
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|24 July 2017 S/PRST/2017/11||This was a presidential statement on the Liberia peacebuilding plan and upcoming presidential elections.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|22 November 2017 SC/13084||This press statement was on the Liberian electoral process.|
|Security Council Letter|
|4 April 2017 S/2017/282||This was a letter from the Secretary-General transmitting the Liberia Peacebuilding Plan.|