Expected Council Action
In April, the Council will discuss the Secretary-General’s final report on the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). There may be a civil society briefer. Ambassador Olof Skoog (Sweden) is also expected to brief as the chair of the country configuration on Liberia of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC).
Key Recent Developments
The Liberian Supreme Court ruled on 7 December 2017 that evidence of violations during the 10 October presidential and legislative elections was insufficient to have affected results. This cleared the way for holding the presidential run-off election, which was held on 26 December. George Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change defeated Vice-President Joseph Boakai of the Unity Party by a margin of 61.5 percent to 38.5 percent. Weah is a former international football star who had previously run unsuccessfully for president and had been a senator since 2014. Having campaigned on ending corruption, he did well among young people and the poor.
On 22 January, Weah was sworn in as president, succeeding Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, whom he thanked for bringing peace to Liberia after her election in 2005 following Liberia’s civil war. The handover represented the first time in over 70 years—since 1944—that power was transferred peacefully between democratically-elected leaders in Liberia.
The last uniformed contingent of UNMIL—a Nigerian formed police unit—withdrew from Liberia on 16 March ahead of the mission’s closure on 30 March. From 22 to 23 March, international partners of Liberia gathered in Monrovia to take part in a series of events to mark the conclusion of UNMIL’s mandate after more than a 15-year presence. Speaking at the “Liberia Moment” conference on 23 March, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohamed highlighted that despite its progress, Liberia still faced very serious challenges of, inter alia, poverty, inequality and discrimination that had to be met through inclusive sustainable development.
Developments in the Peacebuilding Commission
Skoog chaired a meeting of the PBC’s Liberia configuration on 13 March, during which it received briefings from, among others, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohamed and Special Representative Farid Zarif via video teleconference. Mohamed stressed the importance of a strengthened resident coordinator’s office for maintaining the UN’s good offices role following the handover of peacebuilding responsibilities to the UN Country Team. She highlighted the importance of the Liberia Multi-Partner Trust Fund, established as a pooled funding mechanism to reduce fragmentation and duplication of assistance to achieve the sustainable development goals.
Liberian Minister of Finance and Development Samuel Tweah also addressed the PBC, describing cost-saving measures that are underway, including the elimination of “ghost” salary payments and reducing civil servant salaries. The measures are intended to increase resources for President Weah’s priorities—improving roads, agriculture, education and youth development. Tweah and Liberian Permanent Representative Lewis Brown noted that some Liberians had apprehensions about UNMIL’s departure, such as the anticipated economic ramifications of the mission’s withdrawal. The session also included representatives of the Economic Community of West African States, the UN Country Team, and the diplomatic community in Liberia. In his remarks, Skoog emphasised that the PBC’s Liberia configuration would continue to bring together all relevant stakeholders to follow developments, work to mobilise resources, identify gaps in funding, and contribute to coherence in the activities of donors.
Skoog also attended the “Liberia Moment” conference.
Human Rights-Related Developments
The special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, visited Liberia from 5 to 9 March, where he met with government authorities including Liberia’s president George Weah and civil society organisations, journalists, academics, students and lawyers. In a 9 March statement, Kaye said that Liberia needs to “lock in and expand the gains made in the years since the civil war” and noted “the deep economic problems the country faces and the legitimate demands of the Liberian people for an improvement in the economy and basic institutions of governance”. The special rapporteur will present a report on his visit, including recommendations, to the Human Rights Council at its 41st session in June 2019.
Key Issues and Options
Members are expected to praise Liberia and the UN for the successful conclusion of UNMIL, which has been present since 2003, as well as commend Liberia’s successful elections and transfer of power. Despite these positive developments, challenges facing Liberia include poverty, with more than half the population still living on less than $1 a day; promoting economic development; and the new government’s ability to meet citizens’ expectations following the campaign. Underlying causes of the civil war and repercussions of the conflict also remain, including the need to continue decentralisation reforms, address land rights issues and reconciliation, and review the constitution.
Liberia is seen as a key test case for the UN’s new “sustaining peace” approach for more effective peacebuilding and greater focus on conflict prevention. This includes avoiding a significant drop-off in financial support and political attention after a peace operation withdraws, while improving coherence at the operational level among the UN Country Team and other international partners. Liberia is further viewed as a test for the PBC to become a reliable intergovernmental body to support such transitions and complement the Security Council. Given the UN Country Team’s financial and capacity constraints, the PBC has committed itself to mobilise the resources needed to carry out over the next two years a peacebuilding plan that the Council requested and endorsed.
As has been done when other peacekeeping operations have ended, the Council may adopt a presidential statement congratulating Liberia and the UN for the successful conclusion of UNMIL. Such a statement may further:
- call on the government to address remaining challenges, such as decentralisation, good governance, land rights, reconciliation and the constitutional reviews;
- welcome the engagement of the PBC in seeking to address capacity gaps for implementing the Liberia peacebuilding plan;
- encourage donors to contribute to the peacebuilding plan and to the Liberia Multi-Partner Trust Fund;
- express support for the continued engagement of the UN Country Team and the strengthened capacities of the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in support of Liberia’s efforts to consolidate its gains and to promote sustainable development;
- encourage coordination between the UN Country Team and other international partners; and
- reiterate that the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel should make available its good offices to the government and UN resident coordinator.
After almost 15 years, the closure of UNMIL will be welcomed by Council members. As noted above, many members now view Liberia as an important test case for the Secretary-General’s focus on prevention and sustaining peace, and for carrying out better transitions from peace operations to UN country team settings to reduce the dependency on crisis management and more costly peacekeeping missions. The Council demonstrated this greater emphasis when it requested for the first time a peacebuilding plan for Liberia in its final renewal of UNMIL’s mandate in resolution 2333 in December 2016. Members have been positive about Sweden’s efforts in its role as the PBC’s country configuration chair in seeking to raise awareness of outstanding needs and support for Liberia’s transition. As a current member of the Council, it has also been able to provide substantial inputs into Council decisions on Liberia.
The US is the penholder on Liberia.
UN Documents on Liberia
|Security Council Resolutions|
|23 December 2016 S/RES/2333||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNMIL for a final period until 30 March 2018.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|24 July 2017 S/PRST/2017/11||This was a presidential statement on the Liberia peacebuilding plan and upcoming presidential elections.|
|Security Council Letters|
|4 April 2017 S/2017/282||This was a letter from the Secretary-General transmitting the Liberia Peacebuilding Plan.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|8 January 2018 SC/13154||This was a press statement congratulating Liberia for the peaceful conduct of the 26 December 2017 presidential runoff election.|
|22 November 2017 SC/13084||This press statement was on the Liberian electoral process.|