December 2020 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 November 2020
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Expected Council Action

In December, the Council is expected to adopt a resolution renewing counter-piracy measures off the coast of Somalia that expire on 4 December.

The authorisation for the AU Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) expires on 28 February 2021. The mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) expires on 31 August 2021.

Key Recent Developments

Under a compromise agreement by the five leaders of the federal member states and President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmaajo” that was also approved by Parliament, Somalia is due to hold elections for parliament from 1 to 27 December under a modified indirect system. To hold elections as soon as possible to address the upcoming expiration of both the legislative and executive mandates, the system remains clan-based (with clans’ delegates choosing the members of the lower house of parliament, which in turn will choose the president). More electors will take part in parliamentary elections than ever before: 27,775 delegates from Somalia’s clans, almost twice as many as in the previous election, held in 2016. Under the new agreement, which was announced by the Somali National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC) on 2 October, after the legislative elections conclude in December, the presidential election will be held on 8 February 2021.

The Council was last briefed on Somalia on 23 November. Special Representative and head of UNSOM James Swan and AU Special Representative for Somalia and head of AMISOM Francisco Caetano José Madeira briefed Council members. They were joined by Zainab M. Hassan, founder and chairwoman of Somali Gender Equity Movement (SGEM). Swan welcomed the recent agreement on an election model and called for political consensus to be “preserved and indeed deepened” in the coming weeks. Madeira, among other topics, detailed how AMISOM is assisting electoral security operations. Hassan called for increased participation of women during peacebuilding and detailed the remaining obstacles for Somali women’s participation in Somalia’s economy and political processes.

On 2 November Council members received the annual report on piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia. The report, which covered the period from 1 November 2019 through 31 October, emphasised that COVID-19 had had an impact on all matters surrounding piracy and armed robbery, including the fact that there was less shipping due to decreased demand. In-person coordination meetings, such as the annual plenary session of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, had to be postponed. Capacity-building projects also could not be fully implemented. These projects range from assistance to the Somali government in developing an effective legal framework for ocean governance in conformity with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to Swedish-led training courses on effective search and rescue operations in Somaliland. Perhaps owing partly to the far-reaching impacts of COVID-19, and also to successful suppression operations, there were no incidents of piracy off the coast of Somalia for the first time since the reports began. While good news, the report stresses that the situation is far from stable and encourages continued international cooperation to consolidate security gains made in this area.

Somalia, in particular the Somali Maritime Administration Department, continues to receive significant support—both physically in terms of ships and military personnel and in the form of technical advice for capacity-building—from various UN offices and the international community, especially the Combined Maritime Forces and EU NAVFOR Somalia Operation Atalanta. In recommendations included in the 2 November report, the Secretary-General pointed to the need to address the root causes and drivers of piracy in order to eliminate such practices in the long run.

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 12 November, the Council adopted resolution 2551 with abstentions by China and Russia. The resolution renewed the partial lifting of the arms embargo on Somali security forces. It also made open-ended the humanitarian exemptions to the sanctions regime, which were previously renewed annually. Resolution 2551 also renewed the authorisation for maritime interdiction to enforce the embargo on illicit arms imports and charcoal exports until 15 November 2021 and the mandate of the Somalia Sanctions Committee’s Panel of Experts until 15 December 2021.

Key Issues and Options

Looking ahead, Council members will continue to track closely the progress towards the upcoming elections, the sporadic and tension-filled dialogue between the Somali Federal Government and its member states, and developments on the independent technical assessment on AMISOM and UNSOM that is due on 10 January 2021. All of these will have an impact on how the Council may adjust AMISOM’s and UNSOM’s priorities in 2021.

Council Dynamics

While in general the Council agrees on the challenges facing Somalia, members remain divided on the best road ahead. China and Russia abstained on resolution 2551 on 12 November for a variety of reasons, including wanting to remove language about the relationship between Djibouti and Eritrea, objecting to the inclusion of some human rights language, and wanting to see benchmarks that could begin the path towards lifting the arms embargo. This marks the second year in a row that China and Russia have abstained on the Somalia sanctions resolution.

Incoming Council member Kenya assumed the chairmanship of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia on 1 January and will hold the post until 2022. This group, whose membership is voluntary, was established through resolution 1851 (2008) and is made up of around 80 countries, organisations and industry groups with an interest in combating Somalia’s piracy problem. Kenya is expected to play a significant role on the Somalia file when it starts its Council membership on 1 January 2021.

The upcoming report of the independent technical assessment may illuminate differences between members on the future of AMISOM that could come to a head in 2021. Some members see AMISOM as a critical bulwark against the armed group Al-Shabaab and believe that removing its authorisation could create a destabilising security vacuum. Meanwhile, with the EU being one of the main financial sponsors of AMISOM, EU Council members are eager to see tangible improvement on the ground. The key element that would eventually create an environment for AMISOM to withdraw would be Somali national forces’ taking the lead in combatting Al-Shabaab.

The UK is the penholder on Somalia, though the US is penholder on counter-piracy measures off the coast of Somalia. Ambassador Philippe Kridelka (Belgium) chairs the 751 Somalia Sanctions Committee.

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Security Council Resolutions
12 November 2020S/RES/2551 This resolution renewied the partial lifting of the arms embargo on Somali security forces, the authorisation for maritime interdiction to enforce the embargo on illicit arms imports and charcoal exports, and humanitarian exemptions to the regime. The resolution also renewed the mandate of the Somalia Panel of Experts until 15 December 2021.
28 August 2020S/RES/2540 This resolution extended UNSOM’s mandate for 12 months until 31 August 2021.
29 May 2020S/RES/2520 This resolution renewed the AMISOM authorisation until 28 February 2021.
4 December 2019S/RES/2500 This was a resolution renewing the counter-piracy measures off the coast of Somalia for 12 months.
Secretary-General’s Reports
2 November 2020S/2020/1072 The annual report on the situation regarding piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia. For the first time, there were no reported incidents.
Security Council Letters
30 October 2020S/2020/1079 A copy of the 28 October briefing provided by Ambassador Philippe Kridelka (Belgium) in his capacity as Chair of the 751 Somalia Sanctions Committee.
Security Council Meeting Records
12 November 2020S/PV.8775 This covered the adoption of resolution 2551 (2020), including several explanations after the vote. China and Russia abstained from this resolution renewing elements of the Somalia sanctions regime.