Briefing and Consultations on Ebola
This afternoon (14 October), the Council will receive a briefing on Ebola followed by consultations. Briefers will be Anthony Banbury, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations and Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs. The meeting, proposed by the US, is expected to focus on the security implications of the Ebola epidemic and its impact on the political and peacekeeping missions in the region.
This will be the Council’s second meeting on Ebola in a month. On 18 September, the Council held an open debate on the epidemic and adopted resolution 2177 determining that the Ebola epidemic constituted a threat to international peace and security (S/PV.7268). There was some resistance to today’s meeting as several members, with Russia having a particularly strong view, suggested that the General Assembly rather than the Council should be in the lead on this issue. It seems that the decision by the General Assembly to hold an Ebola meeting last Friday (10 October) may have addressed this concern.
At today;s meeting, members will be keen to get an update from Banbury on the establishment of UNMEER. On 17 September, the Secretary-General had written to the Council and the General Assembly informing them of his intention to establish the UN’s first medical mission (A/69/389-S/2014/679). However, the role and mandate of the mission is still not very clear, and Banbury’s briefing and the ensuing consultations are seen as an opportunity by Council members to gain a greater understanding of the role UNMEER can play in containing the spread of Ebola in order to stabilise the most affected countries. UNMEER headquarters are in Accra, Ghana, and field presences in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have already been established. By 10 October, approximately 80 staff were deployed out of a total 283 personnel expected to form the mission. Banbury recently visited Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and Council members are likely to be interested in his views on the security risks posed by the epidemic.
Council members are expected to focus on the destabilising potential of the disease. This has already been demonstrated by protests and acts of violence in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, which prior to the epidemic were already considered fragile states. (All three countries are on the agenda of the Peacebuilding Commission.) The Council highlighted the risk of Ebola undermining these countries’ stability and possibly leading to further unrest and a deterioration of the political and security climate in resolution 2177.
Members are likely to be particularly concerned about the effect of Ebola on Liberia where more than half of the reported Ebola deaths have taken place. On 9 September, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to Liberia, Karin Landgren, warned Council members that that the epidemic posed the gravest threat to the country since its civil war (S/PV.7260). There are also concerns about the impact of Ebola on the political stability of Liberia. The administration of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has faced heavy criticism for its handling of the epidemic and there are calls for a transition to a new government and protests against proposed emergency measures that, if enacted, would restrict several constitutional rights.
Members will be keen to get more information from Ladsous on reports that there have been several cases of Ebola among the Liberian Armed Forces at the main barracks in Monrovia. Members are likely to want to know if this has been contained and what is the risk of it spreading more widely among the Liberian Armed Forces. The Secretary-General had warned in a 29 September letter to the Council that while responding to Ebola is already overstretching the capacity of the Liberian security forces, they could be overwhelmed if it were to spread among the security forces (S/2014/707).
A key issue for Council members is how the epidemic is affecting UNMIL’s work as well as the impact on the on the mission. UNMIL has now had two Ebola cases. On 25 September, a local UNMIL staff member died of Ebola. On 6 October, an international UNMIL staff member was diagnosed with Ebola and subsequently med-evacuated to Germany for treatment; 41 UNMIL personnel, who had contact with the individual, are currently under observation. Council members who are also UN troop contributors are likely to be particularly interested in what the Department of Peacekeeping Operations is doing to ensure that peacekeeping personnel are protected. Members may also be looking for information on how UNMEER and UNMIL are coordinating with the US military presence being deployed to Liberia, and more broadly with other countries providing bilateral assistance to the affected countries.
Members may also be interested in hearing more from Ladsous about how UN peacekeeping operations in Mali and Cote d’Ivoire, which border the affected countries have been affected. The Ebola outbreak has had an operational impact on the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali due to delays in the delivery of equipment and the rotation of troops in and out of the mission. Zerihoun may likewise provide information on how the epidemic is affecting the work of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau and the UN Office for West Africa, which is headquartered in Senegal, given that both Guinea-Bissau and Senegal border affected Guinea.