Liberia Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow (27 June), the Security Council will hold a briefing followed by the consultations on the situation in Liberia. Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) Farid Zarif will brief on the latest Secretary-General’s report (S/2017/510) and activities related to the mission’s drawdown. Ambassador Olof Skoog (Sweden), Chair of the Liberia Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), will brief on his recent visit to the country and PBC-related developments.
On 23 December, the Council adopted resolution 2333, which renewed UNMIL’s mandate for a final period until 30 March 2018, after which the mission will be terminated. The resolution mandated a reduction of the peacekeeping force to 434 military and 310 police personnel by the end of February 2017. Though its force structure has been significantly reduced, the mission’s mandate still includes tasks such as the protection of civilians, reform of justice and security institutions, the protection and promotion of human rights, public information, and the protection of UN personnel. Resolution 2333 requested the Secretary-General to provide a peacebuilding plan for Liberia within three months. This was forwarded to the Council in the form of a letter (S/2017/282), representing the first time the Council has requested such a plan ahead of a mission’s departure and its transition to a non-UN peacekeeping environment.
In his briefing, Skoog is likely to address the main findings and recommendations of the peacebuilding plan to the Council. The plan was developed under the leadership of UNMIL and in close cooperation with all relevant stakeholders, including the government of Liberia, international partners, civil society and political parties. It is divided into two phases, with the first covering the period until the exit of UNMIL and the second one covering longer-term peacebuilding activities until approximately 2020. The plan seeks to address remaining structural fragilities and economic development needs, and envisions improved coherence and integration among UN agencies, funds and programmes, as well as with the good offices capacities of the UN country team. It further highlights future roles for the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the World Bank.
Council members will most likely be interested in hearing more from Skoog about the PBC’s activities in Liberia. In mid-June, Skoog visited Liberia in his capacity as a chair of Liberia country specific configuration. He held meetings with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, various political actors, and members of the civil society. At the meeting with Skoog, Sirleaf emphasized the importance of consolidating the gains made so far, including the holding free and fair upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for October 2017. She also commended the PBC role in supporting Liberia’s democratic system.
The upcoming months will provide a crucial test for Liberian democracy. President Sirleaf will conclude her two terms in office, the maximum she can serve under the Liberian constitution. The October election will mark the first democratic transfer of power in the country. The Liberian authorities will be in charge of ensuring the security during the election process, given that UNMIL transferred security responsibilities to them in June 2016. In this context, the Council members will likely be keen to hear more from Zarif on the status of preparations for the presidential and legislative elections. In his latest report, the Secretary-General stressed the importance of holding free and fair elections as well as smooth transfer of power to a newly elected president. While the UN’s role in Liberia has significantly decreased over the past several years, the Secretary-General has emphasized that the world body will continue to work closely with the African Union and ECOWAS in supporting this historic transition.
While the elections represent the most immediate challenge, another issue that will most likely be raised is the ongoing drawdown of UNMIL and the preparations for the transition to the UN country team. UNMIL and the UN country team have already established a task force whose objectives are to support Liberia’s political transition and to ensure the continued implementation of the peace consolidation priorities, which are at the moment supported by UNMIL. A mapping exercise conducted by the UN country team has found significant gaps in financial, material, and logistical capacities which the country team will face following UNMIL’s departure. The Council members might be interested to hear more from Zarif on specific activities underway to address these gaps, including through coordination with other UN agencies and regional partners.
Tomorrow’s briefing will be the Council’s first formal meeting on Liberia since the adoption of resolution 2333. The negotiations leading up to the adoption of that resolution were difficult and unusual in that both France and the UK joined Russia in abstaining on a US-drafted resolution, which received the support of 12 Council members. During the negotiations on the draft, the US maintained that UNMIL should remain in Liberia until the beginning of 2018, which would ensure the mission’s presence during the October 2017 presidential elections and the subsequent transition of power to a new president. France, the UK and Russia advocated a more immediate withdrawal of UNMIL, given that they shared the view that the situation in the country does not pose a threat to peace and security.