Liberia: Briefing and Presidential Statement on the End of UNMIL
This afternoon (19 April), the Security Council is holding a briefing on Liberia, during which it is expected to adopt a presidential statement on the conclusion of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). Alexander Zuev, Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations; Deputy Ambassador Irina Schoulgin Nyoni (Sweden) on behalf of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC); and Chid Liberty, the chief executive officer of “Liberty & Justice”, are expected to brief.
On 30 March, the mandate of UNMIL ended after a nearly 15-year presence, having been established in September 2003 following 14 years of civil war. The Secretary-General submitted his final report on Liberia to the Council last week (S/2018/344). When President George Weah was inaugurated on 22 January earlier this year, succeeding Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who had led Liberia since 2006, it marked the first time in over 70 years—since 1944—that power was transferred peacefully between democratically-elected leaders. Zuev’s briefing is expected to highlight the historic nature of this moment. As depicted in the report, while having made impressive progress, Liberia will face significant challenges even as UNMIL has withdrawn: a poor economy that has not recovered to pre-Ebola growth levels, a significant budget shortfall, inequality, and the need to make further progress on issues of reconciliation and decentralisation reforms, among others—many of which are tied to the underlying causes of the war and its repercussions. In his briefing, Zuev may flag a recent deterioration in conditions for Liberia’s press; something not covered in the report.
Over the last year and a half, significant attention and planning has been given to Liberia’s transition from UNMIL to continued support through the UN Country Team (UNCT), and it has been cited as a test for the UN’s greater focus on peacebuilding and sustaining peace that are central to the Secretary-General’s reforms. The UN developed a peacebuilding plan for Liberia (S/2017/282) that the Council requested, for the first time ever, ahead of a mission’s withdrawal. As part of the plan and broader UN reforms, the Resident Coordinator’s Office in Liberia is being strengthened to, inter alia, ensure political capacities. There is also a focus on improving cooperation among the UN system, regional organisations—particularly ECOWAS, and other donors. In this regard, as noted in the Secretary-General’s report, a Liberia multi-partner trust fund has been created to increase coherence between the UN system and development partners. UNMIL Deputy Special Representative Yacoub El Hillo has become the Resident Coordinator to ensure greater continuity, as was done for the closure last year of the UN Office in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI). In addition, a separate Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been set-up. The UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel is also expected to provide support to Liberia and the UNCT going forward.
Filling in for Ambassador Olof Skoog (Sweden), the chair of the PBC’s Liberia configuration, Schoulgin is likely to stress the importance of the PBC’s continued engagement. The PBC has been active over the past year in considering Liberia’s needs during the transition, and it has committed itself to filling the financing gaps in the peacebuilding plan. Schoulgin may convey some of Skoog’s observations from his visit last month to Liberia, who along with Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, attended a series of events organised for the conclusion of UNMIL.
Liberty is a Liberian, whose family sought asylum in the US during the war. He founded “Liberty & Justice”, which is a fair trade company. Liberty may highlight the investment opportunities in Liberia, as demonstrated by the success of his company there, and the need for economic development that reduces poverty to create long-term stability.
Council members are likely to praise Liberia and UNMIL, along with other partners that have supported the country. Some members may highlight Liberians’ efforts to organise and overcome challenges that arose during last year’s elections. Members are also likely to reflect on the difficulties that Liberia still faces, and highlight the need for continued international support. They may refer to lessons learned, including from the transition, such as the peacebuilding plan, the mapping exercise led by UNDP that identified capacity and financial gaps for executing the plan, and the role of the PBC.
The presidential statement that the Council is expected to adopt reflects many of these issues. It commends Liberia’s progress since 2003, and the contribution of UNMIL, paying recognition to those from the mission who lost their lives (The Secretary-General’s report noted 202 peacekeepers died while serving in UNMIL). It, inter alia, encourages donors to fulfil commitments and provide their support for the peacebuilding plan’s implementation, while emphasising the need for expanded efforts by Liberian authorities to address the root causes of conflict. The draft statement recognises the UN’s commitment to maintain a “robust UNCT” and underscores the importance of continued support to Liberia.
The US prepared the text in collaboration with Sweden, with much of the draft adapted from the Council presidential statement on last year’s closure of UNOCI. An initial draft was circulated on 16 April. A revised text, circulated the next evening, accommodated many proposals from members. Further negotiations were needed to address comments from Russia, which were supported by Bolivia and China. These apparently included, inter alia, concern over a paragraph related to sexual exploitation and abuse, language related to women peace and security, and a reference to improving respect for human rights. It seems that agreement was reached by, for example, streamlining the language on sexual exploitation and abuse and giving less prominence to the reference to improving respect for human rights as one of the issues that Liberia still needs to address. The final draft passed silence last night.
The departure of UNMIL brings an end to UN peacekeeping operations in a part of West Africa, which for much of the last 15 years also hosted missions in Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire that concluded in 2014 and 2017, respectively. The liquidation of UNMIL is expected to be completed by the end of June.