UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Mandate Renewal
This afternoon (30 August), the Security Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution renewing for another year the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which expires on 31 August. Following two rounds of negotiations and one bilateral discussion between the French and US ambassadors, the draft (the fourth version) passed silence this morning and was put in blue.
UNIFIL was originally established in 1978. In 2006, the Council adopted resolution 1701, which called for a cessation of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel. The resolution mandated UNIFIL to assist the Lebanese Armed Forces in taking steps towards the establishment, between the Blue Line and the Litani river, of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the government and of UNIFIL, and to assist the government of Lebanon in securing its borders and other entry points to prevent the entry of arms into Lebanon without its consent.
In a 30 July letter to the president of the Council (S/2018/750), and following a 23 July letter to the Secretary-General from Lebanon, the Secretary-General requested the Council to consider renewing UNIFIL’s mandate for another twelve months. In its letter, the Lebanese Foreign Minister requested that UNIFIL’s mandate not be altered.
On 9 August, Council members issued a press statement condemning in the strongest terms a 4 August attack against UNIFIL in the south of Lebanon, near the town of Majdal Zun. During the attack, peacekeepers were threatened with illegal weapons, vehicles were set on fire and UNIFIL’s weapons and equipment were seized.
The Council held consultations on 15 August during which members expressed general support for the mission and emphasised its importance for the stability of the country and the region. Accordingly, during negotiations, all members but the US seemed to be in favour of renewing UNIFIL’s mandate in its current configuration.
The penholder, France, introduced its initial draft and held a first round of negotiations on 17 August. A second round of negotiations was held on 23 August. Following a bilateral meeting between France and the US at ambassadorial level on 28 August, a revised draft was circulated and put under silence. At the request of Russia, the silence procedure was extended several times until 9 am this morning.
Although negotiations appear to have been less contentious than last year, there were nonetheless differences of view on a few issues. The US seemed to have strongly advocated the reduction of the Maritime Taskforce. It also wanted the resolution to reference Hezbollah and the implementation of the arms embargo, both of which were mostly met with criticism by other members. Russia however appeared consistently to emphasise that it preferred a renewal without any changes to the mandate.
Regarding UNIFIL’s Maritime Taskforce, the US had initially proposed language leading towards its termination, including specifics on the drawdown such as deadlines and percentages. Apparently, any such details were ultimately unacceptable to the other members, in part because the Secretary-General had not provided any information on the technicalities and practicalities of a drawdown. As a compromise, while the draft in blue does not contain a concrete end date for the force, it calls for the Government of Lebanon to develop a plan to increase its naval capabilities, including with appropriate support from the international community, with the goal of ultimately reducing the Maritime Taskforce and transitioning its responsibilities to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), in close conjunction with the effective build-up of the capabilities of the Lebanese Navy. The draft further requests that the Secretary-General present to the Council an assessment of this plan with recommendations within 6 months.
Another recurring major concern for the US was to mention Hezbollah, as well as the organisation “Green Without Borders.” Initially, the US had proposed two new paragraphs in the operative part of the resolution, one condemning attempts of “Green Without Borders” to restrict the freedom of movement of UNIFIL patrols and the other condemning Hezbollah’s armed activities. The latter paragraph also requested a separate report by the Secretary-General on the implementation of the arms embargo. Neither appeared to be acceptable to the other members.
The draft in blue includes a separate paragraph on the freedom of movement of UNIFIL, without mentioning specific actors who might be hindering its movement; in relation to the Secretary-General’s existing reporting obligations, this paragraph requests an annex on the implementation of the arms embargo.
Language related to the effectiveness and efficiency of UNIFIL was also added. In the operative part, the draft in blue stresses the need to improve the management of UNIFIL civilian resources, including by fostering enhanced cooperation with the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon (UNSCOL), with the goal of improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the missions. It requests that the Secretary-General provide recommendations on this issue by 31 December 2018.
Some new language with reference to the woman, peace and security agenda was added. In the preambular part, a new paragraph was added recalling resolution 2242 (2015) and its request that the Secretary-General initiate, in collaboration with member states, a revised strategy to double the number of women in military and police contingents of UN peacekeeping operations. In the operative part, a new paragraph was added requesting the Secretary-General and the troop contributing countries to seek to increase the number of women in UNIFIL, as well as to ensure the meaningful participation of women in all aspects of its operations. The resolution further requests UNIFIL to take fully into account gender considerations as a cross-cutting issue throughout its mandate. Additionally, the draft requests UNIFIL to assist the Lebanese authorities in ensuring the full and effective participation, involvement and representation of women at all levels of decision-making and to enhance its reporting to the Council on this issue.
Lebanon, which was kept informed of the negotiations on the draft, appears to be on board with the final product, despite the changes.