What's In Blue

Posted Sun 14 Nov 2021

Somalia: Vote to Renew Sanctions Measures*

Tomorrow afternoon (15 November), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution on the 751 Somalia sanctions regime, renewing for one year 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 draft resolution also renews the mandate of the Somalia Panel of Experts until 15 December 2022.

As has been the case in the past several years, the sanctions measures themselves were not a matter of controversy during the negotiations. However, divergences persisted on other parts of the resolution that do not have direct impact on the implementation of the sanctions regime, such as references to the ongoing dispute between Djibouti and Eritrea.

It seems that the UK, the penholder on Somalia, sought to maintain the core measures of the sanctions regime and to extend the mandate of the Panel of Experts without changes—an approach apparently supported by Council members. The draft text in blue renews for one year, until 15 November 2022, the main elements of the sanctions regime—including the partial lifting of the arms embargo and the humanitarian exemptions—which were most recently outlined in resolution 2551 of 12 November 2020.

The UK convened one round of virtual negotiations on an initial draft text on 8 November. It then circulated a revised version for comment until 11 November. Several Council members submitted comments and a second revised version was then placed under silence until Friday (12 November) morning. Silence was broken on the text, and subsequently the vote on the draft resolution, which was initially scheduled for Friday (12 November), was postponed to Monday (15 November) to allow for further deliberations. The draft resolution was then put in blue on Friday (12 November) afternoon.

The penholder reorganised the draft resolution in blue under new concise headings, adding new sections which reflect a focus on countering the threat posed by the militant group Al-Shabaab and on supporting state- and peace-building in Somalia. In this regard, the draft text in blue notes in its preambular part that the objective of the resolution is to “support state- and peace-building in Somalia including by reducing the threat to peace and security posed by Al-Shabaab and by reducing the destabilising impact of Al-Shabaab’s activities”. New language is included in the operative section of the draft in blue emphasising the need to “target Al-Shabaab’s finances, improve maritime domain awareness, prevent illicit revenue generation, including from the sale of charcoal, and reduce the threat posed by IEDs [improvised explosive devices]”. Regarding Somali institution-building, the draft text in blue underscores the importance of improving weapons and ammunition management and of increasing the capabilities of Somali security forces, with the aim of bolstering the Somali authorities’ resilience and their ability to address the threat posed by Al-Shabaab.

It seems that, as in previous years, the most divisive topic of discussion during the negotiations was references to the relationship between Djibouti and Eritrea. The penholder proposed language in an earlier iteration of the draft resolution underscoring the importance of confidence-building measures between Eritrea and Djibouti and “encouraging the Secretary-General and African Union to use their good offices…in this regard”, as well as requesting the Secretary-General to report on improvements of their bilateral relations “as deemed necessary”. This proposal was apparently unacceptable to some Council members and was not retained in the draft text in blue.

The relationship between Djibouti and Eritrea has been addressed in Somalia-related sanctions resolutions since the adoption of resolution 1907 of 23 December 2009, which linked Djibouti-Eritrean relations to the peace process in Somalia. The reference has been divisive, causing abstentions by China and Russia on several past Somalia-related resolutions.

In resolution 2444 of 14 November 2018, the Council lifted sanctions on Eritrea, terminated the mandate of the Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG), and established a Panel of Experts focused solely on Somalia. The Council’s decision in 2018 to lift the sanctions imposed on Eritrea was based on the recognition that for five consecutive reporting cycles, the SEMG had not found conclusive evidence that Eritrea supported Al-Shabaab. The decision was also informed by the positive political developments after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki signed a peace agreement in Asmara on 9 July 2018.

Difficult regional dynamics have persisted since 2018, however, and relations between Djibouti and Eritrea remain strained because of their unresolved border dispute. Therefore, several Council members, including France, apparently believe that it is important for the Council to continue monitoring confidence-building measures between the two countries. It seems that these members maintain that the Somalia sanctions resolutions are a means for the Council to address Djibouti-Eritrea relations.

Other Council members, including China and Russia, opposed having a reference to Djibouti-Eritrea relations, arguing that the focus of the resolution should be assisting Somalia. These members apparently maintain that it is unusual for a country-specific resolution to refer to relations between other countries. It seems that China and Russia also argue that Djibouti-Eritrea tensions are strictly a bilateral matter, which is not a threat to international peace and security. In light of these positions, China and Russia broke silence over references to Djibouti-Eritrea relations during the negotiations.

It seems that several Council members, including the “A3 plus one” (Kenya, Niger, Tunisia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) held discussions with Djibouti and Eritrea about the reference in the resolution in order to find language that would be agreeable to all parties involved. However, Council members were not able to agree on compromise language on the matter. As a result, the penholder retained in the draft text in blue existing language from resolution 2551, which reaffirms the Council’s intention to follow developments towards the normalisation of relations between Eritrea and Djibouti and, as in previous Somalia sanctions resolutions, requests the Secretary-General to submit a report on the matter, in this case no later than 31 July 2022.

It seems that discussions on cross-cutting issues were also contentious during the negotiations. In the first draft of the resolution, the penholder, following a recommendation by the Panel of Experts, added a reference highlighting the potential for Al-Shabaab to exploit the effects of climate change. This reference was not retained in the draft text in blue, apparently due to objections from China and Russia. In addition, it seems that Mexico wanted additional language requesting the Panel of Experts to include gender issues in its investigations and reporting. Although this request faced opposition from some Council members, it was ultimately retained in the draft text in blue.

Another new element in the draft resolution in blue relates to benchmarks that could assist the Council in a future review of the arms embargo measures. Resolution 2551 requested the Secretary-General to provide the Council with a technical assessment of Somalia’s weapons and ammunition management capabilities, including recommendations for further improvement in those areas. The assessment, originally due by 15 September, has been delayed. The draft text in blue calls for the assessment to be completed, and further requests that the Secretary-General present options on initial benchmarks that could assist the Council with its review of the regime “particularly its consideration of possible modification, suspension and or lifting of those measures”, after the completion of the assessment and by 15 September 2022.

*Post-script: On 15 November, the Security Council adopted resolution 2607, renewing for one year the partial lifting of the arms embargo on Somali security forces; the authorisation for maritime interdiction to enforce the embargo on illicit arms imports, charcoal exports, and IED components; and humanitarian exemptions to the regime. The resolution also renewed the mandate of the Somalia Panel of Experts until 15 December 2022, while requesting the panel to also include gender as a cross-cutting issue in its investigations and reporting. The resolution received 13 votes in favour and two abstentions (China and Russia).