posted on Wed 30 May 2012 5:23 PM
Briefing and Consultations on Council Visiting Mission

Tomorrow morning (31 May), the Council will be briefed on the Council visiting mission to West Africa, which took place from 19 – 23 May. Council members visited Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone. The co-leads for each country were: the US and Morocco for the Liberia leg; France and Togo for the Côte d’Ivoire leg; and the UK and South Africa for the Sierra Leone leg. There seems to be a general understanding that just one lead from each leg would brief but at press time it was unclear who would actually be briefing. The briefings are likely to be a factual account and, if past practice is any indication, other Council members are not likely to respond.

Following the briefing, Council members are scheduled to have closed consultations on the mission, allowing them an opportunity to provide feedback on the trip. Until the Haiti mission in February, there had generally only been a briefing after Council missions, followed by a written report. After the Haiti mission, however, a similar format of a public briefing and closed consultations was used. It seems that some Council members would like to be able to have a broader exchange of views on the visit in a more informal setting. This is also being seen as an opportunity for a lessons learnt session, which could help improve future Council missions and allow members to make suggestions for follow-up action.

Impact of the Mission on Council Members

Visiting Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone gave Council members the opportunity to see three countries that are at different stages of dealing with post-conflict challenges. Council members appeared impressed by the leaders of all three countries and appreciated the frank discussions about the problems each was facing.

To a certain extent, all three countries face similar challenges with respect to reconciliation, DDR (disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration) and SSR (security sector reform), as well as with high youth unemployment. Of the three, many members of the mission felt that Sierra Leone had made significant headway with reconciliation and developing the security sector, while Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire still had a lot of work to do.

In all three countries the slow reconciliation process emerged as an issue of concern and there was surprise at the low level of reconciliation in both Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire. Council members were left with a clear impression of a still deeply divided society in Côte d’Ivoire where the opposition is clearly bitter and antagonistic towards the government and some people continue to have strong loyalty to the former regime.

Council members emerged from the meetings on the security sector with a higher awareness of the state of development of the police and armed forces in all three countries. It was clear to many members that it was going to be a challenge to train the numbers of police that may be needed as the UN draws down over the next three years in Liberia. There was also a sense from some members that decisions needed to be made by the governments of the three countries regarding the optimum number of police and armed forces needed to maintain a secure environment.

It seems that after this visit, some Council members are particularly concerned by the slow progress on DDR. While—together with SSR—this was often cited as a top priority, particularly in Côte d’Ivoire, there was little evidence of success in this area. For example, in Guiglo prefecture on the Côte d’Ivoire-Liberia border, Council members were told that only six heavy weapons had been handed in over the last year. At the same time, residents in the area have a high level of insecurity due to the large number of weapons still unaccounted for. For some members, the slow progress in key areas like SSR and DDR hascalled into question the effectiveness of the traditional framework that has been used and made them wonder if new approaches are needed.

On the future of the UN missions in these countries, Council members seem to see the possibility of Sierra Leone functioning without UNIPSIL in the near future if the elections go well. However, there seems to be some concern that Liberia could develop a dependency culture if steps are not taken to ensure that the local armed forces start assuming responsibility for tasks that are currently undertaken by UNMIL. There appears to be some consensus though that the recommendations made by the Secretary-General in his special report on UNMIL should be implemented. (The Council will meet to consider this report in June and is likely to take action then.) While impressed with Côte d’Ivoire’s infrastructure, Council members seemed inclined to move cautiously in reconfiguring the mission. At the same time some members appear to be of the opinion that UNOCI could be streamlined and that it is possibly involved in too wide a range of activities.

Many Council members were impressed with the practical application of inter-mission cooperation they witnessed between UNOCI and UNMIL. During earlier discussions in New York, some Council members were apparently resistant to this idea but the evidence on the ground appears to have convinced some sceptics that this sort of inter-mission cooperation can work.

Several members agreed that these missions were useful to get a first-hand feel for the situation on the ground and clearly the West Africa visit had a busy and intense programme. However, there was also a sense that trying to pack so much into such a short visit may not be the best approach.

There is an understanding that longer or more frequent trips are likely to be difficult but some members feel that one option that could be considered is to have smaller groups going on more frequent trips.

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