posted on Tue 11 Nov 2014 12:40 PM
Briefing and Consultations Ahead of Liberia Mission’s Mandate Renewal

Tomorrow (12 November), Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous and Ambassador Marten Grunditz (Sweden), chair of the Liberia configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, will brief the Security Council on the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). The briefing was requested in resolution 2176 of 15 September in order to update the Council as it considers the reauthorisation and potential modification of UNMIL’s mandate, which is currently due to expire on 31 December. (Because of uncertainty created by the Ebola outbreak, resolution 2176 renewed UNMIL’s mandate without modification for an interim period.) The briefing will be followed by consultations among Council members.

Council members will likely be looking to DPKO for an update on the fight against Ebola in Liberia. According to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) report dated 7 November, there have been 6,619 cases and 2,766 deaths due to Ebola in Liberia (out of a total 13,263 cases and 4,959 deaths in West Africa). On 29 October, WHO announced that the rate of transmission in Liberia appeared to be declining, the availability of hospital beds was increasing, and the pace of burials was decreasing. Nonetheless, UN Special Envoy on Ebola Dr. David Nabarro and others have since cautioned against complacency and noted the risk of resurgence in the outbreak. Médecins Sans Frontiéres (MSF) has also called for new tactics to defeat the virus including rapid response teams to tackle hotspots as they flare up. Council members may be particularly interested in more information regarding ways in which UNMIL may be of assistance with this type of approach.

According to information provided to Council members by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in mid-October, UNMIL has been involved in a range of activities in response to the Ebola outbreak, including: coordination, information and outreach; training of Liberian government workers; monitoring and advocacy; providing equipment, logistics assistance and engineering support; and supporting the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER). Council members may want to inquire as to whether the continuation of these activities would require further resources or modification to UNMIL’s mandate.

Thus far, two UNMIL staff members have died from Ebola, the first on 25 September and the second on 13 October. On 10 October, UNMIL announced it had quarantined 41 personnel, including 20 soldiers, following the second infection. As of 28 October, all but two staff had completed the quarantine period. The Philippines has been the only troop-contributing country (TCC) to withdraw from UNMIL thus far, having declared on 23 August that due to health concerns their 115 troops would depart Liberia. Council members may be interested in hearing if there are signs that any other TCCs have indicated that they may withdraw.

Although prior to the Ebola outbreak there had been strong momentum within DPKO and the Council toward downsizing and withdrawing UNMIL, developments over the last few months suggest UNMIL still has an integral role to play in stabilising Liberia. For example, on 27 September, a group of approximately 1,000 people violently protested after discovering a body they believed had been shot at a Monrovia checkpoint by the Liberia National Police. Council members are aware that the Ebola outbreak has exposed the fragility and weakness of state institutions, not only in the security sector as the government has struggled to maintain order, but also in other areas where there has been a chronic inability to provide adequate public goods and services. During his briefing, Grunditz could choose to discuss the adverse economic impact of the Ebola outbreak and the challenges this poses for future peacebuilding efforts in Liberia.

Given that the purpose of tomorrow’s meeting is to provide an analytical update to the Council regarding the Ebola outbreak and UNMIL’s operations ahead of the resolution renewing UNMIL mandate, several issues may come up during the briefing and consultations. Members may want to discuss the relationship between UNMIL, UNMEER and national deployments in Liberia (i.e. the US), including the division of labour and modes of coordination and cooperation. There is also likely to be interest in how Ebola has affected the operation of UNMIL and to what extent the prioritisation of tasks undertaken by the mission have been redefined in practice. A key question that is likely to require further discussion in the coming months is whether UNMIL’s mandate for protection of civilians is adequate, particularly in situations where government security forces are responsible for human rights violations. Also of relevance to UNMIL’s mandate renewal is to what extent the Ebola outbreak requires modifying currently existing timetables for UNMIL’s drawdown. Lastly, Council members may want to discuss whether political components once recommended by the Secretary-General, such as electoral assistance and good offices functions, should at this stage be incorporated into UNMIL’s new mandate.

Although it falls outside the scope of tomorrow’s briefing, Council members could discuss upcoming sanctions issues during consultations. Following an assessment of the Liberia sanctions regime undertaken by the Secretariat, the Secretary-General transmitted a letter to the Council on 29 September (S/2014/707) that recommends postponing substantive modification of the 1521 Liberia sanctions regime for six months (or until the situation in Liberia stabilises and the government and its partners are better able to implement recommended capacity building measures). In practice, this would entail adopting a resolution renewing the travel ban, arms embargo on non-state actors, and mandate of the Panel of Experts (each due to expire on 10 December) and retaining the asset freeze (which is not time-limited).