posted on Thu 22 Dec 2016 7:23 PM
Liberia: Vote on the Future of the UN Mission

Tomorrow morning (23 December), the Security Council will vote on a draft resolution which will determine the future of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). The draft was put in blue this afternoon (22 December) after a week of difficult negotiations. The US, the penholder on Liberia, circulated the draft resolution to the wider membership on 14 December. Following negotiations on 16 and 19 December, it became clear that the majority of Council members were not able to agree with the proposed text. Although a number of members suggested alternative proposals and amendments, the draft in blue does not appear to adequately address all their concerns. At press time it was unclear how members would vote.

Secretary-General’s Recommendations

On 2 December, Council members were briefed by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous on the Secretary-General’s report on the UN assessment mission to Liberia (S/2016/969) and his recommendations on the future of UNMIL. Ladsous noted that the overall security situation in Liberia has remained stable and that there had been no serious threats that warranted the intervention of UNMIL since the Liberian authorities took over security responsibilities in June. He said that peaceful and successful 2017 presidential elections (currently scheduled for October) and the subsequent transfer of power will be critical to ensuring Liberia’s security, and that the UN mission should retain some capacity to respond in case of instability. The elections next year will mark the first democratic handover of the presidency with Liberian authorities solely in charge of the security. The report provided the Council with three options regarding the adjustment for the armed component of the mission:

1. withdrawing UNMIL and establishing a successor peacekeeping mission with military and police advisory capacity that would be in operation by the 2017 elections;
2. retaining UNMIL with its current mandate and armed components; or
3. further drawing down UNMIL by March 2017, leaving only 28 military personnel and two formed police units, providing deterrence and standby support for the Liberian authorities during the elections.

For any of the three options, the Secretary-General recommended that security support would be provided through inter-mission cooperation, including the quick reaction force currently stationed within the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) but which will be transferred to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) when UNOCI closes on 30 April.

The Draft Resolution

The initial draft circulated by the US did not specifically endorse any of the three options provided in the report of the assessment mission. It proposed extending the mandate of the mission for a final period until the end of March 2018, and withdrawing the mission by the end of April 2018. Furthermore, the draft proposed the reduction of both UNMIL’s military and police components from the current 1,240 to 434 and 606 to 310 respectively by the end of February 2017. The quick reaction force would still continue to provide support for the UN mission in the case of a deterioration of the security situation. The initial draft resolution requested the Secretary-General to provide, within 90 days of the adoption, a report which outlines a peacebuilding plan to support Liberia’s transition. These elements were retained in the final draft, although the majority of members had a number of concerns.

While the US seems to favor a gradual drawdown of UNMIL as proposed in its initial draft, other members -France, the UK and Russia as well as several elected members —seem to favor a quicker drawdown leading towards closure of the current UN mission. This is in line with the first option provided in the assessment mission report i.e. the withdrawal and the establishment of a successor peacekeeping mission. It seems that China was supportive of maintaining the status quo, as is the Liberian government. During the briefing on 2 December, the permanent representative of Liberia, Lewis Garseedah Brown II, asked the Council to extend the mandate of UNMIL for an additional year, in order to “assist in mitigating, if not deterring, the real risk of a disruption” during the upcoming October 2017 presidential election.

Overall, the majority of members seem to be of the view that UNMIL’s presence in the country in its current form might be unwarranted given that the security situation has been stable for some years. They note that there has not been any threat to security after the Liberian authorities assumed security responsibilities from UNMIL on 30 June. These members appear to have concerns that maintaining UNMIL for too long could undermine the confidence and the ability of the Liberian authorities to carry out their responsibilities, such as ensuring security and protecting the local population, thus creating de facto dependency on the UN mission. In addition, they would like the successor mission to play largely an advisory role, with the quick reaction force providing the support to the mission in the case of a deterioration of the security situation in Liberia. These members prompted several members, including France, New Zealand, the US and Uruguay, to propose authorising a reduced troop ceiling for a period of six months, to be followed by a review by 30 June of the force structure. This would allow the Council to assess potential security challenges linked to the elections and make changes accordingly.

Many of these members were not comfortable with the language in the initial draft regarding UNMIL’s protection of civilians’ mandate. They preferred a more clearly defined and limited mandate for UNMIL, which would include protection of civilians only if the Liberian authorities failed to do so. As a result, they proposed language making it clear that UNMIL’s role would be to support the Liberian security agencies, without prejudice to the primary responsibility of the Liberian government. However, this language was not included in the text that was put in blue.

Another issue of concern for many members was that although previous resolutions on UNMIL specified that the mission should be tasked with promoting and protecting human rights, the initial draft circulated by the US omitted any reference to this in the mission’s mandate. It appears that the majority of the Council members thought it was necessary to include human rights in the mandate of UNMIL given the significant challenges Liberia still faces in this area. The report of the assessment mission also indicated that the UN should retain a strong human rights presence, while also promoting the development of local capacities. In an effort to reach compromise, the US proposed a slightly modified draft text, which included human rights as part of UNMIL’s mandate. However, this revised draft still failed to address the other concerns of some members, most notably France and the UK.

Despite the opposition, the US decided to put the modified text under silence procedure on the evening of 21 December. Russia broke silence the next day, reiterating support for the first option from the assessment mission report while stating its view that as the mandated tasks fall under peacebuilding and the situation in Liberia does not pose a threat to international peace and security, the resolution should not be under Chapter VII, nor should there be such large numbers of military and police personnel on the ground. However, the US decided to put the draft resolution in blue this afternoon acknowledging that there are core differences that are unlikely to be resolved with further negotiations.

* The draft resolution was adopted as S/RES/2333. It received 12 affirmative votes and 3 abstentions. Abstentions were cast by France, Russia, and the UK.