posted on Wed 27 Feb 2019 9:46 PM
UN Integrated Peacebuilding Operation in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS) Mandate Renewal

Tomorrow (28 February), the Security Council will adopt a resolution renewing for one year the mandate of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Operation in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS). This year’s mandate renewal comes as the Council has been considering a proposal of the Secretary-General to withdraw UNIOGBIS by the end of 2020. It also follows a Council visiting mission this month to Guinea-Bissau, amidst a tense and polarised environment ahead of legislative elections scheduled for 10 March, which were delayed twice in 2018, and presidential elections that will be held later this year. Côte d’Ivoire, which is the penholder on Guinea-Bissau, circulated a draft resolution on 19 February. Council members met once to discuss the text on 21 February. Following some amendments, the draft resolution passed a silence procedure on 26 February.

Members have been considering this year’s mandate renewal since receiving the Secretary-General’s 5 December 2018 special report on a strategic assessment of UNIOGBIS. According to the report, a lack of national political will has hindered the mission’s ability to implement its mandate over the nearly twenty years that UNIOGBIS and its predecessor mission have been present. It proposed a reconfiguration and exit plan for UNIOGBIS, recommending three phases for the mission’s future engagement.

In phase one, the report says that UNIOGBIS should continue in its current role, since its joint presence with the ECOWAS Mission in Guinea-Bissau (a 600-person military force) is “critically needed” during the politically sensitive electoral cycle, according to interlocutors on the ground. Starting in June, the Secretary-General proposes that UNIOGBIS enter a second phase, reconfiguring into a streamlined good offices mission, while developing a transition plan. The third phase would occur during 2020, as the mission’s tasks are assumed by the UN country team, the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) and international partners, with final exit by 31 December 2020. The Secretary-General’s latest 7 February report on Guinea-Bissau asks the Council to endorse the recommendations of this special report, while extending the mandate of UNIOGBIS for one year.

The initial draft resolution presented by Côte d’Ivoire appeared to slow down the proposed reconfiguration of UNIOGBIS, stipulating that it occur after the legislative and presidential elections. As was reinforced during the visiting mission, Council members recognise that presidential elections, which in a best-case scenario would happen by June, are unlikely to be held before the latter part of 2019, and it seems that they wanted to avoid premature changes to UNIOGBIS.

The US sought several amendments to ensure that the resolution would reflect tangible recommendations from the Secretary-General’s special report. While the draft resolution still indicates in two paragraphs that the reconfiguration should occur after completion of the 2019 electoral cycle, it now “endorses” the Secretary-General’s recommendations regarding the reconfiguration and reprioritisation, instead of only noting these recommendations. Other revisions specify that the regional offices will be closed no later than 31 December 2019. The Secretary-General’s special report suggests that a first step in the UNIOGBIS reconfiguration would be to close the four regional offices, and the US wanted to indicate that this should still happen after the elections, which legally should be held this year. Language has been added to refer to UNIOGBIS’s prospective exit by 31 December 2020. The draft resolution also decides that as of June 2019, the mission will be led by a Special Representative at the Assistant Secretary-General level—a point that was important to the US, in part due to its budgetary implications.

It seems that Germany still had concerns about the Council needing to maintain flexibility over the future of UNIOGBIS. It proposed making a reference to the Secretary-General’s reports (which he will continue to provide every six months) in the section of the resolution on the three phases of the mission’s future engagement, to signal that Council decision-making would be based on information about realities on the ground, rather than a strict timeline approach. This suggestion was not incorporated. Next year’s mandate renewal of UNIOGBIS will allow for a further assessment of the drawdown plan, while the current draft resolution only refers to UNIOGBIS’s “prospective” completion.

Council members needed to compromise over how to refer to ECOWAS’s intention to impose sanctions against those obstructing the electoral process and the implementation of the October 2016 Conakry Agreement to resolve Guinea-Bissau’s political crisis. China did not want to mention “sanctions” specifically, preferring the term “firm measures”. The draft text notes ECOWAS’s intention to take firm measures, but adds a reference to the final communiqué of the 22 December 2018 ECOWAS summit of heads of state and government in which the regional block issued its sanctions threat.

UNIOGBIS has already been in the process of reconfiguring into a more streamlined good offices set-up, which began with last year’s mandate renewal. As part of a compromise in 2018 in order for the US to agree to a one-year extension, instead of six months, the Council removed tasks relating to rule of law and security institutions from the mission’s mandate in resolution 2404. Due to the nonsynchronous timelines of the General Assembly budget process and the UNIOGBIS mandating cycle, it was not until January this year that the mission’s police and related security sector and rule of law personnel were withdrawn. This appears to have created a gap between the mission’s mandate to support the full implementation of the Conakry Agreement—which includes Guinea-Bissau carrying out security sector reforms that are part of broader package of reforms —and the mission’s capacities. During this year’s negotiations, it seems that no members proposed reintroducing these functions, which would have impeded the momentum towards drawing down the mission.

Among other new elements, the draft resolution calls on donors to ensure adequate financial contributions for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Guinea-Bissau. In recent years, the Council has requested UNIOGBIS to collaborate with UNODC to guarantee sufficient staffing for the UNODC office in Bissau. Shortfalls in UNODC’s largely voluntary funding have impeded its ability to scale up its presence, which the new language, proposed by Belgium, sought to acknowledge.

During the 15 to 16 February visiting mission to Guinea-Bissau, Council members encouraged political leaders, including President José Mário Vaz, to keep to the 10 March date for legislative elections, and made clear their expectation that the presidential election should be organised during 2019. Members further stressed the importance of this electoral cycle for Guinea-Bissau to advance its reform programme, which Bissau-Guinean political parties committed to implementing after legislative elections in a stability pact signed the day before the Council’s arrival.

The challenges that can be expected in the post-electoral period were impressed on members during the Council mission, since historically Guinea-Bissau’s difficulties have not been with holding elections, but afterwards, when it comes to governing. Related to this were discussions about the weakness of Guinea-Bissau’s institutions, with various interlocutors stressing the importance of a UN configuration continuing to provide support. During the mission, one civil society representative highlighted these institutional weaknesses, noting that the state appears to have less resources than the political parties. Members met with the UN country team that will have a key role in a future transition. There seems to be broad recognition of the capacity challenges ahead for the country team, which depends on voluntary funding.