posted on Fri 27 Mar 2020 6:27 PM
UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) Mandate Renewal

On Monday (30 March), the Security Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), which expires on 31 March. Due to the impact of COVID-19, and with members unable to agree on video-conferencing modalities for voting, the Council has decided to vote through written adoption procedures. Members are currently submitting their votes to the Security Council Affairs Division. China, as Council president this month, is expected to read out the results in a videoconference session on Monday.

The overall environment for negotiations on the draft text were challenging as a result of the predominant focus on how to adapt the Council’s working methods due to the virus. As a result, the UK, as penholder, pursued a text calling for a technical rollover until 30 June. This would place the negotiations after the adoption of a reauthorisation of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) mandate, which expires on 31 May. In general, the rest of the Council understood the need for this approach, and it seems that they appreciated the short and straightforward text. There was no discussion of substance, with the understanding that this will happen in June. It seems that the permanent members were able to meet in person to discuss the text ahead of the general shutdown of UN headquarters, but elected members received the initial draft via email. Given the need to hold negotiations remotely and member states’ desire for a more substantive discussion of the mandate, a technical rollover was deemed the appropriate course of action. There appears to be no reference to the COVID-19 situation in the text.

Many Council members were hesitant to extend the mandate past the end of June because they are hoping to adjust UNSOM’s mandate in the near future to address pressing challenges. For example, some want to make sure that UNSOM is able to assist, where appropriate, with upcoming elections planned for the end of 2020 or early 2021, and do not want to delay this assistance.

In June, along with considering technical assistance with elections, Council members may look at other parts of UNSOM’s mandate, especially since the mandate will be adopted following the reauthorisation of AMISOM. When negotiating the UNSOM mandate in June, Council members may consider how well UNSOM has continued to provide strategic support and advice to the Federal Government of Somalia and AMISOM on peacebuilding and state-building in the areas of governance, security sector reform and rule of law, development of a federal system, constitutional review, and coordination of international donor support.

The security situation in Somalia remains a primary concern among Council members: on 18 March al-Shabaab militants attacked the heavily-fortified Halane compounds that host UN, EU, and AU facilities, as well as embassies of countries that include the US and UK.

In general, Council members hold similar positions on Somalia though divergences remain over the best way to encourage change and progress in Somalia. This is especially true on the pace of troop withdrawal. The three African members of the Council in 2019 supported the AU position that an AMISOM drawdown was premature and that Somalia was not ready to take on greater security responsibilities. Their position was supported by China and Russia. Meanwhile, France, the UK and the US supported reductions by the end of 2019. Resolution 2472 set out a compromise whereby it decided to reduce “uniformed AMISOM personnel by 1000 to a maximum level of 19,626, by 28 February 2020”.

There may also be further negotiations on language added last year on the adverse effects of climate change. While climate and security language has increasingly been incorporated into Council outcomes over the past two years, the role of the Council regarding this issue remains politically sensitive to some members. It is unclear in what form these references will emerge from another round of mandate negotiations. Some members were already preparing for a difficult attempt to maintain the language in face of opposition.

The Council was last briefed on Somalia on 24 February and that meeting would have provided the basis for this month’s negotiations on the current text. James Swan, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of UNSOM; Francisco Caetano José Madeira, Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission for Somalia and head of AMISOM; and Dan Smith, Director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, briefed. All briefers and several Council members stressed that 2020 is a pivotal year for Somalia. They focused on the need for dialogue and constructive actions.

The Secretary-General’s 13 February report on UNSOM states that the security situation in Somalia remains fragile. The report concludes by recommending the renewal of UNSOM’s mandate for 12 months.