UN Decides Liberia’s Fate Today

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Today (24 July), the Security Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement on the Liberia peacebuilding plan and the preparation for the 2017 presidential and legislative elections. The statement is the result of a joint initiative of the US, the penholder on Liberia, and Sweden, which chairs the Liberia country configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC). The draft was circulated to the wider Council membership last week. After one round of negotiations, and one broken silence period yesterday morning, it passed through silence on Thursday (20 July), paving the way for the adoption on Monday.
Overall it seems that negotiations on the draft were not difficult and that there was wide support in the Council for the statement. The statement is based mostly on agreed language from previous outcomes on Liberia, which may have facilitated the negotiations.

However, there were some differences of view over how to address the issue of sexual and gender-based violence. Russia broke silence yesterday due to concerns about language on this issue. It seems that Russia objected to a phrase calling on Liberia’s legislature to enact a domestic violence bill and enforce all laws to combat impunity. Over the past several years, both China and Russia have often resisted what they interpret as an expansion of the women, peace and security agenda, or perceive as an infringement on state sovereignty or the competencies of other parts of the UN system. As a compromise, while the language Russia objected to on potential legislation was removed from the final draft, references to sexual and gender-based violence were retained, along with language calling on the government of Liberia to combat impunity for those crimes. Similar language was included in the last resolution that extended the mandate of UNMIL in December 2016.
Following the closure of the UN Mission in Côte d’Ivoire in June, the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) is expected to be the next UN peacekeeping operation in West Africa to cease its activities. In December 2016, the Council adopted resolution 2333 which extended the mandate of UNMIL for a final period until 30 March 2018. The resolution included a novel aspect by requesting the Secretary-General to provide a peacebuilding plan for Liberia within three months. This was the first time that the Council had requested such a plan ahead of a mission’s departure and its transition to a post-UN peacekeeping environment.
The plan (S/2017/282), called “Sustaining Peace and Security Development,” was developed under the guidance of UNMIL and in close cooperation with the government of Liberia, international partners, civil society and political parties. It is divided into two phases. The first phase covers the period leading to the closure of UNMIL and the second one focuses on long-term peacebuilding activities lasting until 2020. In general, the plan’s purpose is to address remaining structural fragilities and economic development needs of Liberia; it envisions improved coherence and integration among UN agencies, funds and programmes, and the good offices capacities of the UN country team.
It appears that the draft presidential statement is intended to represent a sign of continued Council support for Liberia in its peacebuilding efforts. It commends the progress that had been made in restoring peace, security and stability in the country and the commitment of the people and government of Liberia in developing democracy. It expresses support for the peacebuilding plan and encourages all stakeholders to fulfill their commitments and provide support for the implementation of the first phase of the plan. It further stresses the need for the government of Liberia to address the root causes of conflict, as well as other underlying issues that could pose a risk to stability.
The draft statement emphasises the importance of holding credible presidential and legislative elections in October. The presidential elections will be a critical test for Liberian democracy, given that this will mark the first democratic transfer of power in the country. In the statement, the Council will welcome the signing of the 4 June Farmington River Declaration by the overwhelming majority of the political parties (20 out of 22) committing to the peaceful transition of power and violence-free elections.
Another issue raised in the statement is the need for continued international involvement and attention to Liberia, especially during the process of transferring responsibilities to the UN country team. In his latest report (S/2017/510) to the Council, the Secretary-General noted that a mapping exercise conducted by the UN country team found significant gaps in financial, material, and logistical capacities which the country team will face following UNMIL’s departure. Several members of the Council have voiced their concerns regarding the financial shortfall that will affect peacebuilding efforts after UNMIL’s closure. In that regard, the statement encourages the engagement of donors and the international community more broadly to address the capacity gaps that were identified by the UN country team’s mapping exercise.