The UN Mission in Liberia
On September 19, 2003, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1509, establishing the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). UNMIL was created as a multi-dimensional operation in response to human rights and governance issues in post-war Liberia. On August 12, 2013 Security Council Resolution 2116 extended the mandate for UNMIL until September 30th, 2014, during which time the Mission will continue its military drawdown. As of February 2014, the mission maintains a military strength of 5,869 troops, and police and civilian strengths of 1,612 and 1,518, respectively.
The Mission's mandate includes:
• Transitioning security responsibilities to the Liberian National Police;
• Promoting human rights;
• Supporting national reconciliation, and constitutional and rule of law reforms;
• Promoting the participation of women in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and peacebuilding; and
• Working with the UN Mission in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) and other UN agencies for the provision of humanitarian assistance and the stabilizing of security along the Ivorian border.
In 1989, rebel leader Charles Taylor initiated a civil war, battling for control against the-President Samuel Doe, himself in power as a result of a 1980 coup. The devastating war ended in 1997, when an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) -negotiated and UN-backed peace agreement resulted in Taylor’s democratic election.
Two years later, despite the best efforts of the UN Peacebuilding Support Office in Liberia (UNOL), the country was was once again plunged into civil war as a number of rebel groups emerged in opposition to Taylor’s government. By 2003, the parties reached a ceasefire in the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement, thus launching the country’s transition period. Motivated by serious human rights violations and the need for a peaceful post-war transition, the Security Council voted to establish the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in September 2003. As mandated by Resolution 1509, 15,000 troops were deployed to help stabilize the nation, as well as to develop systems to address human rights abuses, disarmament and child protection, and to strengthen civil society, the justice sector, and national security forces.
As a part of the transition process, the country saw successful, free and fair elections in both 2005 and 2011, in which Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected and reelected, making her the first democratically elected female president in Africa. Johnson-Sirleaf’s administration has, and continues to tackle government corruption, strengthen national institutions, and reform the national security forces with UN and U.S. assistance, while her efforts toward women’s rights won her the joint Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.
With the security, economic, and humanitarian situations in Liberia relatively stable, the Security Council voted in March 2012 to authorize the Mission to begin a military drawdown. As of August 2014, the mission is currently in the second of three phases of drawdown, increasingly focusing its efforts on infrastructure and governance development, as greater control is handed over to Liberian authorities.
By 2003, rebel groups controlled roughly two-thirds of the country and the international community increased pressure on Taylor to resign. As a result, he stepped down in August and fled to Nigeria. In 2005, the UN included an additional mandate to apprehend and detain the former president. In late April, 2012, the International Criminal Court at The Hague convicted him on 11 counts of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity. On May 30th he was sentenced to 50 years in prison.
In September 2003, after Taylor fled the country, the Security Council authorized UNMIL to stabilize and secure Liberia, and in 2005, the country held free and fair elections with Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf becoming the first democratically elected female president in Africa. Her administration has tackled government corruption, strengthened national institutions, and reformed the national security forces with UN and U.S. assistance. Foreign investment in Liberia has continued to increase since President Johnson-Sirleaf took office in 2006. UNMIL continues to support the Liberian government in its development toward sustainable peace. Since 2003, the United States has contributed over $1 billion in both bilateral assistance to the Liberian government and in assessed contributions to the peacekeeping mission in Liberia.
Foreign investment in Liberia has continued to increase since President Johnson-Sirleaf took office in 2006. UNMIL continues to support the Liberian government in its development toward sustainable peace. Since 2003, the United States has contributed over $1 billion in both bilateral assistance to the Liberian government and in assessed contributions to the peacekeeping mission in Liberia.
In October 2011, Liberia held its general and presidential elections. UNMIL worked closely with the National Elections Commission, as well as the Liberia National Police, to ensure fairness and safety nationwide. Since no candidate won an absolute majority during the first round of elections, a run-off was called between incumbent President Sirleaf and opposition candidate Winston Tubman. Sirleaf was declared the winner of the run-off on November 15, 2011 with 90.7% of the vote.
In March 2012, the Security Council authorized the mission to begin reducing its numbers from 15,000 troops to 8,000, as the mission enters phase three of its withdrawal plans. In the lead up to September 2012, the focus of the mission’s priority will increasingly focus on infrastructure and governance development as the need for peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance lessens.
On June 8th, as a result of post-election strife in Cote d’Ivoire, conflict broke out across the eastern border of Liberia. Seven peacekeepers of the UN Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI) and 15 civilians were killed in two separate attacks by unidentified armed men. The events have displaced thousands in Cote d’Ivoire, many of which have crossed into Liberia. To handle ongoing unrest, UNOCI and UNMIL have coordinated meetings between Liberian and Ivoirian representatives. UNMIL reallocated peacekeepers to the border to better handle the situation, while continuing its plans to shift control over to Liberian authorities.
How This Affects American Interests
- Promotes stability and growth. With UNMIL’s support, Liberia has seen incredible – though certainly imperfect – strides toward security and stable governance. Following years of civil war, democratic Presidential elections have twice been held, both times supported by UNIMIL’s efforts. The mission has also, during that time, advised and supported governance reforms, particular in regard to the constitution and the rule of law, while simultaneously maintaining a safe security environment, working with and training Liberian military and police forces to maintain stability in the previously war-torn region. These steps toward better security and governance no-doubt contributed to the nation’s strong economic growth, estimated at 8.1% in 2013. These factors – democratic governance, peace and security, and economic growth – valuable in and of themselves, have helped to maintain a level of security in Liberia that has been unseen for many years. Given the nation’s close proximity to known hotbeds of terrorism, such as Mali, as well as the potential economic value in a stable and developing sub-Saharan Africa, the UN Mission in Liberia therefore represents a driving force for American interests in the region.
- Defends human rights. The United States, founded on the value of inherent rights, has on multiple occasions committed itself to the support of human rights globally. The work of UNIMIL, which includes the support of the Ministry of Justice’s five-year national human rights action plan, launched in December 2013, as well as the Independent National Commission on Human Rights, is firmly in line with such American values. In the interest of equality, UNMIL’s mandate specifically includes the empowerment, promotion and support of women, by working with partners to advance their roles in government and civil society. To this end, the government of Liberia has, in 2013 alone, joined the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, announced new targets on women’s participation in the police force, and reformed laws to allow for equal access to land and property. UNMIL and other UN agencies have further taken steps to reduce Liberia’s tragically high rates of sexual violence, working closely with the national police to prevent such incidents, as well as to combat human trafficking.
- Border instability. Though Liberia has made significant progress toward security, challenges certainly remain. On June 8, 2012, armed gunmen launched a raid across the Liberian border into Côte d’Ivoire, killing 7 UN Operations in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) peacekeepers, and at least 8 civilians. Further adding to tensions are the number of refugees entering into Liberia, fleeing sporadic violence in Côte d’Ivoire. Over 2,500 Ivorian refugees arrived in Liberia in 2013 alone. However, in response to the unrest, UNMIL and UNOCI have begun an intense collaboration, working together to ensure that the border remains secure. Few major incidents have since of cross-border violence have occurred since. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), for its part, continues to provide assistance to, and facilitate the safe and voluntary return of, Ivorian refugees. “Between 2012 and the end of 2013,” according to the Agency, “the organization will have assisted some 30,000 Ivorian refugees to return," with an additional 9,000 in 2014, as of March.
- Ebola outbreak. Starting in March of 2014, and, as of August of the same year, showing little sign of abating, West Africa has been witness to an unprecedented outbreak of the Ebola virus. With, as of August 20th, almost 600 confirmed deaths, Liberia has the highest number of Ebola casualties of any country. With curfews, closed borders, and even the quarantine of entire neighborhoods in the capital city, Liberia is facing an unparalleled global health crisis. Though it is unclear how this situation will affect the work of UNMIL, the Mission has lent its support to the work of the World Health Organization (WHO), which has engaged with local governments to create and adapt strategic operation response plans to the outbreak. Particularly in cases such as this, when crises emerge that do not confine themselves to national borders, it is up to the international community, led by the United Nations and its agencies, to develop and implement an appropriate response emergency response.
*Updated August 2014