The UN Mission in Liberia
In 2003, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1509, establishing the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). The Security Council has extended the peacekeeping mission through September 30, 2012.
The Mission's mandate includes:
• Supporting the ceasefire;
• Observing disengagement of armed forces;
• Protecting civilians;
• Promoting human rights;
• Supporting reform of the military and police; and
• Promoting the Peace Process including the national elections.
Liberia was founded by freed American slaves in 1821 with the help of the U.S. government.
In 1989, rebel leader Charles Taylor initiated a civil war after invading Liberia from neighboring Cote d'Ivoire. The war claimed more than 150,000 lives and displaced close to one million people. A 1993 peace agreement negotiated by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and backed by the UN, led to the creation of the United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL). UNOMIL was established to implement the peace agreement and after many delayed elections, Taylor was elected in July 1997.
Having completed its mandate to support the election process, UNOMIL withdrew from Liberia in September 1997. In November, the UN created a post-conflict support office, The United Nations Peace-building Support office in Liberia. UNOL worked with the government for national reconciliation in the nation, but the Government was unable to control rebel factions, hindering the work of UNOL. In April 2003 UNOL’s mandate changed to focus on developing the Government’s capacity to deal with issues of human rights and conducting elections. The government and opposition parties failed to agree on many key issues though making progress difficult.
Underlined by serious human rights violations and the eventual renewal of civil war, the Security Council decided to establish a multi-dimensional operation in Liberia, United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). In September 2003, 15,000 troops were deployed to help stabilize the nation as well as develop systems to address human rights abuses, civil society, the justice sector, disarmament, child protection, and security forces. Read more || Hide text
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
- Demobilize, and reintegrate ex-combatants. UNMIL works with the United States to demilitarize and disarm rebel forces. In its first year, UNMIL over saw the disarmament of over 95,000 ex-combatants. Further, in 2009, UNMIL was actively involved in Liberia’s Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration and Rehabilitation (DDRR) program, which disarmed 103,000 and demobilized 101,000 ex-combatants. The UN and its partners provide rehabilitation services such as education and vocational training, with more than 98,000 ex-combatants benefiting from these programs. In March 2012 UNMIL destroyed a cache of weapons discovered in various parts of the country collected over six month period including grenade launchers, riffles, automatic pistols and several machine guns.
- Provides support for democratic elections. In the wake of November 8, 2011 run-off elections, UN peacekeepers helped prevent an escalation of violence as tensions ran high due to the opposition candidate’s call for a boycott of the election. UNMIL assisted in the growth and reform of the Liberia National Police (LNP) to ensure stability for peaceful and democratic elections. During the first round of elections in October 2011, UNMIL provided logistical support for the delivery of voter registration materials to locations around the country, helping to successfully register 1.8 million people, representing 89 percent of eligible voters, of which 49 percent were women. UNMIL and partner groups, in combination with the National Election Commission, encouraged women's participation in the electoral process by holding educational and training seminars for over 400 aspiring women political participants. UNMIL Radio promoted free and fair elections by providing balanced airtime to all political parties and providing a human rights checklist to national observer groups to use during the electoral process. The mission also continues to assist the LNP by training personnel and devising security and contingency plans to promote stability. A stable democratic process promotes a peaceful nation, which serves US foreign policy interests.
- Reforms the police. Together, the U.S. and the UN are working to support a transparent, trustworthy, and effective security sector. UNMIL is reforming and training the Liberia National Police (LNP) to provide stability and security throughout the country. Since 2003, UNMIL has helped train officers in emergency response, protection of women and children, criminal investigation, and management. UNMIL has recruited and trained female officers, who comprise 17 percent of the LNP force. From September through December 2009, an increase in police patrolling led to a 50 percent decrease in armed robbery. UNMIL’s efforts have led to a new, Liberian controlled detention facility in Bopolu, which will make a significant contribution to improved security in the country.
- Reforms the military. The UN and US work to strengthen and professionalize the Liberian Military. In conjunction with police training efforts, the U.S has taken the lead in vetting, reforming, and training the national army, which has resulted in 2,000 capable and well-trained Liberian troops. The U.S. has also completed the United States Army Training and Evaluation Programme for the Armed Forces of Liberia and has sent 61 military personnel to Liberia to begin a defense sector reform program. UNMIL provides the army with training in preventive medicine, radio operations, unexploded ordnance identification and reporting, civil-military cooperation, and other areas. Furthermore, the U.S. is funding the establishment of a Liberian coastguard, which now has 51 active personnel and is nearing operational independence. Together the U.S. and UN are working to bolster the Liberians military force.
- Improves status of women. UNMIL’s mandate specifically includes empowering, promoting and supporting women by working with partners to advance their roles in government and civil society. The mission works with Ellen John-Sirleaf, the first female president in Liberia, to promote women’s engagement in the peace process. Women account for a growing percentage of police peacekeepers within UNMIL, serving as role models for Liberian women. The UN is supporting the legislature to increase women’s political representation to 30 percent. The UN also helps the LNP to increase their female representation. In a recently graduated class from police training, 23% were women. Currently about 715, or 17% of the police force is women. UNMIL raises awareness of gender-based violence in primary schools. The Liberian government recently instated an accelerated learning program allowing those whose secondary school educations were disrupted by the war to complete their educations in an abbreviated program. Forty-four percent of the participants in this program are female.
- Developing National Reconciliation. In preparation for a transition, UNMIL works to establish national unity and institutions that will aid civilians to maintain peace. In conjunction with Australia Aid (AusAID), UNICEF supports the National Youth Service Program for Peace and Development, established by the Liberian Ministry of Youth and Sport. The Program emphasizes national reconciliation, through Youth Centers where young people can receive training and counseling. This program aims to prevent conflict in the future by focusing on building strong community ties in the young generation.
- Insufficient support of the police force. The Liberia National Police have made many strides but are still lacking in critical areas such as efficient management, adequate equipment, and community support. They continue to rely on the international community to fund communications equipment and transportation. The government needs to strengthen the relationship and build trust between police officers and civilians in the wake of incidents of ill-discipline such as harassment of civilians and criminal activity. In addition, the LNP remains understaffed, with a ratio to population of just one police officer per 850 civilians, of which 65-75% are stationed in Montserrado County located in the northwest. The Emergency Response Unit is also below planned strength at just 321 of the desired 500 officers. Diminishing recruit pools and insufficient resources are an overarching problem for all police units, which still depend heavily on UNMIL and donor support. Reaching the desired police strength of 8000 will likely take a few more years at current sustainable levels of training.
- Prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence. Liberia’s 14 year civil war left 65% of women affected by gender based violence (GBV). While Liberia is on the path to national recovery, rates of GBV, in particular domestic violence and rape, remain high. Rape still remains the number one crime reported to the Liberian National Police, with most of the victims between the ages of 10 and 19. In 2009, together the Liberian government and the UN developed a plan to reduce GBV by 30% by the end of 2011. Thus far, special courts have been established to hear the backlog of GBV cases, expediting the legal process and encouraging victims to report GBV incidents. Despite improvements in the legal system though, a study conducted by the UN in Liberia tracking cases of sexual violence found that it would take nearly ten years at the current speed the criminal justice system operates to clear the back log of sexual violence cases alone.
- Regional Instability. Fallout from the presidential election in Cote d’Ivoire continues to pose a serious threat to Liberia’s security, as dispute and conflict in the former country has led to movement of 190,000 refugees into Liberia. Of those, 37,000 remain, continuing to strain resources in border towns where they reside. This continual land pressure creates conflicts over land usage between Ivoirians and Liberians. UNMIL and the Liberian Government have increased their patrolling along the Ivorian border to ensure that combatants do not cross from Liberia into Cote d’Ivoire. In June 2012 cross-border attacks occurred resulting in the death of 17 people, including 7 UN Peacekeepers. Liberian authorities were quick to commence criminal investigations. Within a week of the attacks, the Liberian government ordered the arrest of 10 Liberians and Ivoirians linked with the attacks and announced extradition hearings for 41 individuals linked to post-election crimes. Liberia has made it clear that it will implement due process while holding perpetrators accountable. On the 13th of June, UNMIL and UNOCI met with representatives from both countries to discuss the attacks, providing assurances that the two nations were committed to creating stability in the region. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees cooperates with groups in Liberia, including the Government, UNOCI and UNMIL to monitor refugee numbers and activities, to investigate cross-border attacks and for general managerial support. UNMIL helps maintain security in areas hosting refugees.
- Human and Drug Trafficking. Liberia continues to be vulnerable to drug trafficking of heroin and cocaine in limited amounts. Domestic production of marijuana is flourishing and in many areas is thought to be replacing other agricultural activities. In May 2011, the government joined the West Africa Coast Initiative, a multi-stakeholder framework regional action plan to address the growing problem of illicit drug trafficking and organized crime in West Africa and in July 2011, the Liberia National Police Transnational Crime Unit began operations. However, porous borders, inadequate training, and equipment, and corruption continue to aid and abet the illicit sale of narcotics.
- Discrimination of LGBT Community. Recently the Liberian legislature has been considering two bills; one making gay marriage illegal and another making any kind of same-sex relations illegal. These relations include punishment for a person who “seduces, encourages, or promotes another person of the same gender to engage into sexual activities” reported the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). These bills have passed in the Senate, but are waiting for review at the House of Representatives. The UN has voiced concerns that these laws could lead to discrimination not only on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) matters, but on HIV and gender-based violence. In early August hit lists were distributed by the Movement Against Gay's in Liberia, or MOGAL. The flyers listed individuals who support gay rights and included a message; "Having conducted a comprehensive investigation, we are convinced that the below listed individuals are gays or supporters of the club who don't mean well for our country. Therefore, we have agreed to go after them using all means in life."
*Updated December 2012