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A critical look at the Joint Action Committee (JAC) Petition for UNMIL Extension

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From the day the United Nation Security Council passed resolution 2239 of September 2015 calling for the drawdown of United Nations Mission in Liberia by 30 June 2016 at which time the government of Liberia will take full charge and responsibilities of national security, many Liberians because of several reasons borderingon internal or national securitythat threatens our post conflict peace and stability continued to express legitimate concerns and fears.

Recently, the concerns and fears were climaxed by the Joint Action Committee (JAC) representing a number of political parties and civil society groups, appealing to the United Nations to extend the mandate of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL)beyond Liberia’s 2017 Presidential and legislative elections. Top among several reasons cited by the JAC that they think constitutes a consistent threat to national peace building in Liberia was the recent tussle between the officers of the EPS assigned with the Presidential Motorcade and Police officers assigned with the Inspector General of the LNP during the funeral Services of the late Rudolf P. VonBallmoos, former Liberian Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Despite of the merits or legitimacy of the petition calling for the extension of the mandate of UNMIL, a critical look however suggests skepticism in the petition intended to tackle security challenges or concerns especially for Liberia’s 2017 Presidential and legislative elections. Below are some of the facts in the issues that explain the skepticism:

Without any attempt to discredit the investment of the UNMIL in Liberia Post conflict reconstruction and development, you will agreed that from the time UNMIL officially assume operation in Liberia, we have had and continue to experience violent crimes. Let me take your minds back to the so called Christian and Muslim conflict in 2004 at Paynesville Jacob Town Community. This short but deadly conflict that resulted into loss of lives and churches burned happened in the presence of 15,000 including civilian and front police units. By then, the mission was at its inception logistically equipped very well to have halted the situation.

In 2012, when group of youngsters believing to be students went on the rampage by damaging properties belonging to government and innocent people for what they described as government refusal to compensate them for back to school vacation job. Again, it happened in the presence of UNMIL equipped logistically very well to have halted the situation in Paynesville and Congo Town.

The November 2011 post-election violence is another spectacular example that UNMIL could have prevented. Moreover, incidents outside Monrovia also happened in the presence of UNMIL mainly in Nimba County.
In presence of UNMIL in 2011, dozens of motorcyclist burned down Police station in Saclepea due to United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL vehicle that crashed into a motorcyclist between the Tappita-saclepea highway, leaving the motorcyclist dead.

The 2015 Paynesville Red light episode that saw the destruction of the Police depot (Container site) could have also been prevented by logistically equipped UNMIL. For short, lot of things happened that could have been prevented by logistically equipped UNMIL, instead the Liberia National Police faced with serious logistical and human resource challenges managedto repress these situations.

It is not that UNMIL don’t have the capacities to prevent these situations that happened in their presence. Of course the mission has the capacities. But what has been the main problem is the mandate that prohibits direct involvement or control over the security except for self-defense in the wake of unprovoked attacks on personnel and UNMIL properties or situation defined by Chapter 6, 7 and 8 of the UN Charter yet to happen since UNMIL inauguration in Liberia. In a nut shell, the mandate calls for monitoring, mentoring, capacity building through quick impact projects, providing logistical support. Moreover, the mandate recognizes the government of Liberia responsibility for national security. In all of the situations repressed by the LNP, UNMIL has been very instrumental in providing logistical and menpower supports. For this, Liberia forever remains grateful.

With this kind of mandate that is not robust, what can the extension as petitioned by the JAC do to address serious security challenges that threaten 2017 Presidential and legislative elections? Were they (UNMIL) presence prior to theNovember 2011 post-election violence? Of course they were.

Assuming that UNMIL mandate was to directly repress all of the situations catalogued by the JAC petition, it would have eliminated or remove the skepticism. In other words, the JAC petition should have also focused on revision of the mandate in terms of robust operation in repressing violent crimes not just merely extension. What is the essence for extension of a mandate that still recognizes security responsibilities into the hands of the government viewed with serious skepticism by the same JAC calling for extension?

It also worth arguing that the JAC petition should have also considered how UNMIL or UN Security Council can work along with the government in addressing the findings of the 2015 surveyconducted Dr. Yarsuo Weh-Dorliae, one of the commissioners at the Governance Commission (GC)captioned as “UNMIL Training of Liberia National Police: Effectiveness, Results, and Future Implications.”

The findings revealed that the adverse impacts are not entirely training related but also resulted from the behavior of the Government of Liberia towards the LNP. Some of these negative impacts are the results of low salaries, lack of incentives and lack of logistical support. These are serious issues that continued to inform many Liberians skepticism in the ability of the LNP to maintain internal security. 

The JAC petition being political as it relates to the assertion of the Defense Minister support for the ruling Unity Party candidate for 2017 seems not to be significant on grounds that Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) has never played any role equated to that of the LNP having statutory mandate to police elections in post-conflict Liberia. The JAC petition should have known that the position of the Defense Minister is purely political as such neutrality cannot be expected. 

Finally, the recent tussle between the officers of the EPS assigned with the Presidential Motorcade and Police officers assigned with the Inspector General of the LNP as one of the main issues raised by the JAC petition seems not to be significant on grounds that it is an isolated issues that is arguably aloof from what they (JAC) conceptualized as threat to national peace building in Liberia. The petition also cited lack of unity between security apparatus Liberians are depending on in the absence of UNMIL. Unfortunately the petition did not catalogue or cite instances of disunity, instead employed an isolated case between the ESP and LNP to generalize lack of unity among security apparatus.

By Ambrues M. Nebo

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