Background to the UN mission in Liberia (UNMIL)
1989 – 1997
Civil war in Liberia claimed the lives of almost 150,000 people
– mostly civilians – and led to a complete breakdown of law
and order. It displaced scores of people, both internally and
beyond the borders, resulting in some 850,000 refugees in the
neighbouring countries. Fighting began in late 1989, and by
early 1990, several hundred deaths had already occurred in confrontations
between government forces and fighters who claimed membership
in an opposition group, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia
(NPFL), led by a former government official, Mr. Charles Taylor.
From the outset of the conflict, a subregional organization,
the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), undertook
various initiatives aimed at a peaceful settlement. The United
Nations supported ECOWAS in its efforts to end a civil war.
These efforts included establishing, in 1990, an ECOWAS’s observer
force, the Military Observer Group (ECOMOG). The Security Council
in 1992 imposed an arms embargo on Liberia, and the Secretary-General
appointed a Special Representative to assist in talks between
ECOWAS and the warring parties.
After ECOWAS brokered a peace agreement in Cotonou, Benin,
in 1993, the Security Council established the United Nations
Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL).
Its task was to support ECOMOG in implementing the Cotonou peace
agreement – especially compliance with and impartial implementation
of the agreement by all parties. UNOMIL was the first United
Nations peacekeeping mission undertaken in cooperation with
a peacekeeping operation already established by another organization.
Delays in the implementation of the peace agreement and resumed
fighting among Liberian factions made it impossible to hold
elections in February/March 1994, as scheduled. In the following
months, a number of supplementary peace agreements, amending
and clarifying the Cotonou agreement, were negotiated. With
the ceasefire in force, the United Nations successfully observed
the conduct of the elections in July 1997. Mr. Charles Taylor
was elected President. Following his inauguration on 2 August
1997, President Taylor formed a new Government and announced
a policy of reconciliation and national unity. UNOMIL’s principal
objective was achieved.
1997 – 2003
In November 1997, following the completion of UNOMIL’s mandate
on 30 September, the United Nations established the United Nations
Peace-building Support Office in Liberia (UNOL), headed by a
Representative of the Secretary-General. That first United
Nations post-conflict peace-building support office was tasked
primarily with assisting the Government in consolidating peace
following the July 1997 multiparty elections.
With the full support of the Security Council, UNOL facilitated
the promotion of national reconciliation and good governance
and helped mobilize international support for the implementation
of reconstruction and development programmes. In the most recent
period, UNOL worked to fulfil the terms of a revised mandate,
approved by the Security Council on 23 April 2003. Under the
terms of that revised mandate, and in addition to its initial
tasks, UNOL was to focus on assisting the Government of Liberia
in addressing its expressed capacity needs in the areas of human
rights and the conduct of elections, as well as on developing
a peace-building strategy integrating political objectives,
programme assistance and human rights considerations.
However, the peace-building efforts of UNOL were seriously
hindered by the inability of the Government and opposition party
leaders to resolve their differences over key issues of governance.
Meanwhile, the promotion of national reconciliation was undermined
by systematic abuses of human rights, the exclusion and harassment
of political opponents and the absence of security sector reform.
These elements contributed to the resumption of civil war in
Liberia, prompting the international community to call on the
warring parties to seek a negotiated settlement of the conflict.
On 8 July 2003, as fighting between Government forces and various
warring factions intensified and humanitarian tragedy threatened,
the Secretary-General decided (S/2003/695)
to appoint Jacques Paul Klein of the United States his Special
Representative for Liberia. He was entrusted with the task of
coordinating the activities of the United Nations agencies in
Liberia and supporting the emerging transitional arrangements.
On 29 July, the Secretary-General outlined (S/2003/769)
a three-phased deployment of international troops to Liberia,
leading to a multidimensional United Nations peacekeeping operation.
He also indicated that, in view of the appointment of Mr. Klein,
and the envisaged establishment of a United Nations operation
in Liberia, the mandate of UNOL would naturally have to be terminated.
Since that time the situation in Liberia has developed rapidly.
On 1 August 2003, the Security Council adopted resolution
1497 (2003), authorizing the establishment of a multinational
force in Liberia and declaring its readiness to establish a
follow-on United Nations stabilization force to be deployed
no later than 1 October 2003. On 18 August 2003, the Liberian
parties signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Accra. By
that Agreement, the parties requested the United Nations to
deploy a force to Liberia under Chapter VII of the Charter of
the United Nations to support the National Transitional Government
of Liberia and assist in the implementation of the Agreement.
With the subsequent deployment of the ECOWAS Mission in Liberia,
the security situation in the country improved.
For the more complete account of the events leading to
the establishment of UNMIL , including the 11 August resignation
of President Charles Taylor and the peaceful transfer of power
in Liberia, please click here (S/2003/875).
UN peacekeeping mission is recommended
As requested by the Security Council, the Secretary-General
submitted on 11 September a report (S/2003/875)
providing update on the situation in the country, and containing
his recommendations on the role the United Nations could play
to facilitate the effective implementation of the Comprehensive
Peace Agreement, as well as on the size, structure and mandate
of a peacekeeping operation in Liberia.
The Secretary-General recommended that the Council, acting
under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, authorize the
deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping operation with a
troop strength of up to 15,000, including 250 military observers,
160 staff officers, up to 875 civilian police officers and an
additional five armed formed units each comprising 120 officers,
and a significant civilian component and necessary support staff.
He said that the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL)
would be a multidimensional operation composed of political,
military, civilian police, criminal justice, civil affairs,
human rights, gender, child protection, disarmament, demobilization
and reintegration, public information and support components,
as well as an electoral component in due course. The Mission
would include a mechanism for the coordination of its activities
with those of the humanitarian and development community. UNMIL
would coordinate closely with ECOWAS and the African Union.
In order to ensure a coordinated United Nations response to
the many subregional issues, UNMIL would also work closely with
the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), the United
Nations Mission in Cote d’Ivoire (MINUCI) and the United Nations
Office for West Africa.
The Mission would be headed by the Special Representative of
the Secretary-General, who would have overall authority for
the activities of the Mission and of the United Nations system
in Liberia. The Special Representative would be assisted by
a senior management team consisting of, among others, two Deputies,
a Force Commander with the rank of Lieutenant General, and a
A senior gender adviser, with staff, would be part of the Office
of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to undertake
and support gender mainstreaming within the various pillars
of the Office and with civil society and other external partners.
An HIV/AIDS policy adviser, with supporting staff, would also
be attached to the Office of the Special Representative, to
coordinate activities in the Mission area for the prevention
of HIV transmission among civilian and military personnel and
The Secretary-General proposed that the mandate of UNMIL would
be to support the National Transitional Government of Liberia
and the other parties in the effective and timely implementation
of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement; to monitor adherence to
the ceasefire agreement of 17 June; to assist the National Transitional
Government in extending State authority throughout Liberia;
to provide security at key government installations, in particular,
ports, airports and other vital infrastructure; to ensure the
security and freedom of movement of United Nations personnel;
to facilitate the free movement of people, humanitarian assistance
and goods; to support the safe and sustainable return of refugees
and internally displaced persons; and to protect civilians under
imminent threat of physical violence in the areas of immediate
deployment of United Nations formed military units.
In addition, the force would advise, train and assist the Liberian
law enforcement authorities and other criminal justice institutions;
assist the National Transitional Government in the implementation
of a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme;
guard weapons, ammunition and other military equipment collected
from ex-combatants and assist in their subsequent disposal or
destruction; assist in the preparation of elections; monitor
and report on the human rights situation and provide training
and capacity-building in the field of human rights and child
protection; provide support for gender mainstreaming, including
training; support the establishment and operations of the Truth
and Reconciliation Commission; and cooperate with ECOWAS, the
African Union and the United Nations on cross-cutting political
and security issues.
In his report the Secretary-General observed that the transfer
of power from President Charles Taylor to Vice-President Moses
Blah and the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement by
the Liberian parties offered a unique window of opportunity
to end the suffering inflicted on the people of Liberia and
to find a peaceful solution to a conflict that had been the
epicentre of instability in the subregion. While the United
Nations and the international community at large stood ready
to support the Liberian peace process, the effective and successful
implementation of the Peace Agreement remained the primary responsibility
of the Liberian parties themselves, he stressed.
On 19 September, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution
1509 (2003) welcoming the Secretary-General’s report of
11 September 2003 and its recommendations. It decided that UNMIL
would consist of up to 15,000 United Nations military personnel,
including up to 250 military observers and 160 staff officers,
and up to 1,115 civilian police officers, including formed units
to assist in the maintenance of law and order throughout Liberia,
and the appropriate civilian component. The mandate of the Mission
was established for a period of 12 months. The Council requested
the Secretary-General to transfer authority to UNMIL on 1 October
from forces led by ECOWAS, which it commended for its rapid
and professional deployment. Among other things, the Council
also took note of the intention of the Secretary-General to
terminate the mandate of UNOL and to transfer the major functions
performed by that Office to UNMIL.
As scheduled, UNMIL took over peacekeeping duties from ECOWAS
forces on 1 October. Some 3,500 West African troops who had
been serving with ECOMIL vanguard force were provisionally “re-hatted”
as United Nations peacekeepers. In a statement issued on that
day, the Secretary-General welcomed this very important development
and saluted ECOWAS for its role in establishing the security
climate that paved the way for the deployment of UNMIL. He commended
the Governments of Benin, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mali,
Nigeria, Senegal and Togo who have contributed to UNMIL, as
well as the United States for its support to the regional force.
The Secretary-General expressed confidence that UNMIL would
be able to contribute in a major way towards the resolution
of conflict in Liberia, provided all parties concerned cooperate
fully with the force and the international community provides
the necessary resources.