Conflict often makes the news, but what about peace? It may not be at the top of your newsfeed, but this month brings an important milestone: the close of the UN Peacekeeping mission in Liberia, known as UNMIL. Following two devastating civil wars, UNMIL played a key role in supporting Liberia’s transition to peace, enabling elections, promoting women’s rights, and advancing reconstruction.
As many parts of the world grapple with violence and instability, it’s important to remember that when UN Peacekeepers are deployed, they advance the cause of peace.
Having traveled to Liberia, I have seen how UNMIL has helped the country and why this matters today. Let’s explore.
Civil War in Liberia
Between 1989-2003, Liberia went through two civil wars, which killed nearly 250,000 people, displaced hundreds of thousands, caused widespread instability in the region, and damaged the country’s economy. Horrors unfolded throughout those years, with children recruited as soldiers, rape used as a weapon of conflict, and rampant human rights abuses.
In 1993, a UN Peacekeeping mission was deployed to support implementation of a peace agreement that ended the first civil war. That peacekeeping mission ended in 1997, and UN support transitioned to focusing on reconciliation, reconstruction, and good governance. However, civil war resumed.
Warring factions signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2003 and the Security Council authorized the deployment of a new peacekeeping mission in Liberia, UNMIL.
At its authorization in 2003, UNMIL’s mission was to:
- Support the transitional government and other parties in implementing the peace agreement;
- Monitor the ceasefire;
- Improve security in the country, especially related to vital infrastructure;
- Facilitate humanitarian aid;
- Support the safe return of displaced people; and
- Protect civilians.
In addition, this mission disarmed 100,000 former combatants and helped train and rebuild Liberia’s security sector, including the Liberia National Police Force, currently one of the most trusted institutions in the country. Furthermore, UNMIL played a critical role in promoting and monitoring human rights, supporting the peace process, and empowering women’s rights.
For the mission, the Security Council authorized up to 15,000 UN military personnel, including up to 250 military observers, 160 staff officers, and 1,115 UN police officers.
Transition to Peace
Since UNMIL was first deployed, UN Peacekeepers, in partnership with Liberians, have helped strengthen stability, security, and governance. Milestones include:
Free elections: UN Peacekeepers provided security and stability, allowing Liberia to hold democratic elections in 2005, which saw Ellen Johnson Sirleaf elected as President. The first woman president to be elected on the continent, she was re-elected in the 2011 elections. And in 2017, the country elected former soccer star George Weah as president, and this January was the first peaceful transfer of power in 74 years.
Handing over full security operations to Liberia’s government: In 2012, because of improvements in the country’s security, the Security Council authorized an eventual military drawdown and a gradual hand over power to the Liberian national government. The Ebola outbreak in 2014 threatened these gains, so UNMIL’s mandate was extended. In 2016, UNMIL transferred full security operation to the government. Over time, UNMIL’s presence was further reduced, leading to the close of the mission in March 2018.
Reconciliation, reconstruction, and development: UN support has helped enable peace and security in Liberia; it has also supported reconciliation, humanitarian, and development efforts in the country. From agricultural support to childhood immunizations to advice on legal reform, UN agencies have helped Liberia rebuild after war.
The UN’s first all-female peacekeeping unit: In 2007, more than 100 policewomen from India arrived in Liberia to help provide security in Monrovia. As the UN’s first all-female peacekeeping police unit, they also served as role models for Liberian girls and women.
More than 200 lives given in service to peace: Peace does not always come easy, and more than 200 UN peacekeepers lost their lives as part of UNMIL’s work to support peace in Liberia.
“UNMIL has been at the forefront of establishing the key foundations for peace in Liberia,” said UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed. With the close of the peacekeeping mission, the UN’s country team will continue to support Liberia as it works to achieve sustainable development and peace.
UNMIL’s story is an example of how UN Peacekeeping can play a key role in stabilizing a fragile country, promoting greater stability in the world.
[Photo: UNMIL Photo/Christopher Herwig]