25 May 2016

Liberia: Explanation of Vote at the Adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2288 on Liberia Sanctions Termination

Photo: Erik Hersman
Downtown Monrovia.


Thank you, Mr. President. As we terminate these sanctions today, it is worth recalling how far Liberia has come. Today is the first day that Liberia is not subject to United Nations sanctions since 1992. The current sanctions date from 2003, shortly after Charles Taylor had gone into exile and a comprehensive peace agreement had been signed. At that time, this Council took swift and effective action to establish a strong sanctions regime aimed at supporting Liberia's peace agreement. The sanctions first included an arms embargo, a targeted travel ban, and import bans on the principal natural resources that were funding the conflict: round logs and timber products originating in Liberia, and rough diamonds from Liberia. These innovative natural resource sanctions, which were carefully tailored to the specific context in Liberia, made a powerful contribution to Liberia's peace and security. The Council adjusted the sanctions as the situation on the ground changed, adding a targeted asset freeze.

Importantly, the Council clearly articulated the objectives of these measures and, therefore, when it would be prepared to terminate them. The arms and travel sanctions were aimed to support the ceasefire, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, implementation of the peace agreement, and establishing and maintaining stability in Liberia and the sub-region more generally. The diamond sanctions were aimed to prevent diamonds from fueling the conflict and to support the establishment of a certificate of origin regime. The timber sanctions were geared towards ensuring that revenues from the timber industry were not used to fuel conflict. And over time, as the situation in Liberia stabilized and these criteria were progressively met, the Security Council responded by gradually terminating the natural resource sanctions, scaling back the arms embargo, and finally, last year, terminating the targeted sanctions measures. Today, more than 12 years after the end of Liberia's brutal civil war and the Council's imposition of sanctions, Liberia continues to consolidate its progress and the Security Council has determined that the criteria for lifting the sanctions have been met, allowing us to fully terminate the regime.

What lessons can we learn from this history that may be applicable to the threats to international peace and security that we face today?

One is that the Security Council must be creative and courageous in its sanctions design. The Liberia natural resources sanctions were well-tailored to the context and demonstrated this Council's determination to address unconventional sources of conflict financing. We would do well to consider similar measures targeting the funding and fueling of conflict in other situations we are facing today. This is neither unprecedented nor is it novel. It is effective, and one need look no further than Liberia.

A second lesson is that effective monitoring and enforcement of sanctions is imperative. The Liberia Panel of Experts, and the Panel of Experts on Sierra Leone before it, reported on many issues that states saw as sensitive: organized smuggling networks, trafficking of diamonds, control over and use of revenues of the timber industry. The sensitivity of this reporting only serves to illustrate the importance of it – the need could not be clearer then, or indeed today, for candid, diligent, and detailed reporting in driving the evolution of sanctions to better address the challenges the international community faces. We create these panels, after all, to provide us with information about situations that pose a threat to international peace and security. And we should be ashamed when we prevent them from doing their jobs – as some are doing in other contexts today – even if we disagree with what they have to say.

A third lesson is that the effective collaboration of international partners and mechanisms is a key part of making sanctions work effectively. We saw that in Liberia with productive cooperation between the sanctions committee, the Panel of Experts, the UN Mission in Liberia, and the Liberian government. This was a testament to what can be achieved when sanctions are deployed with purpose, grounded within a clear strategy for promoting international peace and security, and coupled with the necessary political progress from governments.

The fourth, and last, is less a lesson than a reminder: that sanctions, even the sanctions that last the longest, do not last forever. Sanctions end. We saw another example of this earlier this year with the termination of the Côte d'Ivoire sanctions regime. Just as we must never hesitate to strengthen sanctions and their enforcement if necessary to address threats to international peace and security, we must move expeditiously to wind down and end sanctions when they are no longer serving the purpose or when they have achieved what was sought.

That is not to say that Liberia's work to improve its internal security is finished. In order for Liberia to safeguard the gains achieved over the past 12 years, we encourage the government to prioritize further capacity building of its security sector by ensuring that it has the necessary legal framework in place, and by continuing to strengthen the capacity of its security agencies to better monitor arms flows, mark weapons, and patrol its borders. We encourage the legislature to take the remaining steps to finalize the Firearms and Ammunition Control Act, which is an important piece of legislation, in order to address gaps in Liberia's legal framework for arms and ammunition management. But perfection is not the goal of a Security Council sanctions regime. The goal is, rather, to address a threat to international peace and security. That is not everything, but it is enough.

The United States will continue to work closely with Liberia as it consolidates its progress towards peace and stability. Today we celebrate this transition and the role this Security Council has played in helping restore peace to Liberia.

Thank you.

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