Linda Thomas-Greenfield: how Sudan and other peacekeeping transitions can learn from Liberia

The United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, on Wednesday, asserted that the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia was successful and can be replicated around the world.

The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) was a peacekeeping force set up in September 2003 to monitor a ceasefire deal following the resignation of President Charles Taylor at the end of the second Liberian civil war.

Thomas-Greenfield, a former U.S. Ambassador to Liberia, stressed that any peacekeeping mission that is not focused on the civilian population, is doomed to fail, clarifying that the Biden administration is focused “on ensuring peacekeeping missions effectively protect civilians.”

She said after 15 years of a deadly civil war, and 15 years with a peacekeeping force, Liberia had free and fair election, and successfully handed over presidential power.

“And Liberians, today, even contribute its own peacekeepers to MINUSMA, (the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali),” Thomas-Greenfield said in remarks at a side event on improving the protection of civilians in UN peacekeeping transitions.

She said early planning, constant coordination and frequently involving all stakeholders, including the civil society, the media, religious leaders and many other actors led to the successful outcome.

She said the then-SRSG for Liberia, Ellen Margrethe Løj, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and herself as the US Ambassador to Liberia started planning early and kept in close touch with each other.

She said: “We coordinated almost on a daily basis. We knew, early on, that UNMIL’s leaving was going to be a challenge, and that it would threaten stability and safety. And it would really shake the confidence of the people of Liberia who saw UNMIL’s presence as, basically a security blanket for them.

“So, we developed a planned long before it was necessary to make that transition, and we ensured that there weren’t any gaps in the process. We made sure we never disagreed in public – even though we did have disagreements in private.

“But we wanted to project a unified front and a shared common message to the people in Liberia, as well as to the political entities. And we made our contact with the public a constant contact.

“We wanted to make sure that everyone stayed committed to the process. And that meant engaging frequently with civil society, with local stakeholders, with the UN country team, with international partners – both diplomatically and in the broader NGO community. And Director Lukaha, your statements about the importance of civil society being part of this process and monitoring the plan, really resonated with me.  

“Key to our planning was ensuring that the Government of Liberia was also prepared. UNMIL helped to build and reform Liberia’s security and justice sector.

“It helped to build the institutions that were necessary for the government to continue. We all worked together to professionalize the security services.

“The U.S. worked with the Liberian Armed Forces, and we worked together as the donor community to support the capacity-building of the Liberian National Police.

“Again, building confidence in the local security institutions and their services was important. They built capacity – UNMIL – in Liberia’s courts, trained judicial personnel to lead institutions that could effectively protect Liberians. And on top of all of those efforts, Liberian civil society – including religious leaders, women’s groups, journalists – worked to prevent and mitigate conflict on the local level. And we also worked with local officials, as well. They helped monitor the government’s implementation of the peacekeeping plan and observed elections to ensure they were fair and credible.  

“These best practices – ensuring a strong focus on protecting civilians, communicating early and often, coordinating with government, and bringing in civil society – should be applied in every single peacekeeping transition.”

Thomas-Greenfield said that “people-centered approach” should be applied to Sudan, “where serious gaps in the protection of civilians have been made even worse by the transition from a peacekeeping operation to a special political mission.”

She asserted that as a result of those gaps in Sudan, “Darfur now is experiencing its highest increase in displaced persons since 2015,” while local Sudanese government officials have “failed to secure UN team sites, some of which have been looted.”

“UNITAMS can support the Sudanese government’s effort to find durable solutions to Darfur’s long-standing challenges, but they can only do that if the government takes advantage of its capabilities and its expertise,” she said, adding that Member States, also need to help UNITAMS and other peacekeeping missions and ensure that “transitions don’t mean a transition back to violence.”

“In the Security Council, our decisions about peacekeeping transitions must center on people, and give the UN system and host governments ample time to plan for and adapt their own protection capacities,” Thomas-Greenfield added.

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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