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Guinea-Bissau: Resolution to Renew the Mandate of UNIOGBIS

Tomorrow (28 February), the Security Council is expected to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS) for an additional year. Members held two rounds of negotiations on 20 and 26 February on the draft, which was initially circulated by Côte d’Ivoire, the penholder on Guinea-Bissau, on 19 February. After silence procedure was broken earlier today, an agreement appears to have now been reached.

For this year’s mandate renewal, the US advocated only a six-month extension. The US maintained that the Council has lacked a cooperative partner in Guinea-Bissau for years and could not continue to blindly extend UNIOGBIS each year, which with its predecessor mission has been present since 1999. The US has further noted that momentum towards resolving the political crisis has been driven by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), rather than the UN mission. The Council could further assess if anything has changed in six months, with the Secretary-General bringing forward an assessment of UNIOGBIS that he proposed in his latest report on Guinea-Bissau would be conducted ahead of next year’s renewal (S/2018/110), considering options for a reconfigured UN presence.

Other Council members preferred a standard one-year extension. In addition to the role of UNIOGBIS in supporting implementation of the ECOWAS-brokered Conakry agreement, members argued that UNIOGBIS was important to assist with the upcoming legislative elections, which amidst a tense political environment are unlikely to take place before this autumn. They felt that it was therefore unwise to create uncertainty about the mission’s continuity, and were concerned about the signal that reducing the extension period would send to ECOWAS, just as it has been intensifying its engagement.

Negotiations on the resolution have also involved differences over how to refer to the sanctions that ECOWAS imposed this month on 19 individuals for obstructing implementation of the Conakry Agreement. Russia objected to the Council welcoming the ECOWAS sanctions, preferring to “take note” of them. It contended that this was not appropriate since the Council is not renewing UNIOGBIS under Chapter VII and there is no clear threat to international peace and security. Russia further stated concerns that “welcoming” the sanctions would entail a legal obligation for the Council to adopt sanctions itself. African and EU members and the US preferred a stronger expression of support for the ECOWAS decision and countered that no legal obligation would be incurred.

A compromise was first obtained on the mandate renewal. An agreement was reached with the US to extend UNIOGBIS for an additional year, while removing from its mandate two tasks: the provision of strategic and technical advice and support to security sector reform and rule of law strategies, and the provision of strategic and technical advice to law enforcement and criminal and penitentiary systems. These were activities regarding which members felt the Secretary-General’s latest report had not provided a useful analysis of the mission’s role. The report had noted that Guinea-Bissau’s political impasse continued to hinder progress in key areas of the security sector.

Linked to this compromise, and to members’ concerns over the upcoming elections and the engagement of UNIOGBIS, Council members have also sought more frequent reporting: requesting an oral update within three months, and for the Secretary-General to submit within nine months the assessment of the mission with options for the reconfiguration of the UN presence and re-prioritization of tasks. Some members negotiated the inclusion of the “re-prioritization of tasks” in order to signal that if the situation changes so as to enable more work on security sector reform, which is led by the ECOWAS Mission in Guinea-Bissau (ECOMIB), the Secretary-General could propose restoring a role for UNIOGBIS in security sector reform, which over the years has been considered important for Guinea-Bissau’s stabilization.

Resolving Russia’s concerns took more time. A Council press statement on 21 February (SC/13218) that followed up on its 14 February briefing on Guinea-Bissau “took note” of the ECOWAS decision to impose sanctions, and several references in the draft resolution use this formulation. However, when the draft resolution was put under silence Monday evening (26 February), it continued to “welcome” ECOWAS sanctions in two paragraphs. This triggered Russia to break silence. Russia also continued to object to expressing the Council’s readiness to take additional measures to respond to further worsening of the situation. The Council has used this formulation in the past, recently in its 21 February press statement and in a 13 September 2017 presidential statement on Guinea-Bissau. But Russia preferred to not mention “additional measures”, raising concerns about what these measures would be, and opposing the possibility of future Council sanctions.

A revised draft that passed silence procedure early this evening now “acknowledges” the ECOWAS sanctions, which Russia suggested as a compromise between ‘taking note of’ and ‘welcoming’. The draft however maintains language on the Council’s readiness to take “additional measures”.

The priority tasks of UNIOGBIS now include supporting, through good offices, the electoral process for the 2018 legislative elections, in addition to continuing to support implementation of the Conakry Agreement and supporting the constitutional review.