Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a UN Security Council Open Debate on Peacekeeping and Transitions

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
September 8, 2021


Thank you, Madam President. And thank you, Secretary-General Guterres, as well as President Johnson Sirleaf and Safaa Adam, for your briefings. Let me thank Ireland, in particular, for hosting this very important discussion on the topic of peacekeeping and transitions. And I would also like to take the opportunity to thank all peacekeepers who take on this important task.

During the December 2020* renewal of the peacekeeping mandate for the UN Mission in South Sudan, our top priority was helping formulate a strategic vision for the Mission. The strategic vision is our way of challenging ourselves, our fellow Council members, and the UN itself to think beyond the mandate to the topic at hand: transitions.

Madam President, to truly plan for the future of a mission, including its conclusion, mission leadership must look beyond the time limitations of the mandate and plan for what is to come. Peacekeeping missions are not intended to be permanent, but so many have become just that. A strategic vision means smoother, more sustainable political transitions, with earlier and more holistic planning across the UN system. And no one understands that better than President Johnson Sirleaf, which is why I’m so glad she has joined us here today.

I had the great fortune of working with President Johnson Sirleaf while serving as Ambassador to Liberia, leading up to the decision to close UNMIL. And I’d like to expand a bit on your comments here today, Madam President. After 14 years of a deadly civil war and 15 years with a peacekeeping force, Liberia had three successive free and fair elections, and successfully turned over power to a second president in a peaceful transition. Today, Liberia even contributes their own peacekeepers to MINUSMA, as you heard today. That remarkable transition started with early, close, and frequent coordination with the then-SRSG for Liberia, Ellen Margrethe Løj, myself, and President Johnson Sirleaf. We knew UNMIL’s leaving could cause challenges for stability and safety.

So, we developed a vision, long before it was necessary, to make that transition. We used that vision to share a common message to the people of Liberia. And we made sure everyone stayed committed to the purpose. That meant engaging frequently with civil society, local stakeholders, the UN country team, and international partners – both diplomatically and in the broader NGO community. Key to our vision was ensuring that the Government of Liberia was also prepared, and so was building confidence in the local security institutions and their services.

The United States worked with the Liberian Armed Forces, and with the UN and donor community, to help make the Liberian National Police more responsive and accountable to the Liberian people. UNMIL built capacity in Liberia’s courts and trained judicial personnel to lead institutions that could effectively protect Liberians. Local efforts to sustain peace were equally important. Liberian civil society – including religious leaders, women’s groups, and journalists – worked to prevent and mitigate conflict at the local level. And we worked with local officials to monitor the government’s implementation of the peacekeeping plan. They observed elections to ensure that they were free, fair, and credible.

And all these efforts were guided by an inclusive vision and a strategic plan, focused on addressing the needs and interests of everyday people. UNMIL worked tirelessly to protect civilians and to ensure drawdown that did not lead to increased violence. Madam President, at this point, if you would allow me, I would love to commend India for providing women peacekeepers. They were so important as role models for young Liberian women and for girls who saw the power of women in uniform. So, thank you for that. This also required the UN country team, the host government, and civil society to step up to create sustainable mechanisms for protecting civilians after the peacekeepers withdrew. We hope to see this inclusive approach in Darfur, now that UNAMID has drawn down, and during upcoming Council discussions regarding UNITAMS.

Transitions are only successful if they are supported by committed and accountable host governments, and we appreciate the Government of Sudan’s reform efforts. But we remain very concerned about the intercommunal violence occurring in Darfur and the resulting number of people displaced from their homes. We urge the Government of Sudan to implement its National Plan to Protect Civilians and help ensure the transition from UNAMID is a success.

Fellow Council members, successful transitions show the best of what the UN can accomplish and honors the service of peacekeepers in these missions. But these transitions really do take real vision and they take long-term planning. And I hope we can use the lessons learned from Liberia and Darfur and develop clear strategic visions, focused on the interests of everyday people, to guide future transitions.

Thank you, Madam President.


*March 2021