The UN Security Council Takes up Ebola
Today, the UN Security Council held an open debate on the ebola outbreak in Africa, and unanimously adopted Security Council Resolution 2177. Background on the US sponsored resolution is available here.
The Council’s decision to take up the issue of Ebola is significant for three reasons. First, the Council calls the Ebola outbreak a threat to international peace and security. In the preamble, the Resolution expressly states the Council is “determining that the unprecedented extent of the Ebola outbreak in Africa constitutes a threat to international peace and security.” Although the resolution was adopted under Chapter VI (apparently due to concerns from Russia), it indicates a broadening concept of what events might trigger the Council’s jurisdiction. Security Council meetings on public health crises are rare, although two prior resolutions have been adopted on HIV/AIDS in 2000 and 2011 (S/RES/1308; S/RES/1983).
Second, the resolution contains a number of direct instructions to member states and private industry. It “calls on” Member states to lift general travel and border restrictions, provide urgent resources and assistance, including deployable medical capabilities. It also “calls on” airlines and shipping companies to maintain trade and transport links, reinforcing the Council’s increasing engagement with non-state actors.
Finally, the outbreak of Ebola is changing the UN’s approach to intervention in Liberia generally. Not only have plans to wind down UNMIL and UN sanctions been put on hold in light of the public health and social crisis, but the role of UNMIL is likely to evolve, with peacekeepers being called upon to provide logistical support to fight the epidemic.
This is a good step by the Security Council: it is demonstrating its relevance to a current and destabilizing threat with international ramifications, in a country that has been on the Council’s agenda for many years.