|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6187th Meeting (AM)
Sierra Leone’s Success in Transition to Stable Democracy Depends
on Government Providing ‘Peace Dividend’, Security Council Told
High Youth Unemployment, Drug-trafficking, Precarious
Security in Subregion Cited as Threats to Country’s Fragile Situation
The success of Sierra Leone’s road towards stable democracy would depend largely on the extent to which its Government would be able to provide a “peace and democracy dividend” for all Sierra Leoneans, which would depend in turn on its ability to rally international support for its “Agenda for Change”, the head of the United Nations presence in that country told the Security Council today.
Michael von der Schulenburg, Executive Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL), said the country had embarked on a “remarkable journey” towards becoming stable, peaceful and democratic by promoting the rule of law, observing democratic process and creating economic prosperity. “By any standard, this is a colossal task,” he said, noting that there were few examples of peaceful and democratic nation- and State-building.
Sierra Leone was one of the world’s poorest countries, he said, pointing out that 70 per cent of its population was illiterate, more than 70 per cent of its youth were unemployed, its child mortality rate was among the highest in the world and its State institutions remained weak. The road to peace, democracy and prosperity would be bumpy, long and at times dangerous. What Sierra Leone would need in order to succeed was time, patience, determined national leadership and continued international support.
He went on to state that the political and security situation in West Africa remained highly precarious, with military coups, ethnic and interreligious conflicts and increasing threats from international crime, including drug trafficking, illegal fishing and unfair exploitation of mineral wealth. That situation could ultimately threaten Sierra Leone’s achievements, while a successful and peaceful Sierra Leone could have a positive influence on developments in the region.
“ Sierra Leone is on the way to presenting us with such a success story. Let us not miss this chance,” he said, emphasizing that the international community needed Sierra Leone to foster regional peace and stability. UNIPSIL had proved that the new concept of integrated peacebuilding missions worked. A mission with a light footprint, it had a staff of 73, almost half of them recruited locally. It had been able to maintain a strong role as a political facilitator, as demonstrated by its role in helping to resolve the outbreak of political violence in March.
Despite its smaller staff, UNIPSIL had been able to maintain a considerable field presence by joining hands with United Nations development agencies and focusing on development, he continued. It was working jointly with the World Bank and all development partners to improve aid coordination and increase national ownership. Together with the Ministry of Finance, UNIPSIL was finalizing a simple new aid coordination architecture, and had also strengthened cooperation with the Peacebuilding Commission. “Finally, we have been able to set up UNIPSIL in a way that should make any future transition towards the normal development presence, with a resident coordinator system, easy,” he said in conclusion.
He said today was a day of national mourning following the deaths of about 100 people, most of them schoolchildren, after the capsizing of a ferry in an incident that was a reminder of the fragility of the country’s infrastructure and how difficult life remained for average Sierra Leoneans.
John McNee ( Canada), Chairman of the Peacebuilding Commission’s country-specific configuration on Sierra Leone, said that since his last report to the Security Council, on 10 June, the configuration had held a high-level session with wide representation from the Government of Sierra Leone, major opposition parties and civil society, as well as numerous delegations. Beyond demonstrating that the international community remained committed to the country, the session had endorsed the Government’s Agenda for Change and the innovative United Nations peacebuilding framework. It had also launched a new United Nations multi-donor trust fund.
With the peacebuilding strategy now firmly in place, it fell to Sierra Leone and the international community to address the remaining peacebuilding challenges, he said. The country remained calm, with the major political parties and the United Nations following up on the joint communiqué agreed upon following the political violence in March. Dialogue had been extended to youth groups, the Peacebuilding Fund had been utilized and a commission of inquiry had been established to investigate allegations of sexual violence perpetrated during the civil conflict.
He cautioned, however, that security remained fragile and the international community could not become complacent. In particular, high youth unemployment, illicit drug trafficking and weaknesses in democracy and the rule of law threatened the peace; those three areas had become the core priorities of the Peacebuilding Commission. It was even more important, given the current financial climate, that Sierra Leone receive active support from the international community. It was essential to provide adequate funding for the Agenda for Change and the United Nations Joint Visions.
The representative of Sierra Leone said that the establishment of UNIPSIL had significant added value, as had been proven by its rapid and innovative approach during the March skirmishes between followers of the two main political parties. Though significant progress was being made in promoting inter-party dialogue, combating corruption and cross-border organized crime, as well as enhancing security, the Government was confronting challenges in addressing governance and human rights issues, youth unemployment and establishing institutional mechanisms.
The economic and financial downturn was also impacting its ability to address socio-economic challenges, he said, reiterating the importance of supporting the projected $350 million Multi-Donor Trust Fund for the implementation of the strategic frameworks. Welcoming the proposed extension of UNIPSIL’s mandate, he said there was no need for additional benchmarks as benchmarks were already built into the implementation and monitoring mechanism for the United Nations Joint Vision agreed with the Government. Security in the wider subregion was still very fragile due to illicit drug trafficking and cross-border organized crime. Any foreseeable exit of the much-needed international presence was therefore not warranted before Sierra Leone’s 2012 elections.
The meeting began at 10:15 a.m. and ended at 10:45 a.m.
The Security Council had before it the third report of the Secretary-General on UNIPSIL (document S/2009/438), in which he recommends extending UNIPSIL’s mandate for a further 12 months until 30 September 2010, noting that, while it continues to make steady progress in helping the Government consolidate peace and ensuring integrated United Nations peacebuilding efforts, complex challenges remain.
In the report, the Secretary-General also calls for greater efforts by all Sierra Leoneans to build on the momentum generated by the signing of the accord leading to the cessation of political violence earlier this year. Measures taken to implement the 2 April communiqué, signed by the governing All People’s Congress (APC) and the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), “have enabled the strengthening of the peace-consolidation process in Sierra Leone”. The pact set up a framework for bi-party consensus on youth issues, illicit drug trafficking and building democratic institutions in the West African nation. However, there is a need for stepped-up efforts by all stakeholders, including international development partners, to deal with political intolerance and violence ahead of the 2012 elections.
According to the report, high youth unemployment and drug trafficking continue to impede the consolidation of peace, as does the global economic downturn, which has decreased foreign aid, external investment and overseas remittances. “Especially worrying is the fact that Sierra Leone continues to register extremely high infant and maternal mortality and poverty levels, which call for increased engagement by the international community to help reverse those negative trends,” the Secretary-General writes. Concluding the constitutional reform process is also long overdue and UNIPSIL stands ready to provide technical support in that area.
The Security Council authorized the creation of UNIPSIL in August 2008 to replace the United Nations Political Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL), giving it an initial mandate of 12 months. The Office works closely with the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission in support of national and local efforts to resolve tensions and threats of potential conflict. It also monitors and promotes human rights, democratic institutions and the rule of law, including efforts to counter transnational organized crime and drug trafficking.
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