|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6379th Meeting (AM)
Seven Years of Unbroken Peace in Liberia Has Prompted Optimism about Future, but
Fragile Peace Still Relies Heavily on UN Presence, Security Council Told
Special Representative Says Political Scene Focused on 2011 Elections;
Notes Country Has Requested to Be Added to Agenda of Peacebuilding Commission
Liberia had made “tremendous progress” since the end of its devastating civil war, but would require international assistance to keep making progress in the foreseeable future, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative told the Security Council this morning.
“Seven years of unbroken peace — the longest in decades — has allowed Liberians to begin to believe, to be optimistic about the future, and to day-by-day start taking charge and shaping the direction of their country,” Ellen Margrethe Loj, who is also the head of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), said, as she introduced the Secretary-General’s latest report (see background).
“However, these positive developments are tempered by the fragile peace that relies heavily on the presence of UNMIL military and police,” she added, calling for donors to be generous and to keep their expectations realistic.
Praising the Liberian Government for its leadership and ownership of reconstruction and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for her strong commitment to peace consolidation and development, she said that Liberia clearly illustrated that there cannot be sustainable security without development and vice-versa.
Pointing to the report for a full accounting of the overall situation, she focused on recent events that she said illuminated a number of critical areas that still needed to be addressed to enable UNMIL to successfully handover its responsibilities.
She noted, firstly, that Liberia had asked to be added to the Peacebuilding Commission’s agenda. The Government specified rule of law, security sector reform and national reconciliation as priority areas during the first visit from the Commission. She commented that adding the country to the Commission’s agenda would be a unique opportunity to ensure that peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts were mutually supportive.
With the region remaining in a fragile state of calm, she said that UNMIL’s presence represented a stabilizing influence and served as a deterrent to illegal cross-border activities, including drug trafficking. Internal threats arose from mob violence, ethnic and communal tensions, competition for natural resources, land disputes, sexual and gender-based violence and armed robbery.
In addition, she said that alarming rates of youth unemployment and the increasing availability of regionally-made guns presented further threats. UNMIL had intensified its efforts to address the latter in concert with the Government. As the report showed, serious security threats could arise from minor incidents.
She said that Liberians’ low confidence in the justice system highlighted the importance of strengthening rule of law and security institutions, and Government plans in that area still required substantial donor support. Police, immigrant and corrections services were particularly in need of strengthening.
She said that the political scene was fully seized with preparations for the critical 2011 presidential and legislative elections, now set for November, and with the corresponding adoption of key legislation, resource mobilization and capacity-building. Voter registration would start in January, and more international assistance was crucial, particularly if pending constitutional changes were not yet applicable and the National Elections Commission was faced with having to conduct more than 80 run-offs across the country.
Turning to national reconciliation, she said that the second report on implementation of the Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations showed continued support for traditional forgiveness mechanisms and other programmes, but further measures were needed. In that context, she voiced hope that a new set of nominees for the National Commission on Human Rights will be accepted by the Senate.
The Government, she said, had also announced an ambitious initiative linked to achieving economic growth and strengthening national identity, called the Liberia National Vision 2030. She commented that its programmes needed to be designed in an inclusive manner to ensure that Liberia never again experiences the nightmare of civil war.
She said that Liberia had recently qualified for$4.6 billion in debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. Reducing the debt burden freed up resources to finance expenditures critical to the success of the Poverty Reduction Strategy. The Government still faced extreme financial constraints while it was building its institutions, facing poor infrastructure and struggling to provide basic services. Noting efforts to strengthen accountability and transparency, she stated that more effort was needed to tackle corruption, which had the potential to seriously hinder development.
In regard to the eventual handover of security from UNMIL, she welcomed the Government’s ownership of the process and its need for early planning and said that the Mission and the Government were jointly identifying gaps that needed to be filled. As a result, she envisioned that current benchmarks that covered the drawdown phase would be revised to incorporate specific transition-related indicators.
The mission, she said, would also continue its work with the United Nations Country Team in relation to the handover of civilian activities and the improvement of system-wide coordination. As the final year of the current Poverty Reduction Strategy was under way, coherence among all actors was paramount in shaping the next phase. Finally, expressing appreciation to troop and police contributing countries, she appealed to them to ensure awareness of sexual abuse before deployment.
Following Ms. Loj’s briefing, the representative of Liberia, Marjon Kamara, took the floor, expressing appreciation to Ms. Loj, UNMIL, its troop-contributing countries and the international community as a whole for its support to Liberia. She affirmed that the Government was making great efforts to rebuild the country and she seconded Ms. Loj’s appeal for continued international support and for placing the country on the agenda of the Peacebuilding Commission.
The meeting was opened at 10:13 a.m. and closed at 10:36 a.m., at which time Council members went into consultations on Liberia, as previously arranged.
When the Council convened it had before it the twenty-first progress report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Mission in Liberia (document S/2010/429), which covers the period from 17 February until 11 August and contains a recommendation for the extension of the mandate of the Mission for an additional year, until 30 September 2011, with current military and police levels maintained at least through the 2011 elections, which it calls “a core benchmark for UNMIL drawdown and withdrawal”.
The report says that the West African country continues to make considerable progress in consolidating peace and security, but that enduring political and social divides, among other factors, could roll back the strides made so far. It warns that limited gains on national reconciliation and the perception of widespread impunity are obstacles to progress.
While the nation’s overall security situation is stable, the report notes, it is fragile due to ethnic and communal tensions, disputes over access to land and a lack of confidence in the criminal justice system. The prevalence of sexual attacks, armed robbery and other forms of serious criminal activity continues, and the Secretary-General expresses concern that more than 70 per cent of reported rapes between February and August have involved victims under the age of 16.
The Secretary-General says that disputes could rapidly escalate into major destabilizing incidents. He points to the example of widespread violence in Lofa county in northern Liberia between the predominantly Christian Lorma and Muslim Mandingo communities, triggered by allegations of a ritual killing. Armed with cutlasses, shotguns and other weapons, the two sides carried out attacks that resulted in four people killed, 18 injured, and many churches, mosques and homes destroyed. UNMIL, along with the Emergency Response Unit of the Liberian National Police, stepped in to restore order.
In Maryland county in Liberia’s south-east, according to the report, UNMIL and the national police prevented violence in April when a ritual killing was alleged, leading to the arrest of 18 people — including influential figures in the area — and sparking a community protest. “As events in Lofa and Maryland counties demonstrate, low public confidence in the State’s capacity to deliver justice frequently leads to rapid flare-ups, threatening overall law and order,” the Secretary-General notes.
He also says that although security institutions are continuing to make progress, they have yet to reach the capacity to respond independently of UNMIL, especially outside the capital, Monrovia. For that reason, he writes that it is crucial that the security sector becomes a main priority for the Government and the international community, with those institutions becoming independently operational and fully resourced.
He stresses that next year’s presidential and legislative elections, now planned for November, will be a “critical milestone” for Liberia, testing the capacity of national institutions, and he urges the Government and others to create a plan on how to take the recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission forward.
UNMIL was set up in 2003 to bolster a ceasefire agreement ending a war that killed almost 150,000 Liberians, mostly civilians, and sent 850,000 others fleeing to neighbouring countries. In the report, the Secretary-General says that he is pleased that the Government and its international partners have started planning for the eventual handover of security responsibilities from UNMIL to national authorities.
According to the report, the mission has entered the third stage in its drawdown, with the removal of more than 2,000 troops — leaving 8,052 as of 30 July 2010 — and the withdrawal of dozens of armoured personnel carriers and three attack helicopters. The police component has been maintained close to its authorized strength of 1,375.
* *** *For information media • not an official record