16 March 2011
Security Council
SC/10197

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

6495th Meeting (AM)


Increasingly Complex Situation in Liberia Requires Continued International


Attention, Special Representative Tells Security Council

 


Head of Peacebuilding Commission Configuration

Cites Security Threat Posed by Influx of Refugees from Côte d’Ivoire


With the election process gearing up and refugees flooding in from neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire, the increasingly complex situation in Liberia required sustained international attention, even though progress continued, Ellen Margrethe Løj, Special Representative of the Secretary-General, said today in a briefing to the Security Council.


“ Liberia is much stronger today than it was eight years ago,” said Ms. Løj, who also heads the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).  “Nevertheless, we should not take these eight years of unbroken peace for granted.  Continued and increased international engagement will be needed,” she added as she presented the Secretary-General’s latest progress report on the Mission.


Accompanied by Zeid Raad Zeid Al Hussein ( Jordan), Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission’s Country-specific Configuration for Liberia, and Marjon Kamara, the country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ms. Løj emphasized the importance of successful elections and a peaceful post-election transition in solidifying Liberia’s progress.  It was crucial to ensure an environment conducive to healthy political debate and competition, for which purpose the National Election Commission must retain its objectivity and independence, she said.


Warning that the political debate was likely to intensify, with several election-related challenges already in the courts, she encouraged all political actors to express their ideas in a way that did not undermine confidence in the democratic system, pledging that UNMIL would continue to provide its impartial good offices in that regard.  However, voter registration had been successfully concluded on 12 February with no major security incidents or prohibitive logistical challenges, she said, noting that the national police had provided security, with the Mission’s assistance.


There had been concerns over irregularities on the part of political aspirants, but they had not been of a magnitude to undermine the process, she said, adding that it was encouraging that some 1.8 million registration forms had been retrieved.  That figure represented 89 per cent of the estimated total number of eligible voters, an almost 30 per cent increase over the 2005 elections.  She cautioned, however, that the logistics would be significantly greater in the actual election, given that it would be held over one day during the rainy-season.  While donors had responded positively to requests to finance the $47 million electoral budget, a $4 million gap remained in the basket fund managed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).


Turning to the revised benchmarks requested by the Council for the completion of UNMIL’s work, she said they focused on core areas considered vital to handing over security responsibilities to the Government, and on building institutional capacity, which could best ensure long-term stability.  Planning for the security handover continued, but illustrated how significant the gaps remained, particularly in the areas of logistics, communications and mobility.  Continued international engagement was, therefore, crucial, she said, adding that the Peacebuilding Commission’s attention represented a major opportunity for Liberia.


She noted, in addition, that since the last progress report, there had been growing concern over possible security fallouts from the large number of refugees fleeing the political crisis in Cote d’Ivoire.  At least 50,000 people were estimated to have crossed the border in just the past 18 days, joining almost 40,000 registered earlier by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  With the influx stretching the resources of host communities, she stressed the importance of a generous response to the humanitarian flash appeal launched in January.  With regard to security, she said UNMIL and the Government had increased their border presence, but the operations had also shown the limitations of the security agencies.


Reporting on his two visits to Liberia, Prince Zeid said the most encouraging aspect had been the great number of talented and committed officials and public personalities at all levels.  However, he agreed with the Special Representative about the security threat posed by a further swelling in the number of Ivorian refugees if no assistance was provided to help Liberia manage the delicate situation.  It was important to sort out the numerous land disputes in the country, as a priority measure and in concert with other efforts, to consolidate national reconciliation.


Saying that a firmer foundation for peace was needed in the form of a single, uniform historical narrative, he expressed support for the establishment of a Historical Commission, as proposed by Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Once a common memory was established, other reconciliation mechanisms, like the Palava Hut project, would have greater meaning.  A stable foundation for peace also required an effective youth employment programme, he stressed, noting that the World Bank’s assessment of its contribution in that area was still awaited.


He said his visit had also underscored the fragility of the judiciary, and called for measures to strengthen the functioning of the existing courts before judicial services were extended beyond Monrovia, the capital city.  Proposals for special courts to deal with transnational organized crime should be seriously taken up with the Government.  In general, it was important for the Peacebuilding Commission to take excellent ideas generated by the Government and “explore with them the manner by which we could be most helpful”, he said.  Describing the process of approving a priority plan for Liberia, he said that, in all discussions involving domestic and international stakeholders, everyone had marvelled at how much the country had achieved since the end of the fighting in 2003, but they all realized just how breathtaking were the challenges.


Ms. Kamara expressed gratitude for the steadfast international support for her country, affirming that it had taken the united and committed efforts of Liberians and the international community to ensure lasting peace and prosperity.  Since President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf had taken office in 2006, there had been very impressive achievements in certain areas, but progress had not met expectations in others, and many challenges remained.  The Secretary-General’s report was balanced in describing progress and constraints, systemic weaknesses and critical gaps, she said, stressing the importance of synchronizing the efforts of UNMIL and the Peacebuilding Commission in order to help Liberia overcome challenges.


Affirming both the importance of a successful election and concern over the influx of refugees from Côte d’Ivoire, she urged the international community to maintain a critical focus on the crisis in the neighbouring country, which could undermine stability in the entire West African subregion.  There was an urgent need for resources to help the Liberian Government and the humanitarian community prepare an effective response, she emphasized.


At the outset of the meeting, the Council observed a minute of silence in sympathy with those affected by last Friday’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan.


The meeting began at 10:15 a.m. and ended at 10:40 a.m.


Background


The Security Council had before it the Twenty-second progress report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), which has been deployed in the country since 2003 to support the ceasefire agreement that ended a decade-long civil war.


Dated 14 February 2011, the report (document S/2011/72) covers major developments since the report of 11 August 2010.  It says that Liberia has reached “a critical juncture” in its long recovery from civil war, but considerable work remains to be done before UNMIL can hand over security responsibilities to national authorities.  Annexed to the report in that context are the Secretary-General’s revised benchmarks for the transfer of security responsibilities from UNMIL, which had 8,064 troops, 485 civilian police and 842 police in formed units as of 1 February this year.  The Council requested the benchmarks in its resolution 1938 (2010).


The report says the Mission helped the national police develop an integrated security and contingency plan, pointing to the need for concerted efforts to fill critical capacity gaps, and for generous financial and technical support from key partners such as the Peacebuilding Fund and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Justice and Security Trust Fund.  The new national Army is officially scheduled to attain full operational capability by mid-2012, but obstacles to meeting that deadline include delays in endorsing the national defence strategy, as well as insufficient budgetary allocations to enable the Army to maintain its infrastructure, logistics and equipment, or procure new assets.


According to the report, the security situation has remained generally stable but fragile, with disputes over access to land and resources, as well as ethnic and communal tensions, continuing to present significant challenges.  Maintaining law and order also remains challenging, with frequent reported incidents of rape and armed robbery, as well as drug trafficking and mob violence.  An increasing number of incidents involve firearms, some of them single-barrel shotguns made in neighbouring Guinea.


UNMIL has also been providing logistical support for Liberia’s second democratic elections later this year, including the delivery of voter registration materials to remote locations, the report states.  Underlining the importance of objectivity, transparency and balance on the part of the National Elections Commission, it adds that the body must maintain a level playing field while adhering to the electoral calendar.


It is paramount, the report emphasizes, that political personalities take responsibility for their words and actions, and help ensure a political climate conducive to credible, peaceful elections and the smooth transfer of power.  It notes that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who won the previous presidential ballot to become Africa’s first elected woman Head of State in a “peaceful and transparent vote”, is standing for re-election.


The report highlights the additional burden imposed on Liberia by the influx of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing post-election violence in neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire.  It expresses the Secretary-General’s deep appreciation to the Liberian Government and people for “graciously hosting” more than 36,000 Ivorian refugees so far, mostly women and children, and calls on donors to respond generously to help Liberia shoulder the burden.


On the fight against corruption, the report notes with concern that legal bottlenecks and other constraints have hindered progress, and calls on the Government to systemize good governance and uphold the rule of law so that it might overcome its credibility gap with respect to impunity for corruption.  However, economic growth, rising foreign investment, employment and Government revenues are encouraging signs that Liberia is on the right track to recovery, the report states, cautioning at the same time, that the Government should ensure sufficient oversight of concession agreements to mitigate labour and land disputes.


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For information media • not an official record