9 June 2009
Press Conference

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

PRESS CONFERENCE BY head of peacebuilding office in sierra leone


Sierra Leone was a country where multilateralism had worked, the Executive Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone, Michael von der Schulenburg, said today at a Headquarters press conference, which followed a meeting with the Secretary-General today and a briefing yesterday to the Security Council on the situation in that country.


Mr. von der Schulenburg acknowledged that there was “a bit more” to do to bring it all together in Sierra Leone.  The United Nations had had a political mission there, then one of its largest peacekeeping missions, and now its first peacebuilding mission ever, he said, referring to the office known as UNIPSIL.


Indeed, Sierra Leone was an example of how it was possible to deal with a disturbance without military assistance, but rather on the basis of political interventions, he said, recalling the violent altercations in March between SLPP (Sierra Leone People’s Party) and APC (All People’s Congress) sympathizers, resulting in serious injuries and a subsequent postponement of a local election.


Briefing the Council yesterday, as requested every fourth months in that body’s resolution 1829 (2008), he said he had noted that the main issues had been the outbreak of violence, how the country had dealt with it, and how the political parties came together and issued a Joint Communiqué to end the violence.  He had also stressed that the Joint Communiqué was of greater significance than just ending the violence, because it had created a bipartisan agreement -– now a multi-party agreement –- in support of State democratic institutions.  It represented a common approach to certain key national policies, such as how to deal with illicit drugs, regional divisions, and radio stations bent on stoking that discord.     


Scheduled at the United Nations for tomorrow was a special session of the Peacebuilding Commission, he noted, adding that the Commission was useful for streamlining assistance to the country and improving on the Joint Vision of the United Nations family.  It was very important for countries like Sierra Leone to increase aid efficiency, and by approving that Government’s “Agenda for Change”, it would be possible to eliminate 32 strategic documents and reduce the “reigning” text to only one.  (For more information about the Joint Vision, see the second report of the Secretary-General on UNIPSIL (document S/2009/267).)


In producing the Joint Vision, the United Nations had prepared a unique document, in which 17 agencies, plus UNIPSIL, would participate in Sierra Leone’s peace consolidation, he said.  It was an attempt to integrate a political mandate with a development one.  His hope was that the Joint Vision would be approved tomorrow, paving the way for the consultative group meeting in London in November.


The lesson learned so far from UNIPSIL, he said in response to a question, was the need to stop dividing the political and development mandates, and to recognize that when the diplomatic phase was over, it was actually “normal politics” –- with a focus on development, health services, decentralization, and so forth.  That was the point of the Joint Vision, whose actual policy document was only seven pages.  The plan was designed for one leadership, whereas previously the field had been too fragmented, with 17 agencies in play.


To questions about the outbreak of violence in March, he said it was possible to say only that it had stopped after the Communiqué was signed.  It was not possible to say it would not erupt again, because the underlying problems remained, such as massive youth unemployment, and regional and political divisions, but the signs were “very positive”.  The violence had been a wake-up call, but there were positive signs and it was his job to encourage them.


Responding to a question about reports of criticism of his approach, some slippage in Freetown, and a possible demonstration here in New York tomorrow, he said he thought there had been very little criticism except by one journalist with a long history of disappointment.  It was not from SLPP.  He added that the issue at hand was baseless.  The chairperson of the SLPP had travelled into the United States for personal reasons –- he thought the marriage of his daughter ‑‑ and he was stopped here, which had something to do with his having been part of the coup in 1992.  The United Nations had nothing to do with it; it had to do with immigration.  There was a claim that he could not attend the meeting here, but he never expressed any interest in coming to the meeting here.  Besides, he would never have come, because he considered himself “too high” to sit behind a Minister.


Turning to the issue of sexual violence against women, Mr. von der Schulenburg said that that issue had to be treated as “alleged” sexual violence.  In the multi-party talks, an independent review had been agreed and a panel had been set up.  He had been invited to be present for the negotiations, and he had been present when SLPP had agreed to the terms of reference and to the selection of three members.  The United Nations would provide logistical, financial and technical assistance for that investigation.


Regarding delays in staff recruitment for UNIPSIL, he explained that the budget for the new mission was only approved in December 2008, although the mission had started in October.  He had reminded delegations and Member States that they had a responsibility for missions which they set up.  Temporary assignments had been made for three months.  Recruitment was slow at the United Nations anyway, but now the budget was approved and recruitment was under way.  He added that it was a much smaller budget, because he wanted to reduce costs. 


Pointing out that the delegate from the United Kingdom had asked Mr. von der Schulenburg yesterday in the Council how he could determine whether UNIPSIL was on or off track, Mr. von der Schulenburg said benchmarks were difficult to establish for a political office.  He had worked for three years in Iraq, a country full of benchmarks and deadlines, and those had not been much help.  There were benchmarks in the Joint Vision for Sierra Leone, but those were against programmes, and not against one office.  He added that he was very sceptical about benchmarks.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record