Liberia’s Upcoming Elections Critically Important to Emergence from Civil War’s Shadow, Secretary-General’s Special Representative Tells Security Council

13 September 2011
SC/10380

Liberia’s Upcoming Elections Critically Important to Emergence from Civil War’s Shadow, Secretary-General’s Special Representative Tells Security Council

13 September 2011
Security Council
SC/10380
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

6610th Meeting (AM)

Liberia’s Upcoming Elections Critically Important to Emergence from Civil War’s

Shadow, Secretary-General’s Special Representative Tells Security Council

 

Peacebuilding Configuration Chair Questions States’

Confidence in Recovery as Foreign Minister Confirms ‘Daunting Challenges’

The free, fair and peaceful holding of upcoming elections was critical for Liberia’s emergence from its brutal civil war, but even if they succeeded, joint Liberian and international rebuilding efforts were not yet finished, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in that country told the Security Council today.

“Liberians will still require considerable assistance and support in rebuilding their lives and their country,” said Ellen Margrethe Løj, who also heads the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).  Presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on UNMIL, she said:  “Much progress has been achieved and I trust all Liberians — and international partners alike — will continue to stay the course and ensure that this progress is truly irreversible.”

She said Liberians had been planning all year for the presidential and legislative elections planned for 11 October, with 29 political parties organizing themselves, negotiating alliances and nominating candidates.  Sixteen presidential candidates had been presented, including the incumbent, and more than 800 legislative candidates were contesting 88 House and Senate seats.  The National Elections Commission had also been hard at work.  “The elections provide an opportunity to consolidate the peace that Liberian citizens cherish so much,” Ms. Løj said, emphasizing the responsibility for all Liberians to ensure the success of the elections and the irreversibility of the peace.

Since the submission of the report, Liberians had voted in a national referendum on 23 August to consider four proposed amendments to the Constitution, she said, reporting that the process had generally gone well, with no serious security incidents.  Turnout had been low at 34 per cent, but Liberians had rejected all four proposals, including one to move the elections from October to November, and another proposed amendment to change the electoral system so that victory in legislative elections would require a simple rather than an absolute majority.  However, the latter vote was subject to a High Court ruling, she noted.

Describing the referendum as a critical rehearsal for the Elections Commission as well as UNMIL, she said the Mission remained focused on its role of coordinating international assistance, filling critical logistic gaps and employing its good offices to ensure an environment conducive to peaceful elections and a secure consensus between the parties on related issues.  UNMIL had also drawn up an election-security plan with national partners, and discussed contingencies with the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), “given the tendency for elections in post-conflict countries to lead to violence”, she noted.

The elections came at a critical time for the subregion, she pointed out, recalling that the Ivorian crisis had raised security and humanitarian concerns along the border, where a major weapons cache had been discovered in June.  Ivorian fighters and Liberians alleged to have participated in the neighbouring country’s crisis posed a threat to both States, she said, noting that Liberia still hosted more than 160,000 refugees and that Ivorians continued to cross the border in fear of reprisal attacks.  In that context, it was crucial to secure the $166 million requested in the Emergency Humanitarian Action Plan, launched on 30 August.

UNMIL was working closely with UNOCI in monitoring the borders, and Liberian security institutions had stepped up, within their limited capacities, she continued.  Cooperation between Liberian and Ivorian security forces had also been strengthened, but Liberia’s security agencies would not be fully operational until mobility, communications and other equipment was available and sustainable, she stressed.  Planning for the handover of security responsibilities from UNMIL to national institutions continued, but the challenges of the last few months had slowed progress.

Emphasizing that the joint transition working group would have to regain its momentum after the elections, in preparation for a United Nations technical assessment mission planned for early 2012, she said much work remained to be done in building the capacity of security institutions.  Legislation on the beginning of reforms aimed at creating a more structured and affordable security sector had finally been passed in August.  Meanwhile, the completion of the first of five planned regional justice and security hubs, in Gbarnga, Bong County, was expected by the end of the year, with some functions beginning earlier to support the elections, she said, appealing for donor support for such hubs, which would decentralize justice and security capabilities, making them more widely available around Liberia.

On the economic front, she said, the country continued to recover, a number of new economic concessions had been approved and international investment continued to increase.  Important related legislation had been passed and the 2011/12 national budget was almost eight times what it had been six years ago, Ms. Løj added.

Also briefing Council members were Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein (Jordan), Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission’s Liberia Configuration, and Toga Gayewea McIntosh, Liberia’s Foreign Minister.

Mr. Hussein compared increased private investment in Liberia — which he estimated at some $16 billion over the next two decades — to the difficulties of maintaining the necessary level of international assistance to the country.  “Do we, as the representatives of Governments, acting individually or collectively here at the United Nations, have the same confidence in Liberia as is shown by the private sector?”  Noting that the Peacebuilding Fund would finance the building of the first of five security hubs in its entirety, he said it would provide $2 billion for each of the other four, only half the amount required.  “This money must come soon, if our endeavours in Liberia are to be successful,” he stressed.

Another critical example of a funding gap was the Liberia Peacebuilding Programme, he continued, pointing out that it contained a number of projects that were critically important to the judiciary, police and national reconciliation.  After the Government’s contribution, it was expected that the Programme would require an additional $30-$50 million, and early signs of meeting that number were “not promising”, he cautioned.

Additionally, it had been clear to all members of the Peacebuilding Commission delegation recently visiting Liberia that the national police force would not be ready “any time soon” to cope either with an increase in organized crime or with any sudden spasms of widespread violence.  The United Nations was in the bizarre situation of having sufficient funds to pay for peacekeepers, but not even a small percentage of those funds would be available once the Mission was withdrawn, he said.  That deficit remained “numbing”.

Reminding the Council of the Peacebuilding Commission’s “nimble approach” in areas such as the rule of law, security-sector reform and national reconciliation, he said those accomplishments did not vitiate the urgent need for support in other, equally important areas.  Moreover, if international investment in both time and money could be intensified in the months following the elections — particularly where the security hubs and the national police were concerned — those efforts would be successful, he said, warning, however, that should funds and resolve not be pulled together, the Council would have had in UNMIL “a successful peacekeeping mission, yes, but one that would likely depart a very crippled country”.

Minister McIntosh noted that his country had seen eight years of unbroken peace, and had reached a stage where growth and development could now be pursued.  Underlining UNMIL’s major contributions in that context, from peacekeeping to building the capacity of State institutions, to filling critical logistical and infrastructure gaps, he said the Mission had provided basic and specialized training for more than 4,000 police officers, including at least 700 women.  Nonetheless, nurturing the fragile peace and ensuring that Liberia did not return to conflict were still major challenges, and remaining capacity gaps — such as those facing national-security institutions — must be addressed as UNMIL planned its approaching drawdown.

Turning to the upcoming elections, he said they would be a “test of the will and determination of the Liberian people to conduct themselves in a peaceful manner, void of election violence and any action to undermine the peace”.  The lead-up to the polls, in which UNMIL had been an important partner, had been peaceful, with the Mission providing security, facilitating dialogue between parties, and helping the National Elections Commissions in terms of logistical preparedness and delivering election materials.  That partnership would remain vital in ensuring that the elections were fair, transparent and credible, he said.

The Secretary-General’s report rightly emphasized the “daunting challenges” posed by planning for the elections and addressing developments along the border with Côte d’Ivoire, and he recalled that during a recent regional mini-Summit, Heads of State had urged the United Nations to intensify joint UNOCI-UNMIL monitoring and control along the border.  The technical assessment mission expected in early 2012 would be crucial, as it would judge the readiness and ability of Liberian security forces to build on the gains they had made over the years.  In that regard, an orderly schedule for UNMIL’s drawdown was needed, he said, supporting the recommendation to extend the Mission’s mandate for the next year.

The meeting began at 10:15 a.m. and ended at 10:53 a.m.

Background

Council members had before them the Twenty-third progress report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Mission in Liberia (document S/2011/497), which describes developments since 14 February 2011.  In it, the Secretary-General recommends extending the Mission’s mandate for one year and maintaining its current strength, given the still limited capacity of national security institutions and the need for security support in preparation for general elections and other tasks.

The report says the presidential and legislative polls, scheduled for 11 October, will be the second round of democratic elections held since the end of Liberia’s decade-long conflict that killed nearly 150,000 people, mostly civilians, and sent 850,000 others fleeing to neighbouring countries.  “The success of these elections, and the peaceful inauguration of a new administration, will be critical to the consolidation of the tremendous progress the country has made over the past eight years,” the Secretary-General writes.

The United Nations family in Liberia will continue to provide the required technical and logistical support to ensure the operational success of the elections, the report states, cautioning, however, that there will be major logistical challenges since all electoral events will be conducted during the rainy season and timelines will be extremely tight.  On 23 August, a constitutional referendum saw the rejection of four proposed amendments to the Constitution, three of them election-related:  changing the electoral system to require a simple rather than absolute majority for all elections except those for the President and Vice President; moving election day from October to November; and revising the residency clause to require presidential and vice-presidential candidates to have lived in Liberia for only five consecutive years, instead of the current 10, immediately prior to an election.  The fourth proposed amendment would have increased the mandatory retirement age for chief justices to 75.

According to the report, planning for the elections, as well as efforts to address the situation along Liberia’s border with Côte d’Ivoire, have created significant challenges for the Liberia National Police, “an already stretched organization that is continuing to develop its institutional capacity”.  The Government’s international partners should urgently increase their support for the development of the security sector to ensure that UNMIL’s (United Nations Mission in Liberia) operations can be progressively scaled down as it hands over security responsibilities to the national authorities.

The report also highlights the Secretary-General’s concern over the slow implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations, especially given the critical role that reconciliation will play in ensuring sustainable peace.  Other areas of concern include continuing ethnic and communal tensions, disputes over land and other resources, drug trafficking and limited employment and livelihood opportunities.

Stressing that the refugee situation and security-related issues arising from the post-election crisis in Côte d’Ivoire also present significant challenges for Liberia, the Secretary-General says it is therefore critical to provide financial support for the revised Emergency Humanitarian Action Plan to cover humanitarian needs to the end of 2011, especially given the continuing influx of refugees.  As of 1 August, there were an estimated 160,000 registered Ivorian refugees in Liberia, the report notes.

According to the report, UNMIL’s current mandate expires on 30 September and the Mission has an authorized strength of 7,952 military and 1,375 police personnel.  A United Nations technical assessment mission will be deployed to Liberia after the next Government’s inauguration to develop proposals for the next stages of the Mission’s drawdown.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.