Liberia’s Upcoming Security Transition ‘Most Significant Milestone’ since End of Civil War, Special Representative Says in Briefing

SC/12286
17 March 2016
7649th Meeting* (AM)

Liberia’s Upcoming Security Transition ‘Most Significant Milestone’ since End of Civil War, Special Representative Says in Briefing

Head of UN-Women Calls for ‘Peace Dividend’ as Security Council Hears from Liberia Configuration Chair, Country Representative

The completion of Liberia’s security transition on 30 June would be one of the most significant milestones for the country and the international community since the end of the civil war and the signing of the peace agreement in 2003, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative there told the Security Council today.

“Liberia and the international community must not lose sight of the arduous path to a genuinely sustainable peace in the country and the region,” said Farid Zarif, as he briefed the 15-member Council on the Secretary-General’s latest progress report regarding the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) (document S/2016/169).

With fewer than four months remaining to 30 June, the Government of Liberia had intensified its efforts to implement the UNMIL transition plan, he said during the meeting, which also heard from Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women); Olof Skoog (Sweden), Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission’s Liberia configuration; and George S.W. Patten, representing Liberia.

The Special Representative went on to state that both the Government and the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) were confident that, with sustained political commitment, the priority targets in the Transition Plan would be achieved.  However, more concerted efforts by the Government’s executive and legislative branches would be required to ensure the urgent enactment and implementation of critical legislation, he emphasized.

Meanwhile, he continued, UNMIL had continued to hand over security responsibilities to national security agencies, while remaining engaged with them in advancing the development of institutional structures and legal frameworks for the justice and security actors, as well as the establishment of accountability mechanisms.  In parallel, the Mission had implemented its drawdown plan and the authorized reductions of its military and police components, in accordance with Security Council resolution 2239 (2015).  By 30 June, UNMIL would have consolidated its 13 country field offices into five regional offices, he noted.

A proactive public information campaign on the closure of the field offices had been initiated, he said, adding that it included town hall meetings between senior Government officials and local communities.  The campaign was intended to explain the objectives of the security transition and to assure communities of continuing United Nations support.  However, while the Organization would continue to convey such messages, there was an increasing sense of unease and apprehension among Liberians across the board about UNMIL’s drawdown and the prospect of its departure, he cautioned.  President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in a joint letter with President Alassane Ouattara of neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire, had urged the Secretary-General to request that the Security Council maintain the Quick Reaction Force and United Nations operations in both countries until Liberia’s elections.

The Special Representative went on to point out that concerns remained about the slow pace of key political and institutional reforms that were essential for promoting and sustaining reconciliation.  Enhanced political commitment by all Liberian institutions and civil society groups to constitutional reform, decentralization, land reform and good governance were vital in addressing the root causes of past and potentially future conflicts, and in establishing a new compact between the Government and the population.

Liberia’s long-term security and stability also required continued focus on improving regional cooperation, including cross-border cooperation with Côte d’Ivoire, he stressed.  Both countries had enhanced security measures along their common border following fatal clashes related to illicit cross-border farming.  Those measures included the temporary deployment of Liberia’s armed forces to reinforce national security agencies operating in the area.  Since the Liberian Minister for Defence had indicated the possibility of deploying a joint military operation with Côte d’Ivoire to deter cross-border attacks, the issue would be discussed at the quadripartite meeting involving the armed forces chiefs of the two countries, as well as the Force Commanders of UNMIL and the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI).

Sharing her perspective on recent developments, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka stressed that peace dividends must flow “greater and deeper” for women and girls.  Furthermore, Liberian women had earned global fame for having helped to end the civil war, convinced the rebels to lay down their arms, and consolidated peace in a country that had avoided a relapse into conflict for 13 years.  The women were also known for their key role in having halted, reversed and eliminated the Ebola epidemic, she noted.  However, they had yet to benefit fully from the dividends of peace.  They were poorly represented in Government, had a mere 8 per cent secondary school completion rate, she said, adding that and women and girls continued to be subjected to harmful practices and gender-based violence, with many perpetrators escaping justice.

She underlined that there could not be a vacuum as the Council deliberated on drawdown plans for UNMIL when the Mission left.  Investing in those who had been most affected by war, Ebola and post-conflict insecurity and impunity was the best way to show Liberia that the international community would not turn away after the drawdown.  They needed support for programmes to implement the Secretary-General’s action plan on gender-responsive peacebuilding and related efforts, robust economic empowerment projects for rural women and training for thousands of female teachers and midwives.  As the drawdown unfolded, the Mission should consider its contribution to gender equality as a key element of its legacy since UN-Women and the entire United Nations family were preparing for the task of inheriting projects.  In the coming months, support from the Mission, the Council and the international community would be needed in three areas:  adopting pending bills; ensuring women’s involvement in decentralizing health, education and agriculture services; and establishing a dependable criminal justice system that would protect women and girls.  Women also must be better represented in policies, she said, emphasizing that “the future of Liberia depends on its women”.

Mr. Skoog reported that a technical mission to Liberia in January had found a clear and widely shared vision of what peacebuilding efforts were needed.  However, budgetary issues were straining the Government’s ability to roll out key programmes, and the public was apprehensive about the drawdown.  It would be important to communicate clearly with the public and reassure them of the international community’s enduring commitment, he stressed.  Priority areas for the Peacebuilding Commission included security sector reform, strengthening the rule of law, speeding up reconciliation and preparing for elections in 2017.

In the aftermath of the Ebola crisis, and amid the decline in commodity prices, the economy needed to be reinvigorated by strengthening the private sector, he continued.  In that regard, the Commission would engage further with international financial institutions and rally international support for draft legislation relating to land rights, local governance, decentralization and civil service reform, which could potentially transform State-society relations in Liberia.  He recommended that, in light of the UNMIL drawdown, the United Nations system should remain engaged, to the widest extend possible, in joint strategic planning for a well-managed transition.  It was also important to work with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and to build on successful regional initiatives.  Youth, as well as women must be included in all peacebuilding efforts, in line with resolution 2250 (2015), he said, underscoring that Liberia’s large youth population was one of its greatest assets in the consolidation of peace.

Mr. Patten (Liberia) said that, 13 years after the civil conflict, Liberia had made significant progress in the area of peace and security with UNMIL’s support.  With stability established, the focus had now shifted to economic and infrastructure development and governance reforms.  The Secretary-General’s report provided a fairly accurate report of the situation and the level of preparedness of Liberian security institutions to assume full responsibility for national security from UNMIL.

While acknowledging that corruption remained a challenge and a threat to good governance, he stressed that the Government would not relent in the fight to defeat it.  Since the Secretary-General’s last report to the Council, a number of Government officials had been indicted on corruption charges.  As for Ebola, he said that the global effort had defeated the epidemic, yet its direct consequences, exacerbated by the global economic decline and the drop in prices of the country’s main export commodities, had devastated the economy.  Consequently, the decline had led to a reduction in projected revenues for the 2015/16 fiscal year, as well as budget cuts, making it difficult for the Government to implement its transformation agenda in full as planned.

The meeting began at 10: 08 a.m. and ended at 10: 57 a.m.

__________

*     The 7648th Meeting was closed.

For information media. Not an official record.