Having reached a historic milestone in resuming control of its own security, Liberia — along with its international partners — must redouble efforts to sustain progress and meet the challenge of upcoming elections, the senior United Nations official in that country told the Security Council today.
Farid Zarif, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Liberia, said the presidential and legislative elections — slated to take place in October 2017 — posed a “critical test” for the West African nation, which had experienced a protracted civil conflict during the 1990s.
Following the take-over of security functions from the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) on 1 July, the Government must work to implement the remaining components of its Transition Plan, he said. However, that would not be possible without international support, as the “challenges are still too complex and too many for Liberia to tackle them by itself”.
The overall situation in Liberia had remained calm, he said, with UNMIL closely monitoring the performance of the security institutions and adjusting its engagement accordingly. The Mission remained engaged in consolidating the gains of past years and advancing the development of the security and justice structures, frameworks and accountability mechanisms.
Describing key developments, including the introduction of various new pieces of legislation, he said the political climate continued to be impacted by the fallout from the Global Witness May report, which had implicated several senior officials in bribery. Those allegations had triggered strong public reactions and led to a tense standoff in the House of Representatives, as well as a boycott of the regular House sessions.
One of the potentially serious consequences of the political wrangling in the legislature was a delay in adopting the National Budget for 2016-2017, which he said included the financing of the National Elections Commission. Last week, the Government had announced the closure of several radio stations, with opposition groups perceiving those closures as the Government’s attempt to muzzle the independent press.
“The current unsatisfactory situation calls for its urgent resolution in order to ensure the focus and resources on critical national priorities,” he said, noting that the prevention of conflict could only be effective in the context of broader social, political and economic transformations, as well as respect for the rule of law. In that regard, he expressed concern about the overall lack of progress in addressing the underlying causes of divisions and exclusion in Liberia.
Describing his efforts over recent months to urge constructive dialogue among Liberian officials, as well as meetings with political parties, media representatives, religious and traditional leaders and women’s groups, he said all parties had expressed a strong desire for the peaceful conduct of elections and recognized their responsibility in that regard. Their main concerns had related to electoral transparency and potential fraud, the use of Government assets for political party campaigning and the capacity of the Liberian National Police to ensure security.
Many Liberians had also expressed concern about the prospect of UNMIL’s withdrawal and the potential lack of United Nations support during the elections. Both Liberia and the international community must not lose sight of the still arduous path to sustainable peace in the country and the region, which continued to require long-term robust engagement, particularly by the Council.
Joakim Vaverka (Sweden), whose permanent representative serves as Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission’s Liberia configuration, also briefed the Council, congratulating the Liberian Government on the resumption of security responsibilities. In May, the Government and the Commission launched the revised Statement of Mutual Commitments on Peacebuilding in Liberia, which outlined priority actions over the next two years.
The Commission would continue to promote national reconciliation, security sector development and strengthening of the rule of law, he said. In addition, the Commission would follow up on conversations with national interlocutors regarding good governance, employment generation, equal treatment of ethnic and religious groups, and on the need to build trust between the security sector and citizens.
He added that, in the coming months, the Commission would pay special attention to preparations for the presidential and legislative elections in 2017 by engaging with the National Election Commission and the Governance Commission. By addressing critical factors early, it would aim to ensure that dispute resolution mechanisms were in place and that regular dialogue channels between security forces and the Government were supported.
The Commission also would pay close attention to reconciliation, he said, which the Government had described as a multidimensional process of overcoming social, political and religious divisions; healing physical and psychological wounds from the civil war; and confronting historical and structural wrongs. “This cuts to the core of addressing root causes of conflict,” he said, and the Commission was committed to help in that pursuit.
In the fall, he said, the Council would make important decisions on the future of the United Nations presence in Liberia. The Commission would provide advice on longer-term peacebuilding needs and priorities and convene a multistakeholder forum to discuss peacebuilding priorities. The United Nations had a responsibility to sustain attention on Liberia during and beyond the Mission’s transition by mobilizing financial and political support.
Lewis Garseedah Brown (Liberia) thanked the Council for its support to the ongoing transformation. On 1 July, his Government had resumed full security responsibilities. Scarred by a protracted war and a long history of mistrust, Liberians would continue to work for a future of peace, security and shared prosperity, which “we know ultimately rests in our own hands”. He reaffirmed Liberia’s commitment to safeguard peace, security and stability, aware of the links it shared with the subregion in that regard.
While economic growth forecasts had been weakened by the Ebola epidemic and export price declines, Liberia continued to support security institutions, he said, challenging them to work together and with various communities. The national police and immigration bureau continued to recruit, train and deploy into many parts of the country, while judicial reforms had been expanded.
Further, he said, Liberians had adopted a number of austerity measures, intensified the fight against corruption, working to ensure transparency and accountability, as well as identify and reallocate meagre resources.
The Government understood the significant of the 2017 elections, he said, and was determined to deliver an outcome that was inclusive, credible, free and fair. There were 23 registered political parties, each a member of the Inter-Party Consultative Committee. He expected a speedy resolution to the impasse in the Lower House so the focus could then turn to the passage of elections legislation, including for a possible referendum on proposed changes to the Constitution, and for the redefinition of land ownership and associated rights.
“Notwithstanding the growing pains, Liberia is safe and stable,” he said, expressing the country’s commitment to embracing the promise of a brighter future. He asked the Council and Liberia’s partners for support as it worked to create a more equitable, tolerant and democratic society.
The meeting began at 3:04 p.m. and ended at 3:38 p.m.