|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6504th Meeting (AM)
Sierra Leone, Once Symbol of Failed State, Gradually Evolving into Model
for Developing into Peaceful, Prosperous Country, Security Council Told
Head of United Nations Office, Chair of Peace-building Commission’s
Sierra Leone Configuration; Minister for Foreign Affairs Address Council
With continued strong international support to help Sierra Leone overcome critical challenges such as youth unemployment and vulnerability to shocks, the country’s emergence from a brutal civil war could have a “ripple effect” on other troubled countries in Africa, the Executive Representative of the Secretary-General told the Security Council this morning.
“Sierra Leone, which was once the symbol of a failed State, is now gradually evolving into a model country for overcoming old divisions and developing into a peaceful, democratic and prosperous country,” Michael von der Schulenburg, who is also head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL), said, as he introduced the Secretary-General’s latest report (see Background).
Mr. von der Schulenburg was joined at this morning’s briefing by John McNee of Canada, Chairperson of the Sierra Leone country-specific configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission and Joseph Dauda, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Sierra Leone.
Calling the recovery of the country in the past nine years “truly remarkable”, he said that credible elections at all levels were now the rule, there was largely peace and security and citizens and foreigners were free to travel throughout the country. There were no longer armed groups terrorizing the population, former warlords with a political following or manifestations of systematic civil rights abuses.
However, Sierra Leone would continue to need strong international support because it remained “fragile and vulnerable to sudden economic, social and political shocks, both from outside and from within the country”, he said, explaining that as one of the world’s poorest countries, the ability for the Government to absorb any adverse shock would continue to remain weak. Hikes in oil and rice prices, inability to pay salaries on time, unfinished public work programmes and insufficient rains combined with a population of unemployed and disillusioned youth could explode beyond control.
Mr. von der Schulenburg said he was encouraged by progress the Government had made on exploitation of mineral resources in the past six months, pledging that all such efforts would be transparent and for the benefit of the people, making institutional improvements and initiating a review of all old and new mining contracts to ensure their conformity with the law, among other measures.
On the other hand, he said, the possible transition of Sierra Leone into a major exporter of mineral and hydrocarbon resources could test the country’s social cohesion and provoke greater social changes than is presently envisaged. “For the country to succeed in this vital endeavour, much wider national consultations may be required in the future,” he said.
Considerable progress had also been made in preparing for the 2012 elections, he said, including international commitments for funding, including support to electoral management bodies, security services and the judiciary and for the first time including a bio-metric voter registration system and support to so-called non-state actors aimed at ensuring an environment of political tolerance and non-violence.
The elections still faced a number of challenges, however. There had to be a grater and more regular engagement between the National Election Commission and political parties, including the main opposition party, over important issues, such as voter registration, planned reforms of electoral legal frameworks and electoral planning. It was important that all sides agreed on the “rules of the game” as early as possible. The Political Party Registration Commission should now more forcefully engage in mediating among political parties and implementing the code of conduct. He commented that political parties must also be strengthened, as witnessed by recent frictions within a major one.
The Government, he said, must also give an early indication of what it could afford in supporting the elections, in order to determine the final budget, and the police force must improve its skills in preventing the use of unnecessary force. Finally, civil society organizations should be given the financial and technical resources necessary to fulfil their important roles in voter education and monitoring the electoral process.
In regard to women’s empowerment, he said as democracy had matured in Sierra Leone, so had the chances for women. It was now within reach to ensure women’s greater say in political decision-making in Sierra Leone and to attain a 30 per cent quota of women’s representation in Parliament during the upcoming elections. It would also be women who would most benefit from the Government’s health care initiatives that had already brought down maternal mortality rates. Initiatives to increase the enrolment of girls in secondary education and to fight gender-based violence were also being undertaken.
He said that in line with the Joint Vision for Sierra Leone, UNIPSIL and the United Nations country team had developed a joint approach on gender equality that focused on access to political decision-making, health services, education, justice and protection against violence. It would be implemented in close cooperation with the Government, the political parties, civil society, religious and traditional leaders and traditional women’s organizations. Such efforts would no doubt help consolidate peace, development and social progress in Sierra Leone, he said.
Taking the floor next, Ambassador McNee said Sierra Leone was entering a transitional phase, marked by the gradual shift in emphasis from later-stage peacebuilding towards longer-term economic development. That period would be largely defined by three processes: the continued pursuit of The Agenda for Change, Sierra Leone’s national strategy for peace consolidation and economic growth; the conduct of elections in 2012; and the steady realignment of international assistance behind development priorities.
He said that the Peacebuilding Commission would be involved in those processes in the coming months, and the body was pleased with advances that had been made regarding good governance and the rule of law, youth employment, and combating drug trafficking.
Yet, despite that progress, he said that each of those issues still represented a long-tem risk to Sierra Leone’s stability and each would require concerted attention of the national Government and the international community. As such, he reiterated the need for continued financial support, especially as the United Nations Multi-Donor Trust Fund, established to support the “Agenda for Change”, remained $175 million short of its $381 million objective. For its part, the Commission’s Sierra Leone Configuration would be active with donors and other key partners to help address the country’s outstanding peacebuilding challenges.
He said the Configuration would also seek innovative non-financial contributions to support the Agenda by facilitating South-South and North-South partnerships and would support UNIPSIL in its assistance to preparations for the 2012 elections and would increase its own focus on gaps.
The Configuration was aware that the Sierra Leone police force had played a significant role in the successful by-elections in the Kono district last December but was concerned that they did not have the capacity to play such a role on a broader scale. “This is an important gap. Continuing to build the capacity of the Sierra Leone Police to serve as a neutral and effective force for stability is critical,” he said, stressing that the Configuration had reiterated its appeal to the international community to ensure that the police had the necessary resources at their disposal — particularly vehicles, parts and fuel — to respond to cases of election-related violence in a timely manner.
He said the Sierra Leone Configuration and the wider peacebuilding Commission would continue to have an important role to play in the next two years as the focus shifted from peacebuilding to development. But risks would endure over the longer term. Sierra Leone’s significant youth population expected progress and prosperity, and disappointment could present a latent risk of political instability.
“In this respect, rising investment in natural resources offers promise for economic growth, but also poses a number of challenges,” he said, noting that that issue had been a major topic of discussion during his last visit to Freetown. The international community, including the Peacebuilding Commission, should be prepared to promptly respond to any requests for technical assistance or other forms of support.
Citing the need for a focus on ensuring stability in the West African sub-region and tackling the flow of illicit drugs, he said such challenges “demand continued support and a wider regional focus”. The Sierra Leone Configuration aimed to build stronger partnerships with relevant international institutions and regional actors to address those issues. “It will also encourage closer cooperation between the four West African country configurations of the Peacebuilding Commission to facilitate the pooling for resources, exchange of national approaches, and the adoption of regional initiatives in order to address these shared challenges, particularly in areas of illicit drug trafficking and youth unemployment,” he said.
“Sierra Leone stands as a multilateral success story for peacebuilding. Yet, the story is not quite finished,” he said, stressing that one of the important lessons learned in the past two decades was that peacebuilding required constant and continued support. “Faltering now would risk all that has been gained. I strongly encourage all donors and partners to provide Sierra Leone with the support it needs to pursue its ‘Agenda for Change’, conduct successful elections, and embark on long-tem development,” he said, pledging the Peacebuilding Commission’s support as a constructive partner during the transition process.
Finally, Minister Dauda thanked the Security Council, the Peacebuilding Commission and other partners for their sustained engagement and interest in his country, and expressed the hope that the international community would continue to work in partnership with his Government to ensure sustainable peace and development. He noted with satisfaction the references made today to some of the progress and achievements in Sierra Leone over the past year, as well as to the challenges with which the country still had to contend.
He went on to say that President Ernest Bai Koroma, in partnership with the international community, remained fully committed to consolidating peacebuilding and sustainable economic development in Sierra Leone, as set out in the “Agenda for Change”. He affirmed that youth unemployment, corruption and illegal drugs were the three risks to the achievement of the Agenda. The Government was tackling those challenges, he said, with the support of its development partners and the United Nations. He reported steady progress in rooting out corruption and laying the foundations for local and regional structures to stem drug trafficking and organized crime.
As for youth unemployment, he said that a new Ministry of Youth Employment and Sports had been established and a national Youth Commission had been appointed to develop and implement policies that would pave the way for meaningful participation of young people in national development.
He said the Government was aware of other challenges mentioned in the report regarding the implementation of the 2009 Joint Communiqué, and to that end, with the support of UNIPSIL, had established the All Political Parties Youth Association and the All Political Parties Women’s Association, aimed at preventing political violence and fostering inter-party dialogue, as well as boosting women’s participation in politics. He was happy to confirm the progress reported by other speakers on women’s empowerment and health, he added.
As for the 2012 elections, he said the Government was committed to conducting a peaceful, free and fair poll, and welcomed the support of the United Nations and development partners in achieving what had come to be identified as a “key test” for consolidation of peace and stability in the country. The National Electoral Commission and the Political Parties and Registration Commission enjoyed the independence to deliver effectively on their constitutional mandates, free of interference.
He affirmed that despite progress, the sustained support of the international community and Sierra Leone’s development partners was required to build on gains made, to further consolidate peacebuilding, and enhance the country’s capacity to absorb shocks, whether economic, social or political. Priorities for such support included dealing with youth unemployment, providing vehicles for the Sierra Leone police force, combating drug trafficking and strengthening the repatriation process.
He called on donors to stand by the pledges they had made. He stressed, however, that President Koroma was committed to reducing the country’s aid dependency through partnership with the private sector, particularly in the mineral and agricultural sector.
He finally welcomed recent positive developments in Guinea, but said he regarded the situation in Côte d’Ivoire “as a threat to subregional peace and security”. As such, his Government supported subregional, regional and international efforts to adequately address that situation before it escalated into a full-blown conflict that could undermine Sierra Leone’s stability, as well as that of its neighbours.
The meeting was opened at 10:10 a.m. and closed at 10:50 a.m., at which time Council Members went into consultations on Sierra Leone.
The Council had before it the Sixth report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (document S/2011/119) covering the period from 1 September 2010 to 28 February 2011. In the report, the Secretary-General states that important, positive developments have taken place during the period in advancing good governance and promoting socio-economic development, as outlined in the Government’s Agenda for Change, which could provide the grounds for the exit strategy of the Office, known as UNIPSIL, though challenges remain.
Most importantly, agreement was reached between the electoral management bodies, the Government, its donor partners and the United Nations on costs and arrangements for the 2012 presidential, parliamentary and local council elections. In addition, in what the Secretary-General calls “an important step towards enhancing national unity and cohesion”, President Ernest Bai Koroma appointed new ministers during his recent Cabinet reshuffle, which diversified representation within his administration.
In addition, in an effort to address concerns surrounding recently concluded mining contracts, he says that the Government had taken measures to improve the governance of the sector and reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring greater transparency. Finally, the free health-care initiative launched by President Koroma in April 2010 has begun to show encouraging results, especially in reducing child and maternal mortality. He called on Sierra Leone’s international partners to work with the Government in that effort and enable the country to achieve the related Millennium Development Goals.
Among the three risk areas identified in Agenda for Change — youth unemployment, corruption and illegal narcotics — youth unemployment “remains an intractable problem that will require greater commitment on the part of the Government and support from its international partners,” he states. He also encourages the Government to sustain its momentum in addressing corruption through its Anti-Corruption Commission and other means with the support of the international community.
With respect to illegal drugs, he says the establishment of the Transnational Organized Crime Unit, with strong international collaboration, has made substantial contributions in stemming the flow of illegal narcotics into the country, since the July 2008 seizure of over 700 kilograms of cocaine at Lungi International Airport.
He says that clearly more needed to be done in achieving gender parity in political participation, despite encouraging developments such as the formation of an all Political Parties Women’s Association. He also notes the efforts being made by UNIPSIL and the United Nations country team to help eliminate violence against women, female genital mutilation and other harmful practices.
The Secretary-General states that institutional achievements, in particular the professionalism displayed by the Sierra Leone police in recent elections in the Kono district, will be put to the test by the challenges of conducting peaceful, free and fair elections in 2012. The United Nations and international partners stood ready to assist, but the Government and political parties have critical roles to play. He urges the parties to continue to adhere to the 2 April Joint Communiqué and the relevant Code of Conduct. He also encourages the Government to appoint a Chair and members of the Political Parties Registration Commission.
Commending the efforts of the Peacebuilding Commission in Sierra Leone, he says that the Commission’s engagement in the next 18 months will be critical for the success of the elections and for cementing the country’s achievements.
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