|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6777th Meeting (AM)
Future of Peacekeeping Missions, Refugees, Illicit Drug Traffic among Top Issues,
as Security Council Briefed on Trip to Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone
The future of United Nations peacekeeping missions in West Africa, as well as refugees, illicit drug traffic and other cross-border concerns and domestic challenges such as youth unemployment and disputed land ownership were among the top issues reviewed by Security Council members on their recent mission to the region, mission leaders said this morning.
United States Ambassador Susan Rice briefed on the Liberian leg of the trip, representative Martin Briens of France spoke on the Côte d’Ivoire segment, on behalf of Permanent Representative Gerard Araud, and Ambassador Baso Sangqu of South Africa briefed on the trip to Sierra Leone, as part of the mission that took place from 18 to 24 May.
Acknowledging segment co-leader Permanent Representative Mohammed Loulichki of Morocco, Ms. Rice said that, in the Council’s first visit to Liberia since 2009, members focused on security and rule-of-law institutions, reconciliation and positioning for the drawdown of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), including security challenges regarding the Liberian-Ivorian border. In the capital Monrovia, the delegation met with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, other Government officials, representatives of Liberian civil society organizations and UNMIL officials and later, in a camp near the city of Zwedru, with refugees from the 2010 Ivorian election crisis.
She said that the President and cabinet members briefed the Council on national priorities and called for greater international support for police in line with an expected decrease in United Nations personnel, and outlined major challenges from corruption to domestic land ownership disputes. On a visit to rule-of-law institutions, they heard that support for the soon-to-be-established justice hubs was critical for extending State authority throughout the country and fighting the threat posed by international drug traffickers. Visiting UNMIL, the Council spoke with the all-female Indian police unit and heard about continuing human rights abuses, particularly sexual violence. In a meeting with 30 civil society leaders, the Council heard of the increasing role and voice of women in Government, and the continuing need to fight corruption, impunity, female-genital mutilation and other challenges. At the Firestone rubber plantation, a top employer in the country, the challenges of businesses were described.
At the Zwedru refugee camp, after the Council was briefed by staff of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), refugees themselves shared their hopes and fears in regard to returning home and restoring their lives, she said. She pointed out that the majority of those who fled Côte d’Ivoire had returned home, but others remained due to fears of conflict over land ownership and rumours of other threats. She commented that timely reporting could help counteract such rumours. Some camp residents, who appeared to be Laurent Gbagbo loyalists, said they would not return at least until the current President was no longer in office.
Concluding, Ms. Rice said that Liberia had witnessed considerable progress since the end of its civil war, was full of hope, but sober about ongoing challenges, and Council members were now even more convinced about the need to handle the transition from UNMIL responsibly.
On the Côte d’Ivoire leg of the mission, Mr. Briens said that trip, which took place from 20 to 22 May, had been “eagerly awaited”. It was the Council’s first visit to that country since 2008, and it marked one year since the post-electoral crisis gripped the country and left nearly 3,000 people dead. The Security Council had been able to meet a wide array of political actors, including Alassane Ouattara, members of the National Assembly, Parliament and members of the political opposition. The Council also met with civil society and officials from the Dialogue and Reconciliation Commission.
He said that mission, which was co-led by Ambassador Kodjo Menan of Togo, had also visited Côte d’Ivoire boarder areas with Liberia, “which still bares the scars of the electoral crisis”. Throughout the trip, Council members had had the opportunity to observe the status of the stabilization process and had noted that Côte d’Ivoire had made significant progress over the past year, but that diverse challenges remained, including matters regarding the border, reconciliation, combating impunity, and the “deep-rooted cause of the conflict”, such as land and title disputes. The Government would also have to continue to make progress on revamping its police and security forces, he added.
In discussions with President Ouattara, the Council had been assured that officials were pressing ahead with the gradual improvement of the security situation. Yet, they had acknowledged that the security sector reform programme faced several challenges, including a lack of resources. The Council members acknowledged that that was a complex challenge that would require help from the United Nations. Overall, the members had witnessed the progress that had been made, as well as the rifts that remained within society and elements of Parliament, which revealed just how difficult the reconciliation process would be. The Government and judicial officials had explained the difficulties of promoting dialogue without sacrificing the combat against impunity.
In their talks with civil society, civilians and refugees at the Liberian border, the Council heard expressions of “considerable concern” regarding the ongoing flow of weapons in the region, humanitarian challenges and unresolved land ownership issues. The border situation, he said, justified continuing the inter-mission coordination between the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) and United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). Back in Abidjan, Council members met with officials from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and held an interactive discussion that had mainly focused on the situations in Mali and Guinea-Bissau. On Mali, ECOWAS officials updated the Council on the latest developments, including the recent attack on the Malian Interim President and the activities of the mediators. Concluding, he said that the Côte d’Ivoire mission had made it possible for the Council to examine the progress and the gaps, and to identify what major issues would need to be addressed to ensure that the country recovered from long years of crisis.
Reporting on the Sierra Leone leg of the Mission, South African Ambassador Baso Sangqu said the aim of that visit had been to encourage the ongoing peace and reconciliation process there. That mission, co-led by British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, had met President Earnest Koroma and key ministers from all political parties, as well as members of the opposition. The discussions with civil society, including women’s groups, had revealed the remarkable journey the country had made since the civil war, and which would continue after the upcoming elections.
The coming poll had been one of the main topics of discussion, and the Council had been assured that good progress was being made for the November elections, even though rivalry and mistrust between main rival political parties was very evident. At the same time, the Council had acknowledged an agreement between the rival parties that they would ensure a peaceful atmosphere and would not resort to violence. President Koroma had also reassured Council members that weapons were transferred to the Armed Forces in the presence of international observers. The Council had also received information on the forthcoming deployment of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces as peacekeepers to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
He said that the women’s groups the Council met had shared ideas on peacebuilding and the role women could play in early warning. In conclusion, he said it was worth reflecting “on how far we have come”. Yet, despite remarkable progress, challenges remained, including high youth unemployment, and dilapidated infrastructure. But, the Council remained optimistic that Sierra Leone was on the path to lasting peace.
The meeting began at 9:07 a.m. and ended at 9:26 a.m.
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