|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6829th Meeting* (AM)
Successful November Elections in Sierra Leone Will Demonstrate Maturity of Political
Leadership, Consolidation of Democratic Process, Security Council Told
Executive Representative Jens Anders Toyberg-Frandzen Briefs;
Peacebuilding Configuration Chair, Country’s UN Representative Also Speak
Given the complexity in Sierra Leone of holding presidential, parliamentary and local council elections on the same date, in November, their successful conduct would demonstrate the maturity of the country’s political leadership and institutions, as well as the consolidation of its democratic process, the Security Council was told this morning in a briefing on the situation.
The Secretary-General’s Executive Representative in Sierra Leone, Jens Anders Toyberg-Frandzen, outlined preparations in the lead-up to that defining event on 17 November. Also briefing the Council was Guillermo Rishchynski of Canada, Chairperson of the Sierra Leone country-specific configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, following which a statement was made by Sierra Leone’s Permanent Representative, Shekou Touray.
Mr. Toyberg-Frandzen said that, although the official campaign was set to begin on 17 October, the two major political parties, the ruling All People’s Congress (APC), and the main opposition party, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), were touring the country in order to mobilize support. All 10 registered political parties and other major stakeholders had signed a declaration on 18 May, committing themselves to free, fair and peaceful elections, and since then, there had been no incidents of political violence and commitments were being upheld.
However, as elections drew closer, the intensity of political competition, particularly between the two major parties, would increase and tensions were expected to rise. The Non-State Actors project implemented by the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL), with the assistance of the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund, supported the efforts of key stakeholders in promoting non-violence and political participation.
The envoy stressed the importance of an enabling security environment at all stages of the electoral process and immediately thereafter, for which the Sierra Leone police remained critical. Recent incidents involving use of force by the police were worrying, however, and he welcomed investigation by the Government. Establishment of an Independent Police Complaints mechanism would also contribute to ensuring respect for rule of law and professional conduct.
The media also had an important contribution to make in ensuring a free, peaceful election by providing objective and balanced information and, in that regard, the Independent Media Commission should play a more active role to discourage divisive and inflammatory reporting that could lead to political tension and violence. He was pleased to report on the adoption of guidelines, signed by all the political parties and the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation, which provided for equitable airtime and access for all political parties.
Overall, he reported, Sierra Leone was making “steady progress in consolidating its achievements of the past decade”. Planning for a successor development strategy, “The Agenda for Prosperity”, was under way, although challenges of unemployment, especially among youth, high living costs and related economic difficulties persisted, requiring a longer-term approach and investment.
The immediate focus following the November elections should be on ensuring the new Government’s smooth transition, for which UNIPSIL stood ready to contribute, he said, adding, however, that sustaining the country’s achievements required steady progress in tackling the 11-year conflict’s root causes. With Sierra Leoneans taking the lead, continued support from the international community and the United Nations “will still be needed for some time to come”.
In his briefing, Ambassador Rishchynski agreed that the West African nation now faced an “important moment” in its history. The November elections would be a crucial test, and were widely viewed as a core benchmark for peace consolidation there. The Commission felt that logistical and financial arrangements for the polls were largely in place and that there was good reason to expect “technically sound and well-managed elections”. The greater challenge ahead would be political, and, as such, national stakeholders must fulfil their responsibility to create an environment conducive for the elections to be successful.
With a note of concern, he said that on each of the Commission’s visits to Sierra Leone, interlocutors had cited persistent tension between the major political parties, the tendency of unprofessional media to exacerbate divides between major political factions, and the risk that irresponsible actors would encourage youth to engage in politically motivated violence.
The UNIPSIL deserved great credit for addressing such challenges, he said, noting that its efforts had helped to establish a common understanding of the parameters of legitimate electoral competition. The Peacebuilding Commission planned to travel to Freetown in October to take stock of the situation and talk with all relevant stakeholders, stressing the need to maintain an open and inclusive political dialogue and abide by the commitments set out in the 2009 Joint Communiqué and the May 2012 political declaration. “It is now up to Sierra Leoneans to exercise their democratic rights and accept the resulting outcome.”
While elections would remain the primary focus in the near future, Sierra Leone also stood poised to transition out of the immediate peacebuilding phase, he continued, explaining that such changes would involve several important processes. The post-election period would require increased focus on several long-term and outstanding peacebuilding concerns, particularly youth unemployment, fighting corruption and combating transnational crime. However, progress in those areas depended on development outside Sierra Leone, both in terms of the global economy and with respect to threats plaguing the broader West African subregion.
As transitions invariably risked producing strategic and funding gaps, the Peacebuilding Commission could help to ensure the overall coordination of activities. Sustained multilateral and bilateral assistance would also be increasingly important. The Commission intended to engage more extensively with those issues in the coming months. Much had been invested and much had been gained in Sierra Leone, he said, adding that the forthcoming elections and transition period presented risks, but also an opportunity to consolidate peace, deepen democratic governance and lay the foundations for a prosperous future.
The people of Sierra Leone had demonstrated tremendous determination in rebuilding their country after a devastating civil war, and the international community must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in the years to come, he said.
Sierra Leone’s Ambassador Touray said that the end of the conflict in 2002 had marked the collective resolve of Sierra Leoneans to bring a decisive end to “11 years of nightmare”, and since that time, with the help of the United Nations, the country had achieved remarkable progress. “It is crucial that together, we continue to tackle the remaining challenges to further advance and consolidate our peacebuilding priorities”, by addressing key economic, social and governance challenges to meet the people’s growing expectations.
While highlighting the joint efforts of Sierra Leone and the Peacebuilding Commission in tackling “risk areas” — youth unemployment, corruption and illicit drugs trafficking — he said the Government was equally committed to making progress in health care, energy, education, agriculture, transportation and infrastructure. It was hoped that once those sectors were strengthened, prospects for job creation would increase and the country would become more resilient.
Fostering a partnership with the international community towards those ends remained one of the Government’s primary goals, he said, stressing that the Government would continue to demonstrate strong political leadership in dealing with political violence, the perpetrators of which would be brought to justice. In the meantime, efforts were under way to promote political dialogue, and he drew the Council’s attention to the 18 May Declaration as “ample demonstration of the commitment of the Government and people of Sierra Leone to peaceful, free, fair and credible elections, with the hope that the results will be acceptable by all”.
Regarding criticism by the political parties and civil society about increased nomination fees, he said that decision had been taken by an independent body and it had been discussed in Parliament before approval. Some parties were trying to introduce mechanisms to spread the burden of such fees.
Urging the continued full support of the Security Council and the wider international community to the electoral process, he said it would indeed be a “crucial test” for the consolidation of peace and democracy in the country. Preparations “are on course and in their advanced stages” and the National Election Commission was demonstrating credibility and transparency. To provide equal access at the polls, the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation had prepared election guidelines, which had recently been adopted by all political parties.
Turning to the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he said the Government was collaborating with all national stakeholders and the United Nations in promoting the drafting and enactment of a gender equality bill to enhance women’s participation in decision-making processes. It was also strengthening its efforts towards the education of girl children and the provision of free health care to pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under 5.
As for the Agenda for Change and the United Nations Joint Vision aligned to it, he said that those initiatives provided a strong partnership link between Sierra Leone and the world body, and the donor community. Implementation had so far had a great impact on peacebuilding, and today, Sierra Leone was considered a “best practice” in donor coordination, as well as a peacebuilding success.
The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 10:49 a.m., at which time Council members were invited to consultations on Sierra Leone, as previously agreed.
Before the Security Council this morning was the latest report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL), covering the period from 1 March to 31 August, (document S/2012/679).
The report finds that the presidential, parliamentary and local council elections, scheduled for 17 November, have remained the main focus of political activities in Sierra Leone. In view of the elections’ importance, and taking into account the critical tasks to follow, including the provision of support for the resolution of any post-election concerns, facilitating the smooth transition into office of any newly elected Government, supporting efforts aimed at building national cohesion and reconciliation, and enabling the preparation of a transition plan and an exit strategy for UNIPSIL, the Secretary-General recommends a renewal of the mission’s mandate for a further eight to nine months, during which time he intends to send a United Nations inter-agency technical assessment mission to the country to conduct a review of the mandate’s implementation.
In a spirit of constructive dialogue and national ownership of the political process, the country’s major stakeholders, including the 10 registered political parties, signed a “Declaration on the 2012 elections” on 18 May, committing themselves to peaceful, free and fair elections, the report states. Electoral preparations have reached a critical final stage with the completion of the biometric voter registration exercise and the announcement by the National Electoral Commission of a timetable for the process, including the nomination of candidates and the beginning of the period of electoral campaigning.
The elections, the report states, have dominated the overall political situation, with political parties, particularly the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) and the main opposition party, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), intensifying their electoral activities throughout the country. While no incidents of political violence were reported during the period under review, the relationship between the ruling party and the major opposition party continued to be characterized by mutual mistrust and intense rivalry.
The Secretary-General welcomes the release by the Government of the white paper on the Shears Moses Commission of Inquiry and has taken note of the ongoing prosecution of political party supporters implicated in acts of political violence, which will assist in deterring such activities. He encourages the Government to expedite efforts aimed at establishing an independent police complaints committee and at implementing other recommendations of the white paper, and he reiterates his call to the political parties to take national ownership of the political process and set aside their differences. The Political Parties Registration Commission has the key task of furthering dialogue with the political parties, and the media in Sierra Leone should also play a constructive role.
Overall, the report finds, Sierra Leone has continued to make significant progress in consolidating itshard-won peace and building democratic foundations. Nonetheless, severalchallenges remain, and concerted efforts are required to tackle the issuesidentified by the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. These include: addressing unemployment, in particular among young people; strengthening the country’s democratic institutions; promoting nationalreconciliation and cohesion and a culture of political tolerance; managing the exploitation of the nation’s naturalresources, including newly found vast mineral riches; and combating corruption. Also important are addressing the threats posedby transnational organized crime, such as illicit drug trafficking. As focus shifts towards the elections, continuingattention should also be given to ensuring a peaceful post-election period, as well as to tackling the root causes of the conflict, which, if leftunaddressed, could reverse the important gains.
The report says that addressing the remaining key challenges in the transition to a development phase will require resources from international partners for the full implementation of the Government’s planned Agenda for Prosperity, as well as other major national economic programmes. The work of the Anti-Corruption Commission in combating corruption will also remain crucial for promoting the confidence of the citizenry in governance. The international community has been instrumental in bringing peace to the country, and the Secretary-General urges international partners to remain seized of the peacebuilding process, particularly in the run-up to the November elections. The Peacebuilding Commission also has a critical role to play at this stage.
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* The 6828th Meeting was closed.