12 November 2014
7310th Meeting (AM)

‘Isolate Ebola, Not Countries Affected’, Top Officials Stress, Urging Security Council to Extend Liberian Mission

Even as the international community scaled up its response to the Ebola crisis in Liberia, it might also need to consider how best to support the rebuilding of the West African nation in the wake of that epic health emergency, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations told the Security Council today, stressing that the opportunity must be seized to spur positive transformation.

Hervé Ladsous, briefing the 15-member body on developments in Liberia, along with Per Thöresson (Sweden), Chair of the Liberia configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, said, “This is a moment of national tragedy.”  The very existence of the nation was at stake.  Liberians had shown considerable resilience throughout the Ebola crisis, and “we must provide them with whatever assistance we can”, perhaps most critically, in the post-Ebola reconstruction.

In that context, he said, it would be appropriate to extend the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) until September 2015, taking forward prior recommendations on political issues and deferring consideration of others on troop and police drawdown until after the crisis had ended.

Detailing other developments, he said that in early October, the Minister of Justice had resigned, claiming she had been thwarted in efforts to lead national security institutions under her Ministry’s authority.  A newly released report by the national human rights commission challenged the findings of a board of inquiry into the army’s actions to enforce a quarantine of an Ebola-affected community in Monrovia.  Five soldiers had been found guilty of disciplinary offences and had received demotions and custody sentences.  The question of criminal prosecution remained.

On the political front, he said the national electoral body had consulted with various stakeholders on how to proceed with senatorial elections which, under normal circumstances, would have been held on 14 October, recommending that they be held on 16 December.  Just yesterday, the 90-day state of emergency imposed in response to Ebola had expired.  Ongoing challenges had been exacerbated by the health emergency.  Political and social divisions had deepened, weak national institutions had shown increased vulnerability and the survival of the most economically vulnerable was at risk.

At the same time, he said, there were no longer signs that security could deteriorate, and while the crisis had put unprecedented pressure on public institutions, local officials had responded to challenges in a manner not ever seen, providing a unique opportunity for the decentralization of services.  As an example, he pointed to the national human rights commission’s demand for accountability for the actions of security forces at West Point.

“These are goals we have been seeking for years,” he said, and for which there had been a “concerning” lack of urgency to achieve.  He encouraged the people and Government of Liberia to seize the opportunity to address the immediate crisis and to rebuild their nation.

Mr. Thöresson, expressing condolences to those who had lost loved ones and commending Liberians and health workers on their determination to defeat Ebola, said that the peacebuilding priorities identified through recent meetings included translating international commitments into action on the ground and addressing both immediate and medium-term needs.  Time-critical needs included addressing the capability gaps of the national police and encouraging efforts to ensure the rule of law and protection of civilians.

The economic dimension was also daunting, with the World Bank estimating that the regional financial impact of the epidemic could reach $32.6 billion by the end of 2015.  Liberia’s revised 2014-2015 budget had an unmet financing gap of over $150 million, he noted.  As the capacity of the Government to deliver grew wider, tensions could rise and public confidence erode, with increasing risks for instability.  Partners should help counter those risks by supporting efforts to improve State-society relations and ensuring full transparency in assistance.

“It is the Ebola virus that should be isolated,” he said, “not the countries affected.”  The necessary conditions must be created for businesses to return to Liberia, and the maintenance of a strong international presence to facilitate delivery of assistance was also critical.  He welcomed the extension of UNMIL’s mandate in that context.  In view of the Mission’s eventual drawdown, a new approach to development cooperation may be needed to ensure that support was effective and had sustainable results.  The Peacebuilding Commission would continue to adapt its approach to the evolving situation in Liberia, he pledged.

Following the briefings, Marjon V. Kamara (Liberia) said the Ebola outbreak had presented multiple challenges.  With budget shortfalls and a projected negative domestic revenue generating capacity, the Government’s ability to meet its responsibility to the Liberian people had been greatly hampered.  Agricultural activities continued to suffer, and in many locations, markets had closed, straining access to basic food items.  Schools also had closed, undermining efforts to rebuild the education system.

While she welcomed that the disease’s spread could be declining, she cautioned against complacency.  The disease was unpredictable and one infection could have a cascading effect, especially as the end of the state of emergency had restored the freedom of movement and assembly.  Continued robust international and regional support was essential, she said, stressing that the scaled-up international assistance had been indispensable to containing the disease.

Recalling the Council’s decision to suspend consideration of a recommendation by the Secretary-General on UNMIL’s activities, she said the withdrawal of peacekeepers would have sent an unintended message that the country was being isolated, rather than the disease.  A strong international presence remained critical in a situation where the social, political and economic environments were “fluid and delicate”.

She said success in fighting Ebola must be monitored in the short and long term.  UNMIL assets would make a difference if deployed to complement those of her Government, the United Nations Mission on Emergency Ebola Response (UNMEER) and other partners.  She recommended extending UNMIL’s mandate for one year and to defer consideration of recommendations in the Secretary-General’s twenty-eighth progress report on the reconfiguration of the Mission.

The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 10:32 a.m.

For information media. Not an official record.