Liberia + 1 more

‘Lasting Peace in Liberia Will Require Fairness and Inclusion for All Liberians in Their Country’s Progress,’ Top UN Envoy Tells Security Council


Security Council
6941st Meeting (PM)

Karin Landgren Says Mission Drawdown Proceeds, Security Transition Initiated; Peacebuilding Chair: Visit Examined Security Reform, Rule of Law, Reconciliation

With the United Nations continuing the phased drawdown of its peacekeeping operations in Liberia, the Organization’s top official there briefed the Security Council today and underscored the importance of moving swiftly to address the social inequality, political infighting and other historic — and current — fissures that had led to decades of war and which still ran deep.

“Lasting peace will require fairness and inclusion for all Liberians in their country’s progress,” said Karin Landgren, Head of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), as she detailed the Secretary-General’s latest progress report on the work of the Mission (document S/2013/124). The briefing, which also featured a presentation from Staffan Tillander (Sweden), Chair of the Liberia configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, covered the five-month security transition and other critical process, which, Ms. Landgren said, would need to advance in tandem with, or somewhat ahead of, UNMIL’s drawdown.

“The resilience Liberians have demonstrated and their commitment to moving their country forward is inspiring and bodes well for the hard work that lies ahead,” she continued, stressing that efforts over the past decade had helped the country recover from conflict and set the stage for a transformed nation. But to realize that potential, “deep cleavages that are so widely acknowledged” would need commensurate attention to institutionalize the foundations for long-term stability.

As part of working towards those solutions, in December, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf held a conference to launch the National Vision 2030 — a long-term political and economic agenda, including a fair political system, security, rule of law and national reconciliation. For the first five years of realizing the Vision, the Government had presented a development plan — successor to the first Poverty Reduction Strategy — called the ‘Agenda for Transformation’, and a Road Map for National Reconciliation, to sequence Liberia’s enormous range of competing priorities.

Ms. Landgren said that the Agenda and the Road Map outlined Liberia’s path towards equitable growth and institutional development, and reflected the close links between reconciliation and development. “The challenges are considerable, and I would draw particular attention to achieving responsible and accountable exploitation and management in the race for resource extraction, where concessions, abuse and allegations of corruption, already a source of significant tension, have the potential to act as a catalyst for conflict,” she warned, and added that, while the Government was conscious of such dangers and had taken some steps to mitigate the risks, much more remains to be done.

As for UNMIL’s support work in other areas, she said the Constitution Review Committee had been preparing options for the defining reform process, with President Johnson-Sirleaf just last week adding another year to that body’s original short timeline. As the Secretary-General had previously noted, many of Liberia’s underlying tensions were perpetuated by provisions in the Constitution, making it especially important to conduct an inclusive and participatory reform process.

UNMIL was an active partner in that process, which also included the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Department of Political Affairs. She said that even with the extension, “the timeline is brisk”, and the Constitution Review Committee was expected to present recommended revisions to the Legislature by mid-2014. Electoral reform was also moving forward with the National Elections Commission holding regional consultations on a draft electoral law, which was currently being discussed with the Legislature.

Continuing, she said the Land Commission had been conducting public consultations on a historic draft land rights policy, covering private, customary, Government and public land tenure. That policy would be considered at a national validation conference next month, with the involvement of UNMIL and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).

She said that Liberia’s First Justice and Security Hub, supported by the Peacebuilding Fund, had been launched on 12 February in Gbarnga. Such hubs had the potential to bring Liberians significantly better access to justice and security services, and the Gbarnga Hub would continue to need close attention, even as the focus turned towards the development of the second and third facilities in, respectively, Grand Gedeh and Maryland countries.

There had also been some progress in the area of accountability. The Supreme Court had upheld five decisions of a Judicial Inquiry Commission that had issued significant penalties, including the suspension of two judges for corruption. In addition, the first case of the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission resulted in a conviction against a former Inspector-General of the National Police, and four other defendants for embezzlement, she said.

“Despite this, corruption and tensions between branches of Government had remained at the forefront of political life,” she said, noting that in February, the Legislature had ordered the Montserrado County Superintendent detained in connection with allegations related to the misuse of development funds. The Legislature had then accused the Acting Mayor of Monrovia of thwarting the detention, and proceeded to a “no confidence” vote against both women, who had subsequently resigned.

“This incident had contributed to the undercurrent of mutual distrust among Liberia’s primary political actors, a climate which can colour the country’s ability to take forward processes critical to democratic governance and long-term stability, including constitutional reform and the fair and transparent management of natural resources.”

She went on to say that Liberia’s border with Côte d’Ivoire remained a “significant focus” for both UNMIL and the Government. Despite challenges, the five-month-old Operation Restore Hope, conducted jointly by the national police, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization and the Liberian Armed Forces, had proved a credible and responsive presence along the border.

Indeed, following deadly attacks in August 2012, the area had been largely calm, although clashes had been reported on the Ivorian side in January and early March. Further, with reports in the past week of armed attacks in some villages close to the border, increased attention was being given to avoiding any cross-border activity that could be linked to such attacks. National security agencies, UNMIL Force and UNPOL had carried out robust patrols in strategic areas of Grand Gedeh, River Gee and Nimba counties.

Continuing, she said that there had been no sign of any new refugee influx, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had also reported growing numbers of Ivorians returning home, with over 5,200 so far in 2013. UNMIL and the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) continued their inter-mission cooperation at all levels, and were working actively with both Governments to encourage development of a common border strategy that took cooperation beyond immediate security measures. “Ultimately, problems with political, economic and social roots require solutions of broad scope,” she said, adding that UNMIL expected a follow-up quadripartite discussion on 5 April between the two countries and the two missions to move that dialogue forward.

Turning next to the security transition, she that since her last briefing to the Council, that exercise had moved to implementation. UNMIL had begun its next military drawdown, and now, for the first time since 2005, its military was not permanently deployed in every one of Liberia’s 15 counties. So far, military personnel had vacated two counties and would leave another two in April.

Meanwhile, the Nepali formed police unit, the first of the three such new units, deployed in full today, she said. During the rainy season hiatus, the Government and UNMIL would continue detailed planning and preparations for the next phase. In October 2012, UNMIL had handed over the first of its facilities to national authorities at Robertsport, in Grand Cape Mount County, and a second facility, in Foya near the Guinean and Sierra Leonean borders in Lofa County, was handed over in January. Between October and April, UNMIL’s military would have withdrawn from seven sites, of which the Government has taken over four.

“This first phase of transition has been relatively successful, but from a security perspective, also relatively undemanding,” she clarified, but added that even so, the Liberian Government had been stretched to deploy sufficient resources, equipment and personnel to make good use of the vacated sites, and to cover the recurrent costs of maintaining them. In light of that situation, UNMIL and the Government would soon hold a retreat to cost-out transition needs through mid-2015 and for the Government to plan how to make those resources available.

Amid the ongoing handover of security functions, the United Nations and partners continued to invest in the development of Liberia’s justice and security sectors. She said that, to gauge progress and inform strategic planning, several studies were under way, including a Peacebuilding Fund-supported review of management and accountability mechanisms within the police, judiciary and prosecution, and a baseline capacity assessment of the Liberia National Police. Over the coming months, UNMIL and national partners would also be part of a security sector reform mapping exercise to identify gaps, and tomorrow a National Criminal Justice Conference, supported by UNMIL, was opening, to review and make recommendations for the improved functioning of all components of the criminal justice system.

On the situation of women and girls in Liberia, she said they continued to face a high incidence of sexual and gender-based violence, including rape, often of young children. “As Liberia grapples with these issues, I would like to congratulate Liberia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Marion Kamara, for the landmark resolution reached by the Commission on the Status of Women under her chairmanship in which members commit to prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls,” she said.

Mr. Tillander discussed the Peacebuilding Commission’s visit to Liberia last month, which had focused on how to accelerate progress on security sector reform, rule of law and national reconciliation. It was during the visit that the first Regional Justice and Security Hub was inaugurated — one of the many steps needed to extend services, justice and security to communities around the country.

He encouraged Liberia to make the appropriate provisions — including planning and budget allocations — for recurrent costs and delivery of justice and security services. Efforts also should focus on activities to be provided through the Second and Third Hubs in, respectively, Zwedru and Harper, as the Commission would visit again one year from now, as agreed, and assess the range of services offered to people in the surrounding communities.

The focus on quick service provision was “very challenging”, he said. Outlining responsibilities, he said Liberia must ensure the budget for recurrent costs, training and deployment, while the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) must start to implement the service components of the Hubs. A gender adviser, judges, outreach and public services should be put quickly in place, and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) must provide innovative infrastructure solutions. Finally, the resources of the Peacebuilding Fund should be made available.

Applying lessons learned from the Gbarnga Hub was essential. “If we get this right, the ‘Hub Concept’ may serve as a model for other countries,” he said, adding that it must be implemented within a holistic, coordinated and balanced approach to justice and security. The outcome of a review of the Justice and Security Joint Programme would enhance its effectiveness and the results should provide a basis for a comprehensive approach, with agreed indicators and benchmarks in support of Government actions. In such work, Government ownership was essential.

Turning to national reconciliation, another priority, he underlined the need for leadership, saying that the different strands within the Road Map for National Healing and Reconciliation should now be implemented in an inclusive, coordinated manner. The mandate of different actors must be clarified, while Government funds allocated should be made available in a timely manner. For its part, the Commission could offer a platform for facilitating an exchange of experiences with other countries that had gone through similar reconciliation processes.

In sum, the Commission was committed to working with Liberia to implement the Statement of Mutual Commitments and align it with Government priorities, as well as with peacebuilding and state-building goals. “This approach will help all stakeholders focus on critical issues,” he said, and provide a conducive environment for the transition, and eventual draw down of UNMIL.

The meeting began at 3:05 p.m. and adjourned at 3:30 p.m.

For information media • not an official record