- By its resolution 2333 (2016), the Security Council extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) for a final period until 30 March 2018 and requested to be kept informed of the situation in Liberia and the implementation of the Mission’s mandate. The present report provides a midterm update on major developments in the country since my predecessor’s special report dated 15 November 2016 (S/2016/968)
II. Major developments
A. Political situation and related developments
The political landscape in Liberia was dominated by preparations for the presidential and legislative elections scheduled for October 2017. Given the establishment of new political alliances and bargaining among the 22 registered political parties and coalitions, it is unlikely that any presidential candidate will achieve an absolute majority in the first round, requiring a second electoral round in November.
On 29 December 2016, the National Elections Commission certified the first opposition alliance, the Coalition for Democratic Change, comprising the Congress for Democratic Change, led by former presidential candidate and current Senator of Montserrado County, George Weah; the National Patriotic Party, led by former First Lady and current Senator of Bong County, Jewel Howard Taylor; and the Liberia People’s Democratic Party, led by the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alex Tyler. On 21 January 2017, the coalition named Mr. Weah as its standard-bearer and Ms. Taylor as its vice standard-bearer. Following allegations in the media that the former President, Charles Taylor, had influenced the formation of the new coalition, on 16 March, Mr. Weah reportedly admitted to holding a telephone conversation with Mr. Taylor, who is serving a 50-year sentence after having been found guilty by the Special Court for Sierra Leone of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sierra Leone.
On 23 January, the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, presented her final annual state of the nation address, identifying the fight against corruption and national reconciliation as priorities for the remainder of her tenure. The President also called for the passage of land rights and local government legislation and for the holding of a national forum with political stakeholders to agree on peaceful elections in October 2017 and the subsequent transition to a new Government in 2018.
On 3 March, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Code of Conduct for Public Officials and Government Employees, which contains provisions requiring that all persons appointed by the President wishing to seek elective office resign two years, or three years for tenured appointees, prior to standing for election. As a consequence, prominent persons wishing to seek office could be disqualified, while current officials engaged in political activities, such as serving on campaign teams, or using government resources to support partisan or political activities could also be affected. There remains a lack of consensus among political parties on the applicability of the Code of Conduct.
On 14 March, the President issued Executive Order No. 83, operationalizing the Office of the Ombudsman, which is tasked with overseeing implementation of the Code of Conduct. On 3 April, the President nominated the former Inspector General of Police, Chris Massaquoi, as Chair, in addition to two members, one o f whom had to be replaced for not meeting the age criteria. The nominees still await Senate confirmation.
In March, allegations emerged in the media that the Chair of the National Elections Commission, Jerome Korkoya, holds citizenship in the United States of America, which is unconstitutional in Liberia. Reactions have been mixed. Some legislators called on Mr. Korkoya to explain allegations of lying under oath during his confirmation hearings, and some political parties called for an adjudication of the matter in court. Mr. Korkoya denied the allegations and called upon his accusers to provide evidence. On 12 May, Mr. Korkoya was sued by a group of citizens and an unregistered political party, alleging a violation of the Aliens and Nationality Law. Several presidential candidates also allegedly hold dual citizenship and could face similar challenges.
On 30 May, a group of opposition political parties formally presented to the National Elections Commission a document entitled “the Ganta Resolution”, committing to peaceful elections in 2017. The parties had adopted the resolution in September 2016. Additionally, on 31 May and 1 June, the Government of Liberia, supported by UNMIL, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), hosted a national forum facilitated by the Interreligous Council of Liberia, which culminated in the signing of the “Farmington River Declaration” on 4 June by standard-bearers and political leaders of 20 out of 22 registered political parties declaring their commitment to a peaceful electoral process and the transfer of power to a new administration in January 2018.
The Governance Commission began work on a bill proposing arrangements for the transition from the current to the next Government, with provisions for regulating the process. Meanwhile, the General Service Agency has started to document and verify all government assets to ensure accountability during the transition
From 1 February to 14 March, the National Elections Commission conducted a nationwide voter registration exercise, which was judged credible by national and international observers despite initial technical glitches that resulted in a one -week extension of the process. On 31 March, the Commission announced the provisional results of the voter registration, which recorded 2.1 million voters, of whom approximately 48 per cent are women. The provisional voter roll should be exhibited from 12 to 17 June, pending the timely release of funds by the Government.
On 9 May, the National Elections Commission issued a writ of elections, indicating that the elections would be held on 10 October 2017. The last day for the nomination of candidates by registered political parties and applications by independent candidates is 11 July. The official campaign period will be from 31 July to 8 October. In preparation for the effective adjudication of election-related disputes, a retreat for judges took place in May, during which the elections law, particularly amendments made in 2014, was discussed.
A number of efforts were undertaken to encourage full participation in the democratic process. On 14 February, a women’s situation room opened in Monrovia to receive complaints of election-related violence and support the voter registration process. As part of the efforts to enhance women’s participation in politics and governance, UNMIL quick-impact projects facilitated training to further empower 100 female political aspirants and campaign managers engaged in grass-roots advocacy. Additionally, in March and April, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched a series of stakeholder consultations on youth engagement, bringing together representatives from women and youth organizations, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the National Elections Commission and the United Nations to discuss prevention of election-related violence, including gender-based electoral violence; increasing trust and cooperation between youth and security providers; and raising awareness of Security Council resolutions 1325 (2000) and 2250 (2015). On the basis of those consultations, UNDP developed a project on enhancing youth participation in the 2017 electoral processes, which received $1.8 million in support from the Peacebuilding Fund.
In accordance with his good offices and political support mandate, my Special Representative routinely engaged with political stakeholders, encouraging interaction through the Inter-Party Consultative Committee. Additionally, UNMIL, in close collaboration with the Press Union of Liberia, media managers and other partners, worked to encourage incisive yet responsible election-related journalism.
The Mission also conducted civic awareness initiatives aimed at preventing electoral violence and enhancing reconciliation, and has provided support for voter education initiatives using various platforms, including radio, roadshows and social media. The Commission also receives support through a UNDP project and a donorfunded basket fund.
From 10 to 12 May, my Special Representative consulted with senior government officials in Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea and Sierra Leone in support of national efforts aimed at facilitating an environment conducive to peaceful elections in Liberia. All interlocutors welcomed the spirit of good neighbourliness prevailing among the Mano River Union countries and affirmed their commitment to supporting Liberia during the electoral process. Additionally, the United Nations, the African Union and ECOWAS have agreed to coordinate closely with respect to messaging throughout the political period and beyond. To enhance the prospect of a free and fair electoral process, several international partners, including the African Union and ECOWAS, plan to deploy election observers to complement national observers.
During the reporting period, UNMIL trained 655 senior Liberia National Police officers, including 163 women, in command, control and communications, as well as crisis and incident management. This will support the police’s elections operations centre at their headquarters in Monrovia, as well as three regional operations centres. In January, the national police established an election security task force, comprising law enforcement and security agencies, which will engage at the ministerial and donor levels to conduct joint assessments of security risks and undertake operational planning. UNMIL provides support and strategic guidance to the task force. Additionally, 555 police officers, including 179 women, were trained in community policing and election security. To build public confidence, the national police leadership regularly visited different counties to engage with community stakeholders and held a session in Monrovia with political party representatives on ensuring peaceful campaigns.
National reconciliation, political reforms and governance
The Government, with UNMIL support, continued its efforts to advance non-judicial recommendations presented by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2009. In December 2016 and January 2017, Palava Hut hearings focused on forgiveness were held in Grand Gedeh and Lofa Counties. A total of 269 war-related victim statements were recorded and 177 cases were amicably resolved.
On 8 March, the President dedicated a memorial site honouring Liberians who had died during the civil war on the site of the Paynesville massacre.
In April, a national stakeholder review of the Strategic Road Map for National Healing, Peacebuilding and Reconciliation was conducted by the Liberia Peacebuilding Office, with support from UNMIL. The review revealed that the road map remained relevant and that the Government’s political and financial commitment, as well as strengthened coordination among key stakeholders, would be required to achieve national reconciliation. In May, the Liberia Peacebuilding Office and UNMIL disseminated the findings of a social cohesion and reconciliation index measuring progress in advancing reconciliation, and used the results to initiate policy discussions with government officials, civil society and the international community. The index identified areas requiring urgent interventions aimed at strengthening civic trust in government institutions, reducing aggressive tendencies, including sexual and gender-based violence, and enhancing development. The Liberia Peace Ambassador, responsible for developing an agenda for lasting peace in partnership with the National Reconciliation Commission, continued efforts at improving relations between the police, commercial motorcyclists and local communities in Monrovia. He also held conflict resolution meetings in Bomi, Bong, Montserrado and Nimba Counties in April, and in Grand Gedeh, Maryland and River Gee counties in May. UNMIL supported some of these initiatives, including through its quick-impact projects. In May, the Ministry of Internal Affairs hosted peace and reconciliation dialogues for women and youth representatives, county officials and traditional chiefs in Bomi, Gbarpolu, Maryland,
Nimba and Sinoe Counties.
In March, the President appointed the chairperson and commissioner for policy and planning of the newly established Liberia Land Authority. The President also appointed three other Land Authority commissioners; on 25 May, the Senate confirmed one, while others are still pending. Although land has been identified as a major conflict trigger in Liberia, the land rights bill, recognizing customary land rights, has yet to be enacted. In December, the Legislature decided to hold further consultations with constituents to enhance citizen support and national ownership of the new law, which were initiated in May. My Special Representative, in keeping with his good offices mandate, encouraged the passage of reform legislation, including the pending local government and domestic violence bills.
The decentralization of public services continued, with the Government establishing county service centres that provide document-related services, such as the issuance of birth and marriage certificates and driver’s licences. Service centres are operational in eight counties and are planned to be available in all 15 counties by the end of 2017.
Liberian authorities also undertook efforts to address disputes between communities and concessions. In March, the National Bureau of Concessions, with support from UNMIL and UNDP, launched multi-stakeholder conflict mitigation platforms in four conflict-prone concession sites, specifically Golden Veroleum in Sinoe County; ArcelorMittal in Nimba County; Maryland Oil Palm Plantation/ Cavalla Rubber Corporation in Maryland County; and Sime Darby in Grand Cape Mount County. The platforms, which are funded through assessed contributions, are aimed at establishing sustainable local mechanisms for managing disputes between concession companies and local communities.
In November 2016, the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission lost a highprofile case relating to the misappropriation of $5.7 million from the sale of 15,000 tons of petroleum products valued at $13 million, which had been donated by the Government of Japan. A former minister of commerce and a former managing director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company were among those indicted for economic sabotage, misapplication of entrusted property, criminal conspiracy and violation of public procurement procedures and processes. However, the Ministry of Justice advised the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission not to proceed with the cases because of insufficient evidence to secure a prosecution. Between November 2016 and 1 June 2017, 20 audit reports released by the General Auditing Commission implied fraud and/or misappropriation at ministries and other government agencies. As of May 2017, the cases of 11 individuals and 6 institutions had been sent to the Ministry of Justice for further investigation and prosecution.
On 22 and 23 February, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection hosted an event to review progress in implementing Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) as part of Global Open Day for Women and Peace. Participants, including those from civil society, observed that transformative leadership could help to overcome structural challenges hindering women’s participation in governance, including financial and cultural obstacles.