Sierra Leone

Ambassador Nancy Soderberg's Remarks to the UN Security Council

Reintegrating combatants into society is important for peace

United Nations -- The disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants into civil society is an essential element of peace agreements, says U.S. Ambassador Nancy Soderberg.

In remarks to the UN Security Council March 23, Soderberg said that the retraining of fighters is an element of post-conflict peace-building that is often overlooked, but should be a part of peace agreements as a key aspect of economic development, including giving special consideration to the demobilization of child soldiers and female ex-combatants.

Soderberg, a U.S. Representative to the UN Security Council, spoke at a day-long session devoted to discussing post-conflict peace-building and Secretary General Kofi Annan's February 2000 report on "The Role of United Nations Peacekeeping in Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration."

She also highlighted one of the problems involved in demobilization that is threatening the peace process in Sierra Leone.

"One key indicator of the problem," Soderberg said, "is the low number and quality of weapons that have been turned in thus far" by the Revolutionary United Front under the leadership of Foday Sankoh. "Moreover, far too few combatants have presented themselves for disarmament and demobilization."

Following is the US/UN text:

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Statement by Ambassador Nancy Soderberg, Alternate U.S. Representative for Political Affairs, on Post-Conflict Peace-Building: Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration, Security Council, March 23, 2000

Thank you, Mr. President.

I applaud you, Mr. President, for holding this open meeting today and welcome the presence of the Secretary General. The key role of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration is one that is far too often overlooked. Yet, it is an essential element to many post-conflict peace-building efforts. Today's session will help ensure we all stay engaged in the effort to build peace, not just stop war. Today's meeting builds on our open debate last July under the Presidency of Malaysia. I thank Ambassador Hasmy and the delegation of Malaysia for their continuing efforts to focus the Council's attention on these issues, and hope the Council will remain engaged on this important matter and take up the Secretary General's call this morning to address this issue with renewed determination.

When peace agreements are successfully reached, it is essential that steps be taken to promote the transition of war-torn societies from conflict to normalcy. Key to this transition is the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of the ex-combatants into the fabric of civil society. The Secretary-General's February 11 report on "The Role of United Nations Peacekeeping in Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration" correctly underscores this point.

As the Secretary-General recommends, the ability of future peacekeeping operations to advance disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration goals can be enhanced by: including explicit reference to DDR programs in peace agreements; ensuring adequate technical and financial support for such activities in all operations; and improving institutional coordination among the bodies of the international community that address these needs.

It is essential that this Council underscore, as pointed out in the Secretary-General's report, that successful disarmament, demobilization and reintegration activities depend upon the political will of the parties involved to commit themselves to peace. Success of such activities requires the cooperation of entire populations, former combatants and civilians. The international community can support the process, but it cannot provide the will required to bring it to a successful conclusion. This point is being made very clearly in Sierra Leone, where the commitment to the peace agreement of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), especially its leader Mr. Foday Sankoh, remains in doubt. One key indicator of the problem is the low number and quality of weapons that have been turned in thus far under the DDR program currently underway in Sierra Leone. Moreover, far too few combatants have presented themselves for disarmament and demobilization. Similarly, the disturbing outbreak of violence in the Congo discussed yesterday by this Council gives weight to the point that the international community cannot fulfill its obligations if the parties fail to meet their own commitments.

Mr. President,

With regard to disarmament, surplus small arms and light weapons in post-conflict situations all too often fuel renewed fighting and banditry. Effective disposal -- and preferably destruction -- of small arms, light weapons and ammunition must be part of any peace process.

In addition, the Council must be prepared to consider measures to limit the flow of small arms and other weapons into DDR zones, including sanctions, if necessary and appropriate. As Ambassador Fowler has so ably demonstrated, more effective enforcement of existing sanctions can also play a role in the prevention of new arms flows into an area. The U.S. looks forward to participating in next year's United Nations conference on the illicit trafficking of small arms and light weapons here in New York.

Mr. President,

The goal of demobilization activities is to remove ex-combatants from military organizations and structures as quickly as possible -- to free these populations to return to lives as productive citizens and contribute to the development of their societies. To advance demobilization, sufficient resources and political support must be provided to peacekeeping operations. As the Secretary-General correctly notes, a mission that has been perceived as strong from the beginning is far less likely to be tested than one which is perceived as vulnerable or ineffective.

We see much reintegration work as distinct from traditional peacekeeping activities of disarmament and demobilization. Disarmament and demobilization are under the purview of the Security Council and peacekeeping operations, although implementation of these activities has at times been shared by humanitarian agencies. Reintegration, however, must be viewed as a post-conflict peace-building or development activity. The Secretary-General's report notes the complexity of reintegration activities and the number of organizations and actors that can contribute to its success. We welcome improved coordination among implementing agencies -- including World Bank support for reintegration in Sierra Leone -- and note the need for further progress. We also concur with the Secretary-General that bringing commercial interests into peace efforts can support the process and encourage further exploration of this area.

Mr. President,

We agree with the Secretary-General that there can be problems in identifying adequate funding for DDR activities. With the implosion of societies occurring in today's conflicts, it is critical we strike the right balance between assessed and voluntary funding to address this issue.

The Secretary-General's report highlights the special needs of child soldiers during all phases of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, including the special needs of girl soldiers due to their roles as fighters, messengers, spies, laborers, and sexual slaves. We applaud the efforts of, UNICEF and others to meet these critical needs in existing operations and their plans to do so in future DDR programs. I am happy to note also the consensus agreement reached in January on the addition of an optional protocol on involvement of children in armed conflict to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. By addressing forced recruitment and the conduct of armed rebel groups, this agreement strikes at the heart of the problem of child soldiers.

Mr. President,

In discussing disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, we often overlook the special needs of women ex-combatants. As correctly underlined in the Secretary-General's report, female ex-combatants and their children are especially vulnerable in post-conflict situations. DDR plans should seek to assist women and girls that have suffered sexual abuse, have been forced to participate in violence, or have had to bear children for their victimizers, and may risk rejection by their communities. Sustainable reintegration of former combatants is a prerequisite to the prevention of future conflicts and women are often excluded from this process. In a broader context, we rarely consider the powerful role women can play in reintegration, peace-building and conflict resolution. Women's involvement as leaders, mediators and teachers can have a critical impact on the success of reintegration efforts, and their involvement is essential for maintaining peace and security.

In conclusion, the Council's task of maintaining international peace and security requires that we pay close attention to the important issues we discuss here today. As the United Nations develops methods and means to address post-conflict peace-building requirements, our ability to undertake successful and complete DDR programs will grow. I commend my colleagues who have taken a lead on this issue. The United States looks forward to working together to put into practice the ideas and plans we debate here today.

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