Sierra Leone configuration
5th Meeting (AM)
Members Adopt Chairman's Declaration Recognizing Elections as Critical Milestone in Consolidation of Peace, Democracy
Aware of the need to swiftly finalize an integrated peacebuilding strategy for Sierra Leone, the Peacebuilding Commission highlighted today the importance of including tracking and monitoring mechanisms into it, and avoiding the duplication of work already being conducted on the ground.
Presiding over a meeting to review with Commission partners the overall structure and content of the draft framework, Frank Majoor of the Netherlands said the strategy was based on an annotated outline for cooperation presented by Momodu Koroma, Sierra Leone's Foreign Minister, on 9 May. With the country's 11 August elections looming, it was important to continue work on the document, with the aim of finalizing it after that date, perhaps by October, which would give members of the new Government time to familiarize themselves with it.
So far, the Government of Sierra Leone had passed new laws to advance the rights of women, including three gender bills and a child's rights bill, which was "a great achievement", he said. Moreover, the Special Court for Sierra Leone had handed down its first judgment, whereby three members of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), the civil war-era regime, had been found guilty of recruiting child soldiers -- a first among international tribunals.
In response to comments by the representative of Japan, he stressed the importance of getting the new Government to buy into the integrated peacebuilding strategy, adding that several members of the Commission were planning bilateral meetings to discuss the types of commitments that might be expected.
Later in the meeting, a representative of civil society, who participated via videolink from Freetown, agreed on the need for the new Government's support, as well as that of civil society and the private sector, noting that sustainability was a challenge.
Also participating by videolink from the Sierra Leonean capital, Ahmed Dumbya, Special Adviser to President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah underscored the importance of preserving national ownership over the peacebuilding process, adding: "People need to feel there is mutual responsibility on donors, the Government and the people themselves."
He cautioned, however, that peacebuilding efforts could be seriously hindered if basic amenities were not delivered to the people. In addition to progress in youth employment, governance and public sector reform, there was a need to address "quick-impact" infrastructure developments -- roads, water and electricity services -- in order to facilitate delivery. Funds must be released promptly from the Peacebuilding Fund or other sources to support such activities.
Victor Angelo, Executive Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General in Sierra Leone, said via videolink that the draft document was the result of "quite extensive" consultations, led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "The key issue is that there is national ownership of the formulation process." The only way to implement the strategy would be to create all the conditions necessary for that principle to be fully respected.
He noted also that the document, which had been shared with the United Nations country team, built on the existing national peace consolidation strategy and poverty reduction strategy papers. Further, it complemented and leveraged ongoing peacebuilding efforts that all parties were trying to implement under the Government's leadership. However, more progress was needed to ensure aid effectiveness and harmonized benchmarks. Moreover, it was important to streamline efforts through the Improved Governance and Accountability Pact (IGAP), given local elections to be held in 2008; strengthen the justice sector; build capacity; reform the public sector; and address issues related to threats, youth and unemployment.
Germany's representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, touched on the importance of tracking and review, noting that qualitative and quantitative indicators could provide early warning on situations that could blunt progress. While it was understandable that work on the draft integrated peacebuilding strategy had slowed, given the upcoming election, it was to be hoped that work would resume once the new Government was in place.
Japan's representative pointed out that the draft integrated strategy would serve as a political framework rather than an operational plan. It represented a partnership joining Sierra Leone, the Peacebuilding Commission and other stakeholders in an endeavour to develop principles of cooperation. There was a need to coordinate the draft strategy with similar documents, such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) country programme for Sierra Leone and the United Nations Development Fund (UNDF) programme for the 2008-2010 period.
Sierra Leone's representative suggested changing the draft strategy's current language to reflect the progress already achieved, saying he did not want it to imply that the country was "starting in a vacuum".
Guinea's representative made a similar request, calling for a review of the draft's subregional section as it appeared to suggest that instability in his own country was a threat to neighbouring Sierra Leone.
Another videolink participant, the United States Ambassador in Freetown, described the document as "too urban-centric". It was striking that it made no reference to agriculture, the sector that held the greatest potential for economic growth in the short to medium term, given that it was also the sector in which most Sierra Leoneans were employed. It was important to remember that the country's recent civil conflict had begun in the rural areas.
China's Ambassador in Freetown also addressed the meeting via videolink.
Other participants in the meeting included the representatives of Pakistan, Brazil, China, United Kingdom, India, Egypt and Croatia.
The Commission also heard from representatives of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, World Bank, European Commission and the International Monetary Fund, all of whom spoke via videolink from Freetown.
Turning to another topic, the Commission adopted a Chairman's declaration, which highlighted the recognition that elections in Sierra Leone were a "critical milestone for the consolidation of peace and democracy" in the country. Noting that preparations for the elections were on track, it called on the Commission to support fully efforts by the Government, the Organization and other stakeholders so as to ensure they were conducted in a peaceful manner.
In the related discussion that ensued, however, the British High Commissioner in Freetown voiced concern that the lack -- or inappropriate timing -- of funding would seriously affect the operational capacity and institutional credibility of Sierra Leone's National Election Committee (NEC). She drew attention to the importance of voter sensitization, given the high illiteracy rate and the number of young people who had never voted. Such problems were compounded by the fact that the elections would be held during the rainy season, which could influence the number of people able to cast their ballots.
But Egypt's representative said efforts in Sierra Leone should not be frustrated by a lack of funding, stressing that it was incumbent on the international community to help the Government. He proposed examining how funds already being dispersed by the Peacebuilding Fund could be used in that respect.
Mr. Angelo added that the Steering Committee had planned for half the budget gap to be taken up by the Government and the other half -- about $1.6 million -- by the Peacebuilding Fund.
The representative of the European Commission confirmed that it had already contributed some €7.5 million to the UNDP Basket Fund and would send an 80-person mission to observe the two rounds of election.
Other speakers on that subject were the representatives of Japan, Russian Federation, China and Pakistan.
Also speaking was a representative of the Commonwealth Secretariat.
The Peacebuilding Commission will meet again at a date to be announced.
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For information media - not an official record