United Nations (New York)

Liberia: With Liberia On Verge of Becoming 'True Success Story,' UN Mission Must Continue Strong Support in Areas Crucial to Lasting Peace, Security Council Told

Photo: Arcelor Mittal
Rebuilding Liberia's damaged infrastructure.

With Liberia on the verge of becoming "a true success story", a senior United Nations official told the Security Council this afternoon that the Organization's peacekeeping mission in the country must walk a delicate balance: applauding achievements and pulling back its support, while continuing to complement the Government's efforts in security sector reform, national reconciliation, border control and other areas crucial to ensuring lasting peace.

"Since 2003, Liberia has transformed itself from a failed State to one that is well along the path to democracy and lasting peace," said Karin Landgren, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in the West African country, known by the acronym UNMIL. Her detailed briefing to the Council - which focused on the Secretary-General's latest report on the situation in the country and on the Mission's preparations to draw down its operations - also included a presentations by Staffan Tillander, Chair of the Liberia Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission and a statement by Liberia's Ambassador to the United Nations, Marjon Kamara.

Ms. Landgren said that UNMIL was able to begin a transition because of Liberia's achievements, including "remarkable progress" in rebuilding its institutions, bolstering economic recovery and consolidating its democratic processes. The Mission represented nearly a decade of major investment by the international community. That investment had paid "handsome dividends", supporting Liberians with a time and space free of war, which had permitted two democratic elections and steps towards large-scale national reforms.

Highlighting some of the details provided in the report, she told Council members that the United Nations continued to provide security support to Liberia on a significant scale. But, as the Secretary-General had noted, security measures alone would not create lasting stability in Liberia. Reinforcement of the national security sector should go hand in hand with national reconciliation and structural changes to address the underlying causes of past conflict. "Achieving this, however, will take both political commitment and financial resources," she said.

Recalling that during their visit in May members of the Council had seen first hand both Liberia's promise and its remaining challenges, she said that UNMIL had since updated its joint planning structures and was reviewing the links between those, donor coordination mechanisms and Liberia's own development frameworks for greater coherence. The Mission had also designed a graphic road map to help illustrate, phase by phase, the demands on the Liberian security sector and give the Government the necessary lead time to adjust its security posture.

"Addressing security sector gaps will be important to a successful and well-managed transition", she said, adding that, as the recent technical assessment mission had concluded, national security agencies were not yet able to maintain stability without the support of UNMIL. That assessment had also set out other areas that continued to need attention. She also noted that with Liberia's growing annual budget - some $672 million for 2012/13 - the country was increasingly able to find national resources to help finance that sector, but, with many competing priorities, donor support would remain essential.

As for the national police force, she cited recent headway - the doubling of its physical capacity at the police academy and, in June, the deployment to the Côte d'Ivoire border area with the Liberian Armed Forces. But, given the relatively large burden the police would bear as UNMIL transitioned, considerable attention should be given to increasing police professionalism, as well as logistics capacity.

Also, increased resources would be needed for recurring costs, she continued, noting that following a transition-focused joint workshop, the Liberian Government had been able to identify additional resources for the police, reportedly as much as a 26 per cent increase from last year. Yet, she remained concerned by a decreased allocation for the police training academy at a time when the need was so great to scale up training and recruitment for the force.

Strengthened security capacity and regulation would need to be matched with a stronger justice system for the public to have confidence in the State's capacity to protect and provide justice, she continued. The Justice and Security Programme, agreed among all rule of law actors in 2011, coherently captured national priorities and would guide the development of that sector over the next three years. The programme included five justice and security hubs, the first of which would soon be completed with the support of the Peacebuilding Fund.

Turning next to the constitutional reform process and national reconciliation efforts, she said that such exercises were central to peace consolidation in Liberia. While several key steps had been taken, including the appointment of a five-person Constitution review committee, she said that views differed as to whether the country should engage in comprehensive constitutional reform, or simply amend selected provisions. Any revision must be endorsed by referendum, which implied a high degree of public awareness.

"A truly inclusive and consultative process holds one of the keys to overcoming the structural imbalances and injustices that continue to present risks for the stability of the country", she said, recalling that in his report, the Secretary-General had underlined that a highly centralized system of governance was rooted in the current Constitution. Reform opened the door to greater decentralization and to allowing all Liberians to enjoy dependable access to services and greater political inclusions - all of which were manifestly a factor in national reconciliation.

On that point, she told the Council that a national reconciliation road map was under review and due to be launched in October. Coordinated by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, that strategy covered some principal recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including the Palava Hut programme, where perpetrators could seek forgiveness. As the process moved forward, the United Nations would encourage full, inclusive consultation and public discussion, allowing all Liberians to feel a part of a national healing process. She added that the world body would also like to see an invigorated Independent National Commission on Human Rights - an effort UNMIL was ready to support.

Moving on to another vital issue, she said that Liberian Government had continued its efforts to mitigate security threats at its boarder with Côte d'Ivoire, and both Governments and the two relevant United Nations missions had met in June to discuss enhanced border security and civilian protection. Following that, Liberia had deployed "Operation Restore Hope" in which the Liberian Armed Forces, the emergency response unit and the Bureau of Immigration were all taking part.

She also said that UNMIL and the Liberian Government had long received reports of alleged training and recruitment of armed groups on Liberian soil, including some reports of the involvement of Ivorians residing in refugee camps in Liberia. A comprehensive national strategy to address the issue of mercenaries and foreign combatants was still needed. She told the Council that when she had visited a camp in Grand Gedeh County last month, refugee leaders and local authorities had all called for greater security.

To that end, she recalled that several previously agreed measures had yet to be implemented, including the placement of an unnamed national police presence in the camps and adequate screening of arriving asylum-seekers by Liberian authorities. She said that UNMIL and the United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) had strengthened inter-mission cooperation on border issues and remained ready to work with the Governments on a shared border strategy that covered not only security, but longer-term elements of reconciliation, justice and employment. She went on to say that the missions had conducted mirrored patrols and had also secured the approval of their host Governments to conduct cross-border air operations and aerial reconnaissance missions, "which may also have a deterrent effect when employed in response to known threats".

" Liberia is becoming a nation at peace with itself and with its past, a nation able to channel its vast economic potential into the better lives its people have waited for," she said, wrapping up her presentation. In the context of a carefully managed transition, the Council's own calls for a coherent approach to peacekeeping and peacebuilding were, she said, particularly important. As UNMIL worked with the Government and its partners to chart a critical path towards an exit strategy, Liberia's stability must remain the top priority, she declared, looking forward to working with the Council and all Liberians to ensure the country's peaceful advance.

In his briefing, Mr. Tillander stressed that coherent and inclusive national reconciliation should be at the centre of the peace process. That was a core peacebuilding priority in the Statement of Mutual Commitments, which was the compact between the Commission and the Liberian Government. Part of that process entailed mending relations between the State and society, between communities, and between individuals and included "reformulating the Liberian historical narrative", including giving recognition to past persecution, discrimination and marginalization. Reconciliation was also linked to processes of constitutional review, decentralization and election reform. Those were transformative changes, and a critical factor for their success would be the inclusivity of the processes.

He said that, later this month, the Commission would engage in discussions with the Internal Affairs Minister, who was responsible for coordinating the reconciliation and decentralization processes. The Commission had "pushed" for the reconciliation road map; it now needed to consider ways to support its implementation, for which financial resources were needed in addition to the Government's allocation of $5 million. A vibrant civil society was also vital to national ownership of reconciliation, yet those actors were constrained in Liberia by capacity limitations. Ways should be found to encourage their work and strengthen civil society, including by building their core capacities. The Commission would maintain a focus on that issue.

Echoing Ms. Landgren, he drew attention to the regional justice and security hubs, which he said should facilitate establishment of an effective and accountable State presence throughout the country. Those would also contribute to closing gaps and avoiding any appearance of a vacuum. However, delays in the construction of the first such hub generated valid questions about its viability. The best response would be to complete the hub's establishment and show its impact. If the hub resulted in enhanced security and improved access to justice, the Commission would have a persuasive presentation for resource mobilization for the next hubs.

As for strengthening the national police, he said there was an understanding that the focus should remain on Government ownership, building on UNMIL's accomplishments and its overarching role. But to ensure a smooth transition, modalities must be explored for closer cooperation between the Mission, bilateral partners and the United Nations country team. The Commission would, among other things, explore how it could contribute to creative approaches to deploying highly skilled officers to specific professional posts.

More generally, the Commission was finalizing a resource mobilization strategy and corresponding work plan, working closely with the Government and UNMIL. Building on the investment of the Peacebuilding Fund and its catalytic role would be a primary consideration. Finally, he said, the Statement of Mutual Commitments was a valuable accountability tool for both the Government and configuration members, which the Commission would use to keep the Council informed.

Liberia's Ambassador Marjon Kamara expressed appreciation for UNMIL's steadfast support and her hope for an early endorsement this year of the plan for its phased transition and military reconfiguration. She said the Peacebuilding Commission was helping to build Liberia's capacity, including for national reconciliation. Among her key concerns was the security situation along the Liberian and Ivorian border, which she said was a major preoccupation of her Government. The matter required close attention because of its potential risks to national and regional security. Deployment of security and military personnel to border areas stretched the Government's already scarce resources.

She said that Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in a visit to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission last week, had underscored the gravity of that situation and warned that it could overwhelm the country's nascent security services, with implications on both sides of the border. The Ambassador stressed the importance of continued cooperation and collaboration between national and international forces on both sides of the line.

At the same time, she reaffirmed her Government's intention to honour its pledges in the Statement of Mutual Commitments. The Government subscribed to certain principles of governance and aligned with others of a "similar persuasion", seeking to promote justice, inclusivity and, among others, effective management and use of the country's natural resources for the benefit of all Liberians.

The seemingly slow progress in certain areas, she stressed, did not reflect wavering political will, but rather, limited means. Liberia had a small budget that needed to address immense needs. The Government was very anxious to progress to the level that met the expectations of its friends in the international community and the aspirations of the Liberian people. In that connection, it was disappointed that a few assertions in the Secretary-General's report were not entirely accurate. Her Government's comments had been conveyed.

She added that the relatively open and constructive relationship between her Government and UNMIL over the years should allow the Government the right, not to veto a United Nations publication per se, but to vet anything that might, for example, discourage potential investors. Notwithstanding United Nations culture and practice, which might prohibit the sharing of certain drafts, she encouraged the Organization to observe the "no harm" principle so its reports did not "deepen the fault lines in our society", many of which ware "still triggers to conflict".

Her Government endorsed the recommendations of the Technical Assessment Mission made in April, she said, noting that the country team was already redesigning its programmes and synchronizing its activities for UNMIL's phase-down plan, all of which were indicators of a long-term partnership. Libya appreciated the Council's invaluable contribution to that partnership, as well as the support of its bilateral partners, with whom it looked forward to continued engagement.

The meeting began at 3:07 p.m. and ended at 3:40 p.m.

Background

When the Security Council met to consider the situation in Liberia this afternoon, it had before it the Secretary-General's fourth progress report on the Mission in that country (UNMIL) (document S/2012/641), which provides an update on major developments since 16 April, as well as information on the coordinated strategies and operations of UNMIL and the United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) along the border between the two countries.

In his 16 April report, the Secretary-General recalls, he had presented recommendations for the next stage of UNMIL's drawdown. These proposals include the gradual reduction of the Mission by some 4,200 troops in three phases between 2012 and 2015, leaving thereafter a residual presence of approximately 3,750 troops. He recommended that the police component should maintain its current strength of 498 advisers and 845 officers in seven formed police units and be authorized to add up to three additional formed police units, as needed, over the coming three years. He requests, in the present report, that the Council approve those recommendations and extend UNMIL's mandate for another year, until 30 September 2013.

The present report finds that the people and Government of Liberia continue to make progress in the post-conflict recovery. In the six years since the first post-conflict democratic elections, the national budget has grown considerably, allowing several significant reforms to go forward and enabling the Government to provide some essential services to its citizens. While efforts to transform the country are welcome, much remains to be done to address persistent historical injustices. It will be crucial, therefore, to pursue reforms aimed at enlarging the political space and enhancing inclusiveness, accountability, transparency and fairness, which would give all citizens a meaningful stake in the future of Liberia. Consolidating the still-fragile democracy by strengthening the linkage and trust between the citizenry and the State will require considerable leadership and political will, in particular from the President and her Government.

Coherent and genuine national reconciliation should be at the centre of the Liberian peace process, states the report. As it is essential that Liberians have the chance to express their views about how best to address reconciliation, the Secretary-General welcomes the forthcoming consultations among Liberian citizens and political actors on the road map for national reconciliation. A comprehensive and inclusive constitutional reform process is central to national reconciliation and to overcoming many of the structural imbalances and injustices that continue to risk the country's stability. Proposed reforms include decentralization, which would open the door for all Liberians to enjoy equitable access to services and to take part in decisions that affect them, and the Secretary-General encourages all stakeholders to begin the process of civic education and dialogue so that Liberians are aware of what is at stake and are able to influence these reforms.

The Secretary-General remains deeply saddened by the killing of seven United Nations peacekeepers on 8 June in Côte d'Ivoire, near the Liberian border. He is also extremely concerned about the continued instability along the shared border, including attacks against Ivorian citizens and the destruction of their homes. He calls on the two Governments to investigate all acts of violence and to hold the perpetrators accountable, as well as to act in accordance with their international obligations to respect the rights and protections of all citizens, including due process. He, meanwhile, welcomes the efforts made by both Governments to enhance their security presence on their respective sides of the border, including the agreement reached during the quadripartite meeting held in Abidjan in June, and he encourages continued resolve in advancing a comprehensive and collaborative approach to tackling insecurity in border areas.

Stressing that the presence of armed elements and their cross-border movements, illicit trafficking and organized crime are all threats that go beyond Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire and affect the entire West African region, the Secretary-General welcomes efforts to develop a subregional strategy in this regard, in addition to initiatives by West African leaders, including in the context of the Mano River Union, under the leadership of the President of Liberia, and of the Economic Community of West African States, under the leadership of the President of Côte d'Ivoire. The United Nations remains firmly committed to supporting the Governments and organizations of the region in these initiatives.

However, security measures alone will not create lasting stability, he states, underlining also the importance of reconciliation, confidence-building and the strengthening of State authority in border areas. Liberia must continue to build national institutions capable of maintaining stability, including those within the security sector, effective State authority throughout the country and a functional criminal justice system, among others.

With regard to the security transition, the Secretary-General recalls his proposal to hand over UNMIL's security responsibilities to national authorities, as agreed with the Liberian Government, to allow for a phased transition. As noted by the Government and civil society representatives at a joint transition workshop, national reconciliation, constitutional reform and decentralization are vital to the country's long-term stability. He, therefore, reiterates the recommendation that UNMIL have a specific mandate to support the people and Government of Liberia in taking forward those identified priority processes, while enhancing its support for security sector and rule-of-law reforms.

The report says that ensuring long-term stability will require the Liberian security sector to be capable of filling any potential security vacuum. It must also benefit from effective oversight mechanisms and enjoy the trust of the population. To this end, concerted attention is required to enhance the national police. Given the importance of border security, the Bureau for Immigration and Naturalization also requires significant support for structural reform. To achieve these objectives, the Government will need to assume a strong and well-coordinated leadership role and provide budgetary and other support. The Secretary-General, therefore, encourages it to identify additional resources within the proposed national budget for 2012/13 to strengthen the police and immigration services. At the same time, he also encourages international partners to provide further support, either through the Justice and Security Trust Fund or bilaterally, so that the investment made in restoring peace is sustained and made irreversible.

Given that bringing security and justice closer to the population is crucial, he welcomes the progress made in constructing the first justice and security hub in Gbarnga, Bong County, and looks forward to it becoming operational in the coming months.

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