A senior United Nations official today applauded the "remarkable progress" made by Côte d'Ivoire in the 18 months following a violent post-electoral crisis, but cautioned that a recent wave of attacks against national security targets meant the "strong and sustained support" of the Security Council would be required as the Ivorian Government worked in the coming year to heal political divisions in the country's "sensitive" security context.
"Côte d'Ivoire has registered remarkable progress on several fronts, [but] significant challenges remain to be addressed in 2013," said Albert Gerard Koenders, head of the United Nations Operation in the country (UNOCI), as he briefed the Council on the latest development there. The meeting was also addressed by the representative of Côte d'Ivoire to the United Nations, Youssoufou Bamba.
Stressing that the root causes of instability and potential triggers of violence still needed to be tackled, including issues related to governance, justice and human rights, as well as land tenure and identity, Mr. Koenders said: "The Government will continue to need support and engagement from its international partners, including the United Nations, in order to consolidate the significant gains and address remaining challenges and root causes of the repeated crisis which have engulfed the country on so many occasions over past decades."
Highlighting key areas of progress detailed in the Secretary-General's most recent report on the work of UNOCI (document S/2012/964), Mr. Koenders said that after enduring the 2011 electoral crisis and the "difficult summer and autumn" of 2012, Côte d'Ivoire was at a turning point. Indeed, under the presidency of Alassane Ouattara, the West African nation was in the midst of a "fast-track" economic recovery and was making steady progress on some security issues. However, with a sensitive security context at home and in the wider West African region, the Government would need to take further steps to bolster its security sector reform programme and national dialogue and reconciliation efforts. Only then would Côte d'Ivoire become an element of stability in the region, he said.
Citing "major political divides and tensions" festering throughout Ivorian society, he said that he was using his good offices to promote dialogue and reconciliation, and urged the Government, in line with Security Council resolution 2062 (2012), to press ahead with such dialogue, including with factions not a part of the official political process. He also recalled that the Council in its resolution had called for the holding of free and fair elections - now anticipated for late February - with broad participation of political players.
With that all in mind, he said that 2013 would be a critical year for the Ivorian nation and for UNOCI, requiring the Council's strong and enduring support. "In the context of a volatile regional situation, the stability and economic success of Côte d'Ivoire is more than ever important to the stability of West Africa," he said. Mr. Koenders informed the Council that a Headquarters assessment mission was set to head to the country next month and would thoroughly weigh the situation on the ground, assist UNOCI in developing with the Government benchmarks to measure progress, and prepare a special report to be presented to the Council on 31 March.
As for the security situation, he said that the Government had embarked on major sectoral reforms and that a secretariat had been established to oversee implementation, including towards the creation of disciplined and effective national armed forces. The Government had also adopted a national disarmament, demobilization and reintegration policy and established a single entity to monitor its implementation. It was essential now for the Government to strive for further gains in those areas, as they were crucial for the country's stability. UNOCI had provided its assistance, he said, and would seek to ensure a politically balanced process, and the creation of a database of former combatants.
Continuing, he said that over the past six months, Côte d'Ivoire had continued to make important progress in terms of economic development, with its swiftly recovering economy showing impressive growth rates. Following a recent meeting of the Consultative Group, held in Paris in early December, donors had pledged some $8 billion to fill funding gaps in the country's national development strategy for 2013-2015. Those funds would target employment and basic social services, notably in health and education, and would also be devoted to maintain focus on good governance and fighting corruption. Another positive factor was that Côte d'Ivoire was restoring its State authority throughout its territory, he said.
He also the drew the Council's attention to troubling issues, including the spate of attacks that had taken place between August and October 2012, which had targeted national security forces in and around Abidjan, as well as along the borders with Ghana and Liberia. The aim had been to destabilize President Ouattara's Government. Although the intensity of the attacks had diminished in recent weeks, the events had nevertheless highlighted both the high degree of paramilitary organization within opposition groups, and the vulnerabilities in national security and law enforcement institutions. The attacks also confirmed the need to prioritize security sector reform along with disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes, including support to the police and judicial actors towards investigation of such activities more professionally and rapidly.
He went on to explain that the Government had responded swiftly to address those challenges, and more generally, the prevailing insecurity in western Côte d'Ivoire, including criminal activity, illegal circulation of weapons and cross-border movements, including through carrying out joint operations with Liberia. For its part, UNOCI had strengthened its military presence along the borders with Liberia and Ghana, and was also maximizing its efforts to carry out the civilian protection elements of its mandate, among other ways, by working with the United Nations country team to strengthen the presence of civilian personnel in a number of field offices.
In addition, UNOCI and the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) had been coordinating actions and use of assets in the border area, notably through the use of three armed helicopters that would shortly be transferred to UNOCI. He said that UNOCI was strengthening its cooperation with the United Nations country team in Ghana on such issues as Ivorian refugees living in that neighbouring country. In light of recent developments in Mali, he told the Council that UNOCI, as part of prudent planning, was increasing its vigilance and security preparedness along the border between the Côte d'Ivoire and northern Mali.
Turning to human rights, he said that violence had been reported during the attacks on civilians and security forces, as well as during operations and arrests by security forces. Condemning all such violence and abuses of human rights, he said that UNOCI was engaged in activities aimed at protecting and promoting those rights, especially of women and children. "I am troubled by continued reports of sexual violence. Perceived impunity remains an important concern and recent violations have to be thoroughly investigated, as requested by this Council," he said, referring specifically to incidents reported to have occurred in Bonon and the Nahibly camp for internally displaced persons. It was essential for those responsible for gross violations of human rights to be held accountable, irrespective of their political affiliation.
When he took the floor, Mr. Bamba agreed with the Secretary-General's assessment that, 18 months after the end of the post-election crisis, the country had made much progress on several fronts. At the same time, it found itself at a turning point in its history, marked by numerous challenges requiring urgent attention. He reiterated the commitment of the Ivorian authorities and people to strive tirelessly to improve stability and security; further the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process; improve political dialogue; consolidate national reconciliation and respect for human rights; and boost economic recovery and development planning.
He reviewed for the Council the national security situation, including the Government's "energetic steps" following the attacks suffered by the security forces. He highlighted the greater political and military cooperation with Liberia, which had strengthened security in the border region, as well as judicial cooperation with Ghana. He therefore agreed with the Secretary-General's recommendation to reduce by 955 the military component of UNOCI, pending an assessment early in 2013. He meanwhile thanked Ukraine for its decision to renew deployment in his country of combat helicopters, among other equipment, which he said would contribute significantly to reducing and containing planned attacks against the Ivorian armed forces. On the economic front, his Government would maintain an environment conductive to international investment.
The offensive last week by terrorist groups in the south of Mali was, he declared, a "direct, genuine and immediate threat to peace and security" to the world and the region, posing a major threat to Mali's neighbours, including Côte d'Ivoire. As the current chair of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), his delegation recommended rapid reaction to stabilize the situation and preserve Mali's territorial integrity, and he thanked France for its leadership in handling the crisis, as well as the contribution of other western nations in that regard.
He said that ECOWAS had held an important assessment meeting on the situation on 15 and 16 January, and would convene an emergency summit on 19 January. It was about to deploy contingents from several African States to stabilize the situation; Côte d'Ivoire would contribute 500 troops. His country, which had a physical border with the south of Mali, was "directly concerned with the terrorist threat in the north", he said, stressing that its authorities took that threat very seriously. Discussions must continue to counter terrorism, as States that shared borders with Mali were affected.
Providing details on programmes outlined by Mr. Koenders, he described efforts by his Government in the area of security sector reform and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, noting that that national strategy adopted last April would have a profound effect on the reform process, as it reflected the country's realities. On the latter process, the five-month old policy had established a "single window of responsibility" headed by the former Joint Special Representative to the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) and directly accountable to the country's President. The plans involved 100,000 former combatants, though the Government was seeking to update its database. Work was also under way by the commission charged with combating the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.
Mr. Bamba said that progress was also being made in terms of the political dialogue, and to further that aim, the local election schedule for February had been postponed for a number of weeks to ensure the effective participation of all political parties. In related steps, followers of the former President Laurent Gbagbo were released provisionally in December 2012, and the current President had been meeting with members of the opposition to discuss their greater involvement in the electoral process. Work was proceeding apace in the Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In the area of human rights, the Government was focusing on a plan of education for all and had introduced into the primary and secondary curriculums a new area of study intended to teach students about human rights and citizenship.
The meeting began at 3:04 p.m. and ended at 3:38 p.m.