Top Envoy Warns Challenges Remain, Critical to 'Get the Transition Right'; Also Hears from Chair of Peacebuilding Configuration, Country's Foreign Minister
With Sierra Leone's progress "proof" of what could be accomplished through concerted multilateral and national efforts in the post-conflict period, it was time to begin a reconfiguration of the United Nations mission and, starting 1 April, to gradually transfer responsibilities to the country team and Government, the Secretary-General's top envoy in that country told the Security Council today.
Briefing members on the Secretary-General's tenth progress report (document SC/2013/118), Executive Representative Jens Anders Toyberg-Frandzen said that, 15 years into the United Nations presence in that country, the transition was a moment of pride for Sierra Leone and the international community.
At the same time, he acknowledged the remaining challenges and said "it is, therefore, incumbent on all of us to get the transition right".
Cautioning the international community in his briefing to "remain aware of the "temptation to prematurely declare victory", Ambassador Guillermo Rishchynski of Canada, Chair of the Sierra Leone Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, said "now is not the time for the international community to turn away from Sierra Leone", in light of the country's vulnerability.
Sierra Leone's Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Samura Kamara, described his country as "at the crossroads at this stage of its peacebuilding journey", and urged that the transition weigh the immediate and future consequences on the basis of the country's present situation and that of its neighbourhood, so as to "avoid any gap or hiccup along the line".
Mr. Toyberg-Frandzen acknowledged the persistence of the country's political divide and polarization along regional ethnic lines, and for that reason, welcomed the President's commitment to hold a review of the 1991 Constitution, which he hoped would ensure the "buy-in" of all key stakeholders.
He spotlighted several areas of progress, including the presidential, parliamentary and local council elections of 7 November 2012, which, he said, demonstrated Sierra Leone's determination to secure its hard-won peace. He also noted consolidation of State authority, implementation of national recovery programmes, including extension of public services, and governance and security sector reforms.
Tangible progress had also been made under the national development strategy, "Agenda for Change", he said, adding that the "Agenda for Prosperity" would soon be finalized. Infrastructure had been developed, and the mining and health sectors had recorded positive growth. Iron ore exports and the potential exploitation of oil and gas could improve the economy and fund efforts to address crucial challenges.
In line with the Secretary-General's recommendation, he said the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) should continue to perform three key residual tasks: conflict prevention and mediation support for the constitutional review; support for security sector reform; and support for strengthening human rights institutions. Under the planned transition, there would be a gradual reduction of its tasks performed starting next month.
In anticipation of a refocused mandate, UNIPSIL and the United Nations country team were developing drawdown proposals that would be completed by the end of this month, he said, noting that the proposals envisaged staffing reductions, the transfer of the mission's archives to United Nations Headquarters and the liquidation of the mission's assets. UNIPSIL and the country team would prepare a timeline and benchmarks for all outstanding tasks. Technical and financial resources would be critical to guarantee a smooth transition to the country team, and in that connection, he called on the Peacebuilding Commission and international partners for assistance.
Getting the transition right, he said, involved not only the planned phasing out of UNIPSIL, but equally, the scaling up of the support of the United Nations and other international partners for sustainable development. With a successful transition and UNIPSIL's exit, it was also important to make clear that the United Nations would remain in Sierra Leone and continue to support the country through its country team and with the assistance of its international partners.
Ambassador Rishchynski offered several observations from the Peacebuilding Commission's official visit to that African nation last month, the timing of which had been opportune because the Government was in the midst of articulating its priorities for the next five years. The delegation's arrival, immediately following the United Nations technical assessment mission, had allowed for an informed consideration of the forthcoming transition process.
Commending Sierra Leone for the successful conduct of its elections in November 2012, Mr. Rishchynski said the process had been exceptionally peaceful, technically well organized, and characterized by a high voter turnout. It had demonstrated the growing capacity of national institutions there and marked "the crossing of a significant peacebuilding threshold". The Government's emerging development priorities also reflected a welcome shift in emphasis towards fostering economic growth, improving social services, and building human capital.
Despite such positive developments, several challenges remained, including the "winner-take-all" nature of the country's political system and the clear regional divide produced by the recent elections. The much-delayed and politically sensitive constitutional review must be fully inclusive and national. It was an important opportunity to modernize a range of human rights and civil provisions.
He called for the international community's continued assistance for several longer-term efforts. Youth unemployment was a major challenge, and generating economic opportunities and rebuilding an effective education system required sustained Government investment. Likewise, the growth of the country's extractive and agricultural sectors offered great promise, but concerns had been raised about the potential for conflict at the community level if large-scale investments were not managed carefully. Like its neighbours, Sierra Leone was also vulnerable to the destabilizing aspects of transnational organized crime and drug trafficking.
His visit corroborated the findings of the technical assessment mission that many of UNIPSIL's current activities could be transferred to other actors, he said. At the same time, continued political engagement in a few specific areas was needed. For example, many stakeholders had stressed the importance of the mission's assistance for the constitutional review process and the need to maintain technical support for the security sector. The pace of transition should match the needs on the ground, given that small investments at this late stage could potentially make a substantial contribution to consolidating hard-won peace.
Touching on the regional dimension of the many challenges facing Sierra Leone, he noted that the Governments of the Manu River Union had invested new resources in the institution, leading to a corresponding increase in international cooperation and cross-border activities. There was a need for United Nations political engagement at the regional level after the mission completed its mandate. The Peacebuilding Commission would, in the near term, turn its attention to supporting the transition process, including by advocating for any necessary resources to fill gaps created by the drawdown. In the longer term, it would need to align its engagement with Sierra Leone's Agenda for Prosperity.
Mr. Kamara added that the decision as to whether or not to draw down UNIPSIL should take into account the remaining challenges and weigh the immediate and future consequences on the basis of the country's present situation and that of its immediate neighbourhood.
He added that his country did not wish to be on the Council's agenda "indefinitely", but the Council should "be guided in its decision on this sensitive and complex matter by the prevailing circumstances in Sierra Leone and the subregion". His country "shared the honour and glory of success, but so, too, the blame and responsibility for decisions that might prove wrong and untimely".
"We are entirely in your hands and prepared to submit to the collective wisdom of the Council in taking any crucial decision on the matter," he declared.
In taking forward Sierra Leone's development aspirations and addressing residual peacebuilding, security and democratization issues, he said he looked forward to UNIPSIL's support, "even if it has to move into a phase of transition". He again urged that the process be "carefully thought out" with due consideration given to both the short- and long-term impacts. His country stood ready to map out and implement a smooth and seamless transition "as and when necessary".
Following the landmark elections, he said, the democratic process was "progressively gaining firm root", as the country transitioned from an agenda for change to one for prosperity. Eleven years since the conflict was officially declared over, remarkable progress had been made in charting the path for a peaceful, secure, democratic and prosperous Sierra Leone.
However, as gains were celebrated, it was crucial that, together, all stakeholders continued to tackle the remaining challenges, he said. Key among those was the economic, social and governance challenges. As the Canadian Ambassador had reported, several of those challenges were long-term in nature and required sustained effort, and depended to a considerable degree on the global economic scenario and the overall subregional security climate.
He reported "tremendous" progress in setting up the structures needed to address the three risk areas of youth unemployment and empowerment; good governance and the rule of law; and drug trafficking and organized crime. He also identified remaining challenges and commitments on the socio-economic and development front, in the political sphere, in enhancing truth and reconciliation, and in including women in those processes. The President, he noted, had declared 8 March an annual National Women's Day.
In meeting the country's development goals and in addressing residual peacebuilding issues, he said he looked forward to UNIPSIL's support "even as it moves into the uncharted course of its transition". He assured the Council, the Secretary-General, the Peacebuilding Commission, and the wider United Nations membership, of his Government's "readiness, willingness and interest" to cooperate with the Council's decision, directed at ensuring a smooth and seamless transition.
The meeting began at 3:09 p.m. and was adjourned at 3:45 p.m.