Liberia should be proud of its achievements, but 10 years was too short a time in which to reverse the effects of a war that left a nation shattered and overturn more than a century of social and political exclusion, as well as poor governance, the Security Council heard today.
Briefing members on the situation in light of the twenty-sixth progress report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) (document S/2013/479), Special Representative Karin Landgren said that, broadly speaking, the country's quest for "unified nationhood" was a "work in progress", and small-scale outbreaks of violence were still routine. Also briefing Council members was Staffan Tillander ( Sweden), Chair of the Liberia Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, while Brownie J. Samukai, Liberia's Minister for National Defence, offered the Government perspective.
Ms. Landgren, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Coordinator of the United Nations Mission in Liberia, said that increased economic growth brought new challenges of management, oversight, judicious use of financial resources and fair distribution of national wealth. At the same time, there was an increasingly vigorous public discourse among civil society, youth groups and political parties about how far the country had come and how best to meet its current challenges. Most notable was reforming the security and justice sectors while ensuring decentralization and a more transparent and accountable Government.
With UNMIL's mandate to expire at the end of September, and its three-staged drawdown endorsed by the Security Council, she noted in light of the completion of the first phase on 30 June, the Mission no longer had a fixed military presence in four of Liberia's counties. However, it had deployed formed police units to potential hotspots and to support the Liberian National Police. She underlined the importance of a continued presence of formed police units, both as a back-up to their Liberian counterparts and to maintain public confidence in security during the transition.
She said that the Mission, working in tandem with the Government, had handed eight locations over to federal entities. Demands on the Government would heighten as the transition progressed, requiring national security forces to scale-up their presence and effectiveness, even amid significant cuts in the police budget. UNMIL's drawdown would also require the Government and its partners to redouble their efforts to develop capable and accountable justice and security sectors.
Ms. Landgren emphasized the need for a stronger legislative role in developing and overseeing policy, calling for improved dialogue between the executive and the legislature and predicting that Liberia's 2017 presidential elections would be a "political watershed moment". Contests for 15 senatorial seats, set for October 2014, would be a "foretaste of the tenor" of those polls, she added.
She also spotlighted the wide-spread corruption that impeded the functioning of national institutions, public confidence and the pace of economic growth. Some "resolute steps", such as the recent dismissals and suspensions of senior Government officials and police officers, could help to boost public trust, she noted, citing advances in land reform. She also stressed the vital importance of transparent and responsible management of the natural resources that were the cornerstone of Liberia's development, but also a potentially powerful source of conflict.
Ms. Landgren underlined the importance of regional approaches to security and development, pointing out that tensions on L iberia's border with Côte d'Ivoire had eased. A second quadripartite meeting involving Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, UNMIL and the United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) had delivered commitments on high-level strategic engagement and increased operational cooperation on the ground, including joint security operations along the border. Agreement had also been reached to revive a Tripartite Commission on Humanitarian Refugee Issues comprising the two Governments and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Mr. Tillander, Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission's Liberia Configuration, said national reconciliation was recognized as a core peacebuilding priority and a critical component of the transformation agenda. Ten years after the end of the civil war, there was a need to mend relations between the State and society, as well as among communities and individuals. The Peacebuilding Commission had supported that process, but "only limited progress has been made", he said, stressing the need for national leadership and resolve.
Indeed, he continued, "time has now come for the Government to translate its political commitment into a priority for implementation and action". The Government bore the primary responsibility for financing the reconciliation process, but funds previously allocated for that purpose had, for the most part, not been released, thereby delaying implementation. Meanwhile, he welcomed the readiness of United Nations agencies to support reconciliation, and the Peacebuilding Fund for providing flexible funding.
Citing Liberia's "considerable" security sector reform and rule-of-law challenges, he emphasized that accelerating progress in those areas was vital in view of the need to ensure a seamless UNMIL transition. The lack of Liberian police capacity, mobility, professional management and resources hampered the progress required in keeping step with the transition, and, in terms of numbers, police strength had increased only marginally, he said. Progress had also been slow in reforming and strengthening the judiciary, although the appointment of a new Chief Justice presented an opportunity to accelerate gains.
He pledged the Peacebuilding Commission's readiness to provide full support for Government efforts to marshal resources for the justice and security sectors, but acknowledged that the task would be difficult if the national budget was insufficient, or if funds were not released and financing mechanisms were not working effectively. Support from partners was more likely to increase when the latter were well managed and when concrete goals and benchmarks were in place, he added. He said that during the Peacebuilding Commission's visit to Liberia next week, he would continue the dialogue with international financial institutions on how best to work together for security sector reform and national reconciliation.
Minister Samukai recalled that his country had celebrated 10 years of uninterrupted peace and stability on 18 August, under the theme "Never again to war". The commemoration of that national milestone had been an opportunity for all Liberians to reaffirm their commitment to peace, security and development, and determined efforts had since been made to consolidate peace, he said. While security was stable, but still fragile, it was in that context that the Government and UNMIL had conducted an extensive transition-planning process, which had resulted in a road map for the Mission's reconfiguration.
The first year of implementation had proceeded apace, yet challenges of post-conflict development, as well as resource and capacity gaps, persisted, he continued. While the national police had recently assumed responsibilities transferred by UNMIL, personnel and logistical constraints remained a huge challenge, making training a vital component of the transition. However, acute financial shortfalls linked to unmet revenue projects hampered optimal use of training facilities and made it difficult to meet the timeline for the deployment of police and immigration personnel.
Those initial setbacks notwithstanding, the Government remained firmly committed to the road map, he emphasized, adding that it was appropriating $10 million in the 2013-2014 budget for the security and justice sectors, while seeking avenues for additional support. The Government also remained committed to implementing the 2011 Security Reform and Intelligence Act, which calls for rationalizing security agencies, including the National Bureau of Investigation and the Ministry of National Security.
Noting that access to justice underpinned reform of the judicial and criminal systems, he said the Peacebuilding Commission's establishment of five justice and security hubs in various counties would ease access in rural areas, promote decentralization of justice and security institutions and reinforce civil administration. The armed forces were also undergoing robust tactical and technical training, he continued, noting that they were positioning themselves to help with civil administration and to participate in regional and global peace initiatives. The transition plan had been carefully calibrated to take into account the Government's resources and capabilities, as well as the challenges. However, any initiative to fast-track the transition could be destabilizing, he warned.
The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 10:40 a.m.