Security Council Briefing on Liberia, 27 June 2017
Statement by the Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission Liberia Configuration, Ambassador Olof Skoog, at the United Nations Security Council Briefing on Liberia, 27 June 2017, New York.
Thank you for the invitation to brief the Security Council in my capacity as the Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission's Liberia Configuration.
It gives me great pleasure to share with you some of the main take-aways from my recent trip to Liberia. The objective of my visit, conducted on 14-15 June was to follow up on progress made in the implementation of the peacebuilding plan; discuss preparations for the upcoming elections; consult with stakeholders on key reforms related to land rights and decentralization; and identify ways in which the PBC can best offer support during the upcoming transitions.
I was fortunate to be able to meet with a wide range of stakeholders, including the President, H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, vice-ministers from the departments of Internal Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Finance, as well as the Ministry of Justice. I also met with representative of civil society, youth representatives, political parties, the National Election Commission, the Chief Justice and Supreme Court justices, and representatives of the international community.
In my meetings, I welcomed the dedicated, inclusive and swift efforts by the government and the UN to develop a Peacebuilding Plan in response to Security Council resolution 2333. I also stressed the importance of undertaking key structural reforms, as set out in phase I of the Peacebuilding Plan, which will help address some of the root causes of conflict in Liberia. This includes the passing of important bills, such as the land rights act, the local government act, and the Domestic Violence bill. Regarding the elections, I urged all stakeholders to contribute to free and fair elections, prioritize the strong participation of women, and involve young people throughout the process.
In addition to the rich briefing by the SRSG, allow me to share the impressions with which I left Monrovia.
As we have noted in the past couple of months, Liberia is at critical juncture. Several historic transitions are underway. The situation, therefore, requires and deserves the dedicated attention of international partners in the months ahead. While no one I met indicated to me that there exists a clear and imminent risk of relapse into conflict, there are real hurdles ahead as the peacekeeping mission is closing down and as the new government takes the reins. We know that the main root causes of conflict in Liberia will need to be continuously addressed. Reconciliation, issues pertaining to land use, decentralization, access to justice, and violence against women, are among the more critical issues that are still to be resolved, and which will determine whether Liberia moves towards a true and lasting consolidation of peace.
Limited fiscal space to take forward reforms under the current administration can itself lead to increased grievances. Diversification and revitalization of the economy is desperately needed.
On the security side – the overall situation remains stable. Even though the government has successfully resumed responsibility for its security as of July 2016, work remains to further build the capacity of security actors, including the Armed Forces of Liberia and the Liberian National Police. Equally important, work to strengthen access to justice and the rule of law remains imperative to fostering a sense of inclusion, social cohesion and to building trust in national institutions.
In four months, Liberians will be heading to the polls, and the preparations for elections are well underway. These elections have been described as a defining moment for Liberia, as it will see the first democratic transfer of power in the modern history of the country. Successful elections and a peaceful transition would doubtlessly consolidate democracy and good governance
During our visit, the National Elections Commission (NEC) was undertaking a voter registration exhibition, to address irregularities in the registration process. In a welcome move earlier this month, political parties signed a declaration, "The Farmington River Declaration", in the margins of the ECOWAS summit in Monrovia, in which they committed to peaceful elections.
Remaining challenges pertain to a funding gap for the activities of the NEC, and controversies surrounding the application of the Code of Conduct. These issues must be addressed and resolved as soon as possible. In addition, the continued need for civic education, awareness raising and outreach to a largely disenfranchised population ahead of the election, and increased efforts to ensure the strong participation of women should be stressed. The fact that the election is taking place during the rainy season is a complicating factor.
As of now, 22 political parties are presenting candidates. Some actors expressed worries related to the fact that candidates may be running on a personalized platform and may mobilize around identity politics rather than run policy-based campaigns. I encouraged representatives of political parties to focus campaigning on key issues confronting the country as opposed to mobilizing around tribal politics.
I commend the active and important role played by UNMIL and the SRSGs office in particular in facilitating dialogues in the run-up to the election. In my discussions with both the National Election Commission and the Chief Justice, I once again stressed the need for solid mechanisms for swift dispute resolution and for managing run-offs, which they confirmed are in place.
During my meetings with a range of stakeholders, I noted a broad sense of ownership of the Liberia Peacebuilding Plan. The commitments made in this plan set out a clear road map for addressing the remaining peacebuilding challenges for the country. Financing for implementation for the commitments made remains an outstanding issue.
In meetings with the UN system in Monrovia, I discussed the kind of support the UN can provide in taking these commitments forward, in light of the UNMIL drawdown and the transition of the UN presence in Liberia. In this regard, I commend the UN country team for having carried out a robust mapping of its capacities – I believe it is the first of its kind.
This has clearly been a highly useful exercise. It provides a clear point of departure, and enables the whole UN system in Liberia to think strategically about transition as well as how to increase capacity in the country team as UNMIL leaves in order to take over support for residual tasks.
However, it also means that we have a very clear picture of what will be needed in the future. It is worrying to note that the UN will clearly face a "cliff" in terms of resources, capacities and expertise for support to peacebuilding as UNMIL draws down. Given these capacity constraints, and based on the PBC's experience with the UN transition in Sierra Leone, several PBC members have flagged concerns about UNMIL's transition to the Country Team. The Security Council and the Peacebuilding Commission could help the UN system to identify how to responsibly manage this transition, and how to ensure predictable financing for peacebuilding in Liberia during the critical transition phase.
We commend the efforts by UNMIL over the past 13 years. As the Peacekeeping mission withdraws, it will be a test case for the UN system and Liberia in fulfillment of peacebuilding and sustaining peace goals and tasks. . Liberia has come a long way since the conflict ended and much progress has been achieved. However, the current situation in Liberia means that indicators of fragility continue to exist: insufficient progress on reconciliation, on needed legislation to address root causes of the conflict, a weak economy, and an upcoming election where the stakes are high. International partners to Liberia have a collective responsibility to make sure that the investment made over the past 13 years through peacekeeping is safeguarded, and to build on that investment in order to consolidate the peace in Liberia. This includes ensuring that the remaining UN presence is configured and resourced to respond to the continuous needs of the Liberian people through peacebuilding support. In his recent trip to New York, DSRSG El Hillo stated that "Liberia represents a success story in peacekeeping, we now must ensure it is also a success story on peacebuilding". This will require innovative thinking on securing reliable resources once UNMIL has departed, and the Security Council has a key role to play in this process.
For our part, the Peacebuilding Commission stands ready to continuing its political accompaniment; ensuring continued international attention after the Peacekeepers leave, and assisting by drawing attention to gaps. We will undertake continued advocacy on the importance of pursuing reforms that are central for sustaining peace in Liberia.
I thank you.