Thank you, Mr. President. On behalf of my co-leader, Ambassador Loulichki of Morocco, I’d like to begin this report on the Council’s trip to Liberia by thanking UNMIL’s Officer in Charge, Moustapha Soumaré, and his team for welcoming us and greatly facilitating our successful visit. The Council undertook this trip, our first to Liberia since 2009, to examine the country’s efforts to improve its security and rule of law institutions, to foster national reconciliation, and position itself for UNMIL’s eventual drawdown. We also assessed intermission cooperation between UNMIL and UNOCI as well as the security challenges along the Ivorian-Liberian border.
Although our visit was short, we covered a lot of ground. We arrived in Monrovia the afternoon of May 19 and met with President Johnson Sirleaf and members of her Cabinet. President Johnson Sirleaf told us that her government’s priorities include improving youth education and employment opportunities, access to equitable justice, infrastructure development, and reconciliation efforts. She stressed that improving rule of law capabilities, economic growth, governance, and human development were key to Liberia’s future and commended the strong partnership between the United Nations and Liberia. When asked about UNMIL’s transition, the President called for greater international support for Liberia’s police because Liberia’s domestic capacity to provide security needs to increase in line with the expected decrease in UN troops. She also stressed that corruption remains a significant problem. Our discussion covered regional concerns, including the Ivorian border region, the crises in Mali and Guinea-Bissau, as well as the challenges of resolving domestic land ownership disputes.
The following day, the Council visited Liberia’s National Police Training Academy where we discussed rule of law challenges with the Minister of Justice, the Inspector General of the Police, and the heads of the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization. The Minister of Justice stressed the need to decentralize the delivery of justice to the people, and cited the five planned UN Peacebuilding-supported “justice hubs” – the first of which will open in June – as critical to extending state authority throughout the country. She described Liberia’s preparations for UNMIL’s gradual drawdown and requested continued coordination with UNMIL to ensure a smooth transition. Council members discussed the challenges to improving Liberia’s internal security, including financial limitations, staffing and supporting remote security outposts, and the threat posed by international drug traffickers and organized criminals.
The mission met with UNMIL’s leadership and the UN Country Team, hosted by the Indian all-female Formed Police Unit, which continues to demonstrate the value of women’s participation in Liberia’s security institutions. They also put on an excellent presentation of their martial arts skills during police training exercises. With the UN leadership, we discussed the difficulties of increasing Liberia’s police capacity, including its ability to train and support a force large and capable enough to allow UNMIL to draw down responsibly. The Council was briefed on the challenge of addressing human rights abuses, especially sexual and gender-based violence. UNMIL stressed the ongoing, positive coordination with Liberia’s leaders in planning for the transition period.
Our meeting with roughly thirty Liberian civil society leaders focused on the obstacles to lasting national reconciliation. In a vibrant exchange of views, the leaders pressed for increasing the role and voice of women in government, enhanced inter-religious dialogue, and addressing corruption and impunity.
The Council also visited an UNMIL-supported program in Kortu Town, which offers livelihood training to women who were engaged in harmful practices to other women and girls. The program provided its participants alternative income generation skills and helped sensitize them in culturally-appropriate ways to decrease the practice of female genital mutilation.
Concluding this leg of the trip, the Council visited the Firestone Rubber Plantation, one of Liberia’s top employers, where we discussed the opportunities and challenges facing businesses operating in the country.
On May 22, the Council returned to Liberia to visit the PTP refugee camp located in Zwedru, close to the Ivorian border, where we were briefed by the Executive Director of the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission and by UNHCR on the Ivorian refugee situation in the eastern part of Liberia. UNHCR and other relief organizations on the ground deserve credit and our gratitude for the valuable humanitarian work they have undertaken to support the refugees in eastern Liberia.
We then heard from the refugee representatives and refugees themselves who shared their experiences, their hopes, and what they perceived as obstacles to their return to Cote d’Ivoire. Although the majority of Ivorian refugees have already returned home, those that remained cited fear of persecution as well land expropriation issues as reasons preventing them from returning to Cote d’Ivoire. It appeared that accurate, timely reporting on the situation from their homes could help counteract rumors and inaccurate information that circulated within the camps. Some refugees we met were clearly Gbagbo loyalists who said they would not return until President Ouattara was gone, if at all.
Representatives of UNMIL and UNOCI also briefed the Council on Inter Mission Cooperation alongside the Liberian-Ivorian border. They noted the various security challenges that emerged following the Ivorian crisis, as well as the innovative joint steps they have undertaken to strengthen coordination and cooperation to better monitor the border situation and to facilitate refugee repatriation.
Overall, the Council witnessed the considerable progress the people of Liberia have made since the end of the civil war in 2003. We left encouraged about the future, sober about the ongoing challenges, and even more cognizant of the need to handle UNMIL’s transition responsibly.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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