FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thank you Mr. President. It was indeed an honor to lead the leg of the trip that went to Liberia. And I want to begin by expressing publicly our gratitude and admiration for Ellen Løj, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, who despite the most adverse circumstances, our whole program having to be scrapped at the last minute due to thunderstorms, had in her pocket a very well crafted Plan B that enabled the Council to nonetheless have a successful visit to Liberia.
The purpose of our visit was to reaffirm the Council’s support for the government and people of Liberia and for UNMIL’s efforts to promote peace and security. We also sought to assess the capacity of Liberia’s national security sector and to learn more about efforts to combat gender-based violence.
We met with the UN Country Team on the night of our arrival and the International Contact Group on Liberia. These are a group of ambassadors and representatives of international organizations who are empowered to support the comprehensive peace agreement in Liberia. This group warned that peace and security in Liberia remain extremely fragile, largely because of the country’s weak national security institutions, and that the justice and corrections systems are inadequate, all of which we had the opportunity to witness for ourselves on the following day.
On that next day, May 20th, we met with, in the first instance, an inspiring group of women: the Indian Formed Police Unit, which is an all-female force that consists of women who are simultaneously samurais, literally, they use their hands – bare hands – to break bricks that are burning, and at the same time are beautiful dancers and artists. So this was quite impressive. And this all-female police unit protects key installations in Monrovia, conducts joint patrols, and mentors the unarmed Liberian National Police. The high visibility of this Indian FPU, we’ve learned, has helped to motivate more Liberian women to apply for law enforcement jobs. So, in sum, we applauded that unique unit and hope others will be inspired by it, as we were.
We then visited the Monrovia Central Prison and were – I think it’s fair to say – shocked and concerned by the state of the older male wards there, which are remarkably congested, with limited sanitary facilities, way too many inmates crammed into too few spaces and not enough corrections officials. Several of the prisoners told us about the extraordinary length of their pre-trial detainment. And according to Liberia’s Minister of Justice, the prison doesn’t always hold its captives; and indeed, a few days before we arrived, there was yet another jail break from this facility, involving more than 100 prisoners.
We then visited a training center for former combatants, part of a UN-supported reintegration program. About 375 predominantly female former combatants have benefited from this program, which includes vocational training, adult-literacy classes, business-values training, computer literacy, health and HIV education.
The Security Council mission also had the opportunity to meet with representatives from the international businesses community in Liberia. These individuals noted that a strong, stabilizing UN presence had helped sway their decision to invest in Liberia. We cautioned them not to grow too dependent on UNMIL since eventually, obviously, it will have to be withdrawn. But it was interesting to witness representatives of the business community engaged in renewable energy technologies as well as the traditional sectors like rubber and mining.
We met with UNMIL, of course, and its senior military and police commanders gave us a sober assessment of the security situation in Liberia. They characterized the overall situation as calm but unpredictable. They noted that demonstrations often turn violent; crime, gangster activities, armed robberies, and sexual violence remain widespread. And rape, as we heard repeatedly, is a particularly urgent challenge, with most reported victims under the age of 14, and some victims under the age of two.
UNMIL noted several potentially destabilizing events on the horizon—including the anticipated release of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in June, the trial against former president Charles Taylor, and Liberia’s presidential and legislative elections in 2011—that could stoke tensions and potentially be exploited by spoilers. They also informed us of more than 14,000 former Liberian soldiers and police personnel had not found alternative livelihoods since the end of the war.
At the police training academy we witnessed the police recruits from the Emergency Response Unit engage in hostage-rescue and law enforcement exercises. This Emergency Response Unit is meant to be a mobile armed force, an elite force within the police, to respond to large-scale internal security incidents. But of the 500 officers planned for this contingent, only about 200 had been trained and vetted.
The UN commanders also noted that the Armed Forces of Liberia, which comprised 2,000 vetted personnel, trained by the United States, are progressing but are not expected to be fully operational until 2012.
Finally, towards the end of the day we met with Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or at least three representatives of the Commission, who explained that they had identified up to 100,000 alleged perpetrators of crimes during the conflict, they’d taken some 20,000 statements from witnesses and were planning a National Conference on Reconciliation. They warned of the potential for violence once their report is released—but affirmed that despite the risk of violence, they would publicize their findings and recommendations, unvarnished. They also argued against the easing of UN Security Council sanctions on named individuals under the Liberian sanctions regime, stressing that these individuals had been given the opportunity and been encouraged to come before the TRC and share their experiences, refused to do so, and that the maintenance of those sanctions were an important effort to combat impunity. Of course the highlight of our visit was our meeting with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and members of her Cabinet. The President noted that the last six years had brought continued progress towards national recovery and a consolidated peace, but the country’s security situation remained fragile, and its challenges are major.
The President outlined four elements of Liberia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy: peace and security, one; economic development, two; governance and the rule of law, three; and fourth infrastructure and basic services.
Her ministers discussed the tenuous security situation and their efforts to establish viable national security forces, and to establish the rule of law. Finally, the President also outlined the Government’s efforts to reduce sexual violence against women; and noted the economic potential of the country in the mineral, agricultural, and forestry sectors.
In conclusion, Mr. President, we found that the Security Council, having urged the Government of Liberia to step up its efforts to assume full security responsibilities, had a substantial distance yet to go. UNMIL’s presence remains of critical importance at present, but the Government needs to be supported and encouraged to take accelerated steps to build the security capacity of its police and army so that UNMIL can complete its mandate in a timely fashion.
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