posted on Sun 20 May 2012 8:30 PM
Council Visiting Mission to West Africa: Liberia

MONROVIA: Council members began their three-country tour of West Africa in Monrovia, Liberia on Saturday (19 May). The last Council mission to Liberia was in May 2009. Shortly after landing in Monrovia, Council members met with Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson and members of the cabinet. A key aim of the meeting was to follow-up the Secretary-General’s 16 April assessment mission report and assess the implementation of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).

Following the meeting, Sirleaf-Johnson said that progress in the country had been made in recent years although challenges remained. She also discussed UNMIL’s drawdown plans and what was being done to enhance the capability of Liberia’s national police to assume responsibility for security. Sirleaf-Johnson said that she hoped that following the planned three-year drawdown of UNMIL Liberia would have the ability to keep the country stable. (The Secretary-General’s assessment mission report recommended a gradual reduction in UNMIL in three phases between 2012 and 2015, but with the police numbers being retained and possibly even increased.)

Like Liberia’s president, Council members seemed to express some optimism about Liberia’s future given recent positive developments, including a healthier economy and the presidential elections, which were generally seen as free and fair. However, the meeting with Sirleaf-Johnson and the cabinet also reinforced the country’s challenges. These included the high unemployment rate among those under 35 (and the need to create opportunities for them), as well as strengthening government institutions and building up the security sector.

Another issue discussed was whether there was need to review the Liberia sanctions list following the Special Court for Sierra Leone’s recent conviction of former President Charles Taylor. Sanctions lists are subject to review and it seems that the Liberia list may be examined now to see if the designations are still warranted. (The chair of the Liberia Sanctions Committee visited Liberia last week and may be scheduled to report to the Council in June.)

The second day’s programme included visits to a project workshop for Liberians under an UNMIL “quick impact alternative livelihoods project” (aimed at offering women formerly involved with the traditional practice of female genital mutilation with new employment opportunities) and the National Police Training Academy. Council members participated in a meeting with the heads of the Justice Ministry, Liberian National Police, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalisation, and UNPOL. The delegation also spent time with an all-female Indian police unit where Council members were given a demonstration of the training and abilities of these women.

There were also meetings with the UNMIL and the UN country team in Liberia as well as with civil society. The meeting with civil society groups gave Council members a better understanding of issues of concern to these groups, including participation of women, Charles Taylor, reconciliation and corruption. A short visit to Firestone rubber plantation gave Council members an insight into a company that has been doing business in Liberia for many years.

Council members appear to have appreciated the frank discussions on the justice and security sectors in Liberia. The development of these two sectors is of particular interest to many Council members given that UNMIL is expected to gradually hand over its security responsibilities over the next few years. Council members are also aware of a number of potentially destabilising factors for which a strong national security capacity is essential. Members appear to have found it useful to witness first-hand the security environment and the type of facilities currently available for developing a more professional police force. For some members, these meetings have been a good opportunity to delve deeper into areas that impact on a smooth transition for UNMIL over the next few years.

The discussions over the day also appear to have given Council members a better understanding of the impact of the history and traditional practices on the development of the security and justice infrastructure. Some Council members were also interested in progress in Peacebuilding Commission projects as this was also important to the longer term development of the country.

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