With new Government in place, future of Liberia’s police looking up: UN official

7 February 2006
Ingrid Dagestad

Successful recent elections in Liberia and the inauguration last month of a new president bode well for the rebuilding of the West African nation’s police force, a senior United Nations law enforcement official said today.

Ingrid Dagestad, Deputy Police Commissioner with the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), said the country’s force still has a long way to go in dealing with the effects of more than a decade of brutal civil war but voiced confidence that it is on the right track towards reform.

“With a newly elected Government we are optimistic and believe we'll see changes,” Ms. Dagestad told the UN News Service from Monrovia.

But she acknowledged that challenges remain, especially coping with the legacy of the previous regime’s inability to demobilize non-qualified police officers.

To remedy this situation, UNMIL’s police component runs one of the largest training programmes ever conducted by a peacekeeping mission. Ms. Dagestad said more than 1,300 Liberian officers had graduated from the UN-assisted Police Academy and are now deployed into service.

The Deputy Police Commissioner observed that a lack of funding, including from donors, has been a problem in reform of the police but said she expects increased global support following the recent positive political developments in Liberia.

“I'm optimistic that the international community will give stronger support this year with the new Government in place. The UN police supports our local counterparts to identify possible projects, approach possible donors, develop technical specifications and follow up implementation of projects.”

Since its establishment in 2003, UNMIL’s police component, which now numbers almost 1,100 officers, has worked closely with its Liberian counterparts and is now gradually changing strategy and handing over “local ownership of all policing functions,” Ms. Dagestad said.

“The whole UN police mission has to shift focus where each and every one of us will have a stronger advisory role at the strategic, tactical and operational level, and in a mission-wide perspective, have an integrated approach in communities around the country.”

In Liberia, which has been ravaged by the twin scourges of war and poverty, outside assistance is essential. “To be able to achieve our objectives, we need stronger bilateral support to build up police facilities, provide basic equipment and vehicles to the police, and, not least, to dress the new Liberian police force with new uniforms with a civilian rank structure so the population can see the reform process in action,” she added.

In a similar vein, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Liberia recently emphasized that the eventual reduction in UNMIL depends on developing the capacity of the country’s security apparatus.

Stressing the importance of stability in Liberia, Alan Doss said on Friday that “security sector reform is a major priority for the Government and the international community.”


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