One year since Liberian authorities launched a “historic undertaking” to assume full responsibility of the country’s security by the end of next June, top United Nations officials today discussed what measures are needed to support the implantation of the plan.
Since the civil war ended in 2003, the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) has been supporting the West African nation to rebuild its institutions so it can maintain stability without its presence.
‘Significant milestone for Liberia’
“The expected completion of the security transition on 30 June will be one of the most significant milestones for Liberia and the international community since the end of the country's civil war and the signing of the peace agreement in 2003,” said Farid Zarif, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNMIL.
“It will also mark the beginning of a new phase in the United Nations’ engagement in Liberia,” Mr. Zarif continued. “However, Liberia and the international community must not lose sight of the still arduous path to a genuinely sustainable peace in Liberia and the region, which will require longer-term engagement and support of the international community.”
He noted that by the June deadline, UNMIL will have consolidated its 13 county field offices into five regional ones. As part of this process, the Mission has also proposed a reduction of more than 30 per cent of its civilian staffing over the next two years.
“The closure of the field offices has been accompanied by a pro-active public information campaign, including the holding of ‘town hall’ meetings between senior Government officials and local communities,” Mr. Zarif indicated, noting that he has personally attended most of them to explain the objectives of the security transition, to remind the communities of their role in maintaining peace and security, and to assure them of the UN’s continued support.
“While we will continue to convey these messages, there is an increasing sense of unease and apprehension among Liberians across the board about UNMIL's draw down and the prospect of its departure,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, in a joint letter with President Alassane Ouattara of Côte d'Ivoire, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf recently urged the UN Secretary-General to request that the Security Council maintain a ‘Quick Reaction Force’ in both countries until after the elections in Liberia next year.
Women are ‘source of inspiration’
Also speaking at the Council meeting was the Executive Director UN Women, the Organization’s entity tasked with promoting gender rights. She visited Liberia three weeks ago and found that women there “are truly a source of inspiration.”
“Liberian women have earned global fame for helping to bring an end to the civil war, convincing rebels to lay down arms, and consolidating peace in a country that has avoided a relapse to conflict since it ended thirteen years ago,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka told the 15-member body.
“Now they are also known for the extraordinary role they played in halting, reversing, and eliminating the Ebola epidemic. I bring up the inspiring example of Liberian women when I speak to women from Syria, Colombia, South Sudan, Central African Republic, or the Democratic Republic of Congo in my travels to conflict-affected countries,” she said.
However, she said Liberian women have yet to benefit fully from the dividends of peace: “The absence of war does not mean the presence of ‘complete peace.’ We have to ask ourselves: what does peace mean for women when they experience the high daily levels of sexual and gender based violence that they continue to experience today – with limited or no access to justice?” she asked.
Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka also highlighted that although Liberia elected Africa’s first woman president, the country is ranked 149th in female representation in parliament, with even lower rates of women’s leadership in local districts, towns, clans, or chiefdoms.
“Today, this Council is mainly deliberating the continuation of the mission drawdown plans and the future of the UN presence in Liberia,” she said. “There cannot be a vacuum when the mission leaves. We have to demonstrate to Liberians that the end of the peacekeeping mission does not mean that the international community will turn away,” she stressed.
The Executive Director added that “there is no better way of showing this resolve than by investing in those who have been most affected by the war, most affected by the [Ebola] epidemic, and most affected by post-conflict insecurity and impunity: women and girls.”
To this point, Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog, who is currently Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission Liberia panel, which visited the capital, Monrovia, at the end of January, said women and girls should be at the forefront of the peacebuilding process.
“We make the case for including women and youth of Liberia in all peacebuilding efforts as we move forward, operationalizing Security Council resolution 2250,” he stated, highlighting the need to engage youth “as they constitute the country’s greatest assets” to consolidate peace.
In his briefing, Mr. Skoog also outlined the Commission’s priorities regarding security sector reform, the rule of law, the reconciliation process between Liberians, and efforts needed to ensure successful elections in 2017.