Briefing the Security Council on the situation in Liberia, the United Nations peacekeeping chief today underlined that the country remained stable and that since the security transition in June this year, there had been no incident serious enough to warrant an armed response from the UN mission in the country, known as UNMIL.
“However, sustaining the gains made will require continued and greater investment in the security services, as well as commensurate improvements in the justice and corrections sectors,” Hervé Ladsous, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, told the 15-member Council’s briefing on the work of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
Mr. Ladsous further reported that the political environment in the west African country remained dominated by preparations for presidential and legislative elections, scheduled for October 2017, and that the next President’s inauguration in January 2018 would mark a historic milestone for Liberia’s democracy.
“What happens next year, therefore, will be critical: it will demonstrate whether the foundations of peace built since the conflict ended 13 years ago are strong enough to be sustained,” he said, underlining the need to ensure that measures are put in place now to deliver a free, fair, transparent and credible elections.
Reporting that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had outlined three possible options for the UNMIL’s future: withdrawing and establishing a successor mission; maintaining the status quo; or continuing its drawdown.
Emphasizing that Liberia should remain on the Council’s agenda through the installation of the next administration, he said it was essential to retain some capacity to respond should stability deteriorate.
In its last resolution on the situation in the country, in September this year, the Security Council had extended the mandate of the UNMIL until 31 December.
Also speaking today, Per Thöresson of Sweden, on behalf of the Vice-Chair of the UN Peacebuilding Commission, said that the root causes of the country’s conflict remained unresolved and stressed the need for continued implementation of the national reconciliation roadmap.
“Strong political leadership is required to fully and comprehensively address reconciliation in Liberia,” he said, adding: “Building social cohesion requires addressing historical inequalities, unequal access to resources and power.”
Noting the economic challenges brought by the Ebola outbreak and that 63 per cent of the country’s children were out of school, as well as residual peacebuilding tasks in 2017 which required sustained international support, he underscored that these and other factors should be kept in mind when considering the future of the UN presence in Liberia, especially given the upcoming electoral period.
Also addressing the Council was Victoria Wollie, National Coordinator for the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding–Women in Peacebuilding Network in Liberia, who said many young people are involved in sexual and gender-based violence, which remains the “number-one” crime reported to police.
Indeed, more than 1,500 cases of rape had been registered in 2014 and 2015, but less than 4 per cent of the alleged perpetrators had been convicted. Women and girls were also victims of harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, child marriage, abductions and forcible initiations into secret societies.
“As I speak to you today, I am expressing the fears of the women of Liberia regarding security and logistical gaps without UNMIL which could present challenges that could be exploited by unscrupulous politicians to question the credibility of the elections, thereby triggering unwanted violence,” said Ms. Wollie, underscoring that Liberian women needed the Peacebuilding Commission to fill any gaps left by UNMIL’s departure.
Recalling that the international community had applauded the heroic contribution of Liberian women to ending the civil war, helping disarm the armed groups, conduct peaceful elections, prevent a relapse into conflict, and defeat the Ebola epidemic, she said: “I represent these women here today . I can tell you that there isn’t a more meaningful tribute to Liberian women than the long-lasting and sustained partnership of the international community.”