In spite of “remarkable” progress in Liberia since the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement in 2003, the presence of challenges that risk a reversal of the gains made warrant continued international support and attention, the United Nations envoy for the country has cautioned.
“I would appeal to all concerned to increase and consolidate investment in Liberia and support the country at this crucial time, through its transition to a new government and beyond,” Farid Zarif, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Liberia, told the Security Council today.
Pointing to challenges which could hinder sustaining peace and advancing national reconciliation, Mr. Zarif said that legislative reforms, widely accepted as critical to address the underlying causes of conflict as well as on women's rights and protection, were yet to be enacted.
“I continue to engage vigorously with the Government, particularly the Legislature, to help advance these transformational reforms,” he added.
Mr. Zarif, also the head of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), noted that as UNMIL prepares for transitioning its residual mandated activities to the Government, the UN Country Team and partners, it remains engaged in all aspects of its assignment with a particular emphasis on good offices and political facilitation, including in view of elections scheduled in October.
“As the elections draw nearer, [we have] further intensified [our] engagement with the National Elections Commission, political party leaders, presidential candidates, the Government and civil society to prevent and diffuse tensions, help resolve disputes, and advocate for inclusive, transparent, credible, and peaceful elections,” he said.
“The country's future as a stable democracy will hinge on the successful conduct of the elections and the broad acceptance that they were free and fair, followed by a smooth transfer of power from the current government to a new administration.”
The Special Representative also added that Liberia's law enforcement agencies being adequately prepared to respond to potential low-level civil unrest and mob violence during the upcoming period was critical.
In that context, he elaborated that UNMIL is supporting the Liberia National Police to set up an integrated elections security plan to ensure the most effective utilization of available resources to protect civilians.
Further, noting the gradual strengthening of the country's human rights capacity, Mr. Zarif urged the Liberian human rights commission to intensify its efforts to address serious human rights challenges, including sexual and gender-based violence, harmful traditional practices and challenges with respect to freedom of speech, which continue to plague the African nation.
He also called on the Government to urgently implement the recommendations of the a 2016 joint Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)-UNMIL report on ensuring accountability for rape.
Liberia at critical juncture, several historic transitions underway
Also, speaking today at the Security Council, Olof Skoog, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sweden to the United Nations and the Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) Liberia Configuration welcomed the steps taken by Government and the UN to develop a Peacebuilding Plan but highlighted that the need for continued engagement with and support to the country.
“As we have noted in the past couple of months, Liberia is at critical juncture. Several historic transitions are underway,” said Mr. Skoog, adding: “While no one I met indicated to me that there exists a clear and imminent risk of relapse into conflict [but] there are real hurdles ahead as [UNMIL] is closing down and as the new government takes the reins.”
As for the role of the Peacebuilding Commission, he said that it stood ready to continue its political accompaniment, ensuring continued international attention after the Mission leaves, and assisting by drawing attention to gaps.
“We will undertake continued advocacy on the importance of pursuing reforms that are central for sustaining peace in Liberia,” he added.