14 April Press Briefing

14 Apr 2012

14 April Press Briefing

 Mr. Hervé Ladsous: Thank you very much.

It is indeed my first visit to Liberia, one that I have wanted to do for quite some time since I took over my duties last year.

As a matter of fact, now was a good time. As you know, we had a Technical Assessment Mission which visited Liberia two months ago to look at UNMIL, its tasks and strength and this will lead by the end of the month to some recommendations of the Secretary-General of the United Nations which will be discussed by the Security Council.

I think the general idea of this exercise is that peacekeeping missions; and you know we have sixteen (16) all over the world with 120,000 men and women. And it is a feeling that we have to adapt to circumstances and in the particular case of Liberia, one of the conclusions is that we do not need quite as many military personnel as we have had over the past. And indeed we have already reduced from maximum strength which was at one stage 15,000, and then reduced by several thousands. This of course subject to the decision of the Security Council, it will happen again. But it will happen again over the next three years and in a very phased way because we do not want in any way to have a weak UNMIL that could not perform its duties. Less military but more of police personnel because that could be necessary in the phase in which UNMIL is working very actively to help strengthen the Liberia National Police. Police which has made substantial progress but which is not at the level required based on ratio you see in other countries where one police man for so many people in the population; but in the case of your country, you are not there yet. More efforts need to be done, and we will continue to do that.

We will continue working on the very important sector more on security and justice. And I would like to share with you a very interesting experience we had yesterday and I thank UNMIL for giving me that chance. We travelled to Bong County to Gbarnga, where as you probably know the United Nations and Liberia are jointly building the first of what will be five Security and Justice Hubs. [This is a] concept where you bring together local police headquarters; a tribunal, correction facilities and also what you call the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization. It is a good idea to make to give to people who are outside the capital the living proof and testimonies of the Authority of those basic human needs that are personal security and access to justice. There will five such hubs around the country. This is the first. It should become operational quickly by the beginning of next year. I think it is very good proof of all the good work that has been going on over recent years between the United Nations and in particular case through what we call the Peace Building Fund and the Government.

The simple fact that we are phasing very gradually from a peacekeeping operations into peace building concept; there is no opposition between the two. The two happen simultaneously but with different emphasis on one or the other. Peacekeeping and peace building is in fact continual and as time goes it is less peacekeeping which means less military but it means more activities related to continuing building the state, institutions and help the sustainable development of the country.

I have to emphasize that all these processes belong to the Liberia authorities and to the Liberia people. Some people yesterday in Bong County asked me that the United Nations have to do something about the pot holes on the road. I said I am aware that pot holes on the road are dangerous but I do not think mending pot holes is the responsibilities of the United Nations.

At the end of the day, everything is the responsibility of the Liberians. We are in support and will remain in support. The UN is not going to leave Liberia tomorrow or next year. We are there to make all the activities in recent years continue success under the responsibility of Liberia and the Liberians and we will continue doing that.

I would like to highlight the excellent role of UNMIL, its leadership and you all know of course Mr. Moustapha Soumaré, who is in-charge of the Mission, who is also the Resident Coordinator of UN Agencies and Programmes along with all his team, I am very impressed by the splendid work they are doing and by the dedication they are showing in their tasks for the sustainable happiness of the Liberian people.

Thank you very much.


Questions and Answers


Q: Moses Garzu (Liberia Broadcasting System)
You have had consultations with various stakeholders in Liberia in terms of the peacekeeping operations in the country; reports were that you were also meeting the President on Friday. Could you give us an update?

About reducing the military strength in Liberia; Liberia is still has military issues, especially the cross border crisis from Côte d’Ivoire and looking at Sierra Leone which is going to elections this year, are you going to be helping the Liberia Government in building the capacity of its military, since indeed, it is a key area to look at?

A: Mr. Hervé Ladsous, Head of the UN Peacekeeping Operations
Yes, I did meet with the President as well as various Ministers and we have discussed those issues. Regarding those problems like the cross border security, like the situation with Côte d’Ivoire, those may not be necessarily military issues. There are of course of various [inaudible]. I think the cross border issue has much to do with the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization as with, possibly, the army.

With Côte d’Ivoire, we know there are still border problems, refugees, some illegal movements; these have to be looked at. What I can tell you is that I will be crossing into Côte d’Ivoire tomorrow because I am also going to be looking at the UN presence and activities [there]. What I will add is that yes, we are, generally speaking, in the capacity building mode in your country; in all sectors and definitely one of our objectives is the empowerment of Liberians to take over all those responsibilities that we have helped take up so far. It is the same for the police, judiciary, in many areas our main goal is to do precisely that and we will continue.

Q: Varney Kamara (New Democrat Newspaper)
Why has UNMIL stayed longer in Liberia than [the UN did in] Sierra Leone, when in fact both countries fought civil wars?

Secondly, there are reports about corruption within our Security Sector, now that you are gradually drawing down, what level of trust can you repose in our security system?

And finally, if you were to go back today, what will be your practical experience you can say about our security situation in Liberia?

A: Mr. Hervé Ladsous, Head of the UN Peacekeeping Operations
In matters of peacekeeping, it is not the matter of one size fits all. You have specific situations and try to deal with them according to their merits. That is why I said in my remarks, we will now make it a policy of reviewing regularly, once every two years, the state of every [one] of our missions. I can tell you that, subject to [the] Security Council decision in December, we will probably decide to close the peacekeeping mission in UNMIT [East Timor] because the job is done. Here in Liberia, it is another situation where the job still needs to be completed and that will take some time. Of course in full agreement with your Government, we shall deal with accordingly.

Regarding the security sector, I am not aware of specific cases of corruption, but I do know corruption remains an issue in the country and Liberia is not alone in that situation and it requires strong leadership to deal with it [and] the specific cases. It is an issue that has to be dealt with. It is a matter of credibility of the institutions and the personnel; and I would hope that in general; and in specific, the issue is taken up.

The security situation generally still raises some problems but we try along with the Liberian authorities to tackle them and it is an ongoing process and we will stay the course from that point of view.

Q: Roland Davids (Kings FM)
I am concerned about the staying of UNMIL in Liberia which you said is not yet ready to leave finally. If UNMIL is to still to remain in Liberia for the few years, will
the Government of Liberia be responsible to pay the forces or the UN?

A: Mr. Hervé Ladsous, Head of the UN Peacekeeping Operations
The issue is not for UNMIL to decide or not. We are in a process which involves several participants. First and foremost, which is a principle for peacekeeping, we need to be in dialogue with the Government of the host country; and this particular case the Government of Liberia wants the United Nations to stay here. Second element is what the Security Council decides. They are the ones who give us our mandate; and they are the ones who discuss and decide. We shall see formally in a few weeks. I think the line is that UNMIL should stay, should continue doing the [inaudible] with perhaps new angles or strengthen [inaudible] angles more than ever. [Inaudible] playing [inaudible] good offices, helping the Government work on constitutional reform and give advice on what has to be done in the different sectors and making the political sectors more inclusive and enlarging the political space. And I think there will be a consensus on this.

Q: Zayzay Ballah (Africa Standard on line website)
You said UNMIL is not leaving today or tomorrow, when do we hope to see UNMIL leaving Liberia since we have had two successive elections and our security apparatus seems to be gradually building up?

A: Mr. Hervé Ladsous, Head of the UN Peacekeeping Operations
You have had indeed had an electoral process that went well. Your security apparatus, that is gradually coming but I would submit that is not yet the case. Gradual does not mean that it is achieved yet. So let us take things as they come. Nobody wants to see us leaving tomorrow. The priority is to get the job done. That is our goal, the goal of the international community. Once that is done, the matter can be reconsidered.

Q: Fabien Quaih (Radio Veritas)
You did mention earlier about less military and more police, why not both?

A: Because the threats against security in Liberia are not majority of a military nature. The threats have got more to do with individual security of the people in the face of banditry, trafficking including cross border trafficking. It is a shared feeling between us and the Government of Liberia and a number of [inaudible] politicians whom I have met. These are the issues we have to address. Basically, the concept is to strengthen the rule of law in Liberia which means ensuring order and the respect for law. That is to say generally, the police and the rule of law. This is what we are working [on] in terms of priorities but will retain the military presence, a very significant one because our Blue Helmets do contribute to the image of the security in the country and do have a mission to fulfill. Some of them of a military nature, some of them with engineering, public health or outreach activities as peacekeepers do in your country as they do elsewhere.

Q: Joeakin Sandolo (Daily Observer)
The departure of UNMIL from Liberia or even reducing the staff of UNMIL worries any Liberian because of the peace UNMIL is keeping here for us. However, in any situation, there is a shortcoming of another group. In your own assessment as it relates to UNMIL activities in Liberia in terms of human right abuses, sexual exploitation?

A: Mr. Hervé Ladsous, Head of the UN Peacekeeping Operations
Let me say that these actions, when they occurr are totally unacceptable. They are shocking and they are not tolerated. It is very shocking because in actual fact those very few individuals who commit those acts first violate the trust that has been put in them as peacekeepers but also they raise the question of the honour of our people. Let me say that the vast majority of our people are performing admirably with dedication and respect for higher standards.

We will be exerting zero tolerance with one hundred and twenty percent attention to these issues. We have to address them; and we do address them by immediately investigating the cases when they are brought to our attention; and the individual or individuals concerned when they are found guilty; then immediate sanctions are being taken. Whenever there are staff members from UNMIL who have been found guilty strong sanctions have been taken and strong actions continue to be taken should such action occur again. I am very firm and insistent on that.

Q: Tom (Front Page Africa)
The International Court trying former President Charles Taylor is about to make a decision whether or not he will be found guilty. Is UNMIL concerned about what is going to happen to Liberia if Mr. Taylor is to be declared not guilty and is to come back to Liberia?

A: I will not presume to prejudge the decision of the justices. As you know we make it a policy not to prejudge or comment on decisions of the judiciary. I know it is an important decision; let us wait until the decision is made and then we shall see.

Q: Bill Diggs (Insight Newspaper)
In your answer to the question on corruption you said there is a need for a strong leadership to rule out corruption. By that, did you mean that the Liberian leadership lacks the will and strength to fight corruption in the country?

A: I implied no such thing. I did say fighting against corruption is an ongoing effort in many countries, as in this country in particular and that the effort needs to be sustained.