15 November Press Briefing

22 Feb 2012

15 November Press Briefing


Yasmina Bouziane (UNMIL Spokesperson)
Good morning ladies and gentlemen, members of the media who are present here today and to our UNMIL Radio listeners who are tuning in to our special press briefing today. Today we have the honour of having the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Recovery and Governance, who is here to introduce and accompany the Chair of the Peace Building Commission, Country Configuration for Liberia, His Royal Highness Prince Zeid Bin Ra’as Zeid Al-Hussein.

It is an honour to introduce two of them. And I also like you to know that His Royal Highness is also the Permanent Representative of Jordan to United Nations Headquarters in New York. Accompanying him on his trip is Judith Hopkins, who Assistant Secretary-General for Peace Building Supporting Support. We also have Ambassador Kamara who is also representative of Liberia to the United Nations and all the other delegations.

The Peace delegation headed by Prince Zeid being on a 9-day visit here to Liberia as Liberia has just been placed on the agenda of the Peace Building Commission. He has visited a number of places starting with Monrovia with all of the meetings with the Liberian authorities, civil society, a number of people including some of you press members, youth groups to talk about what the Peace Building Commission is doing.

Also this week-end, the delegation went up country to see what is happening outside the capitol to be able to talk to people on the ground, and see also some of the peace building fund projects that were carried out. A major event in Gbarnga on Saturday was the ground breaking of the Peace Building Hub. His Excellency and the rest of the delegation went up to Lofa, in Voinjama and met with a number of actors.

Mr. Moustapha Soumaré (Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for recovery and Governance)

Thank you and welcome to our headquarters. Today is an important day for us because there are several important issues that are going to happen and the chairman of the Peace Building Commission; Country Configuration for Liberia, Prince Zeid will definitely brief you.

As you know Liberia being on the peace building agenda is an important step for Liberia. This is the very first time that we have a country in which you have a mission to be on the peace building agenda. That is important as it is timely. As you know, we are discussing with the Government of the transition of UNMIL. The idea is to use that process so that we can make sure that the transition is made in a way in which it will not jeopardize the whole process that UNMIL was supporting here because that is the kind of question you will be raising.

Secondly it comes in a time where also in that same context the whole UN system is repositioning itself in the context that it is now UN Delivering as One. The whole idea is to prepare the rest of the UN system so that the transition can be as smooth as possible. That is really where we are.

In terms of the peace building Prince Zeid will brief you on that. It is my pleasure to introduce him because in a peace building process, the role of the Chair is very important. From the few days I have been with him, we are lucky to have someone like him to really chair the Peace Building Liberia Configuration. He committed to Liberia, his understanding of the UN processes, his position as permanent representative of Jordan to the UN. In the past he has dealt with issues of peace keeping and peace building. Since he came, he made it very clear that he is here to support Liberia and the UNMIL so that we can better support Liberia. We are very happy to have you.

His Royal Highness Prince Zeid Bin Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein of Jordan (Chair of the Peace Building Commission, Country Configuration for Liberia)
Thank you Moustapha, Yasminia, distinguished members of the press. I am delighted to be with you here today to give you an overview of the background to what has led me to visit your beautiful country and also to explain what is it that we are doing and plan to do.

On the 27 of May this year, the Government of Liberia submitted a letter through the Permanent Mission at the United Nations to the Security Council requesting that Liberia be placed on the agenda of the Peace Building Commission in respect of three areas: Rule of Law, Security Sector Reform and National Reconciliation.

Naturally when you think of peace building, you think about building capacity in many areas: education, health and services, but where the Peace Building Commission is most focus is in these areas which can prevent a recurrence of instability that we hope will never come again to this country.

The Peace Building Commission was charged with examining Liberia and an assessment team was sent here in August to see what their thoughts are, what the needs were. This assessment came up with the report and this report formed the basis of the document which we hope to adopt later today in the presence of the President.

We looked at this document prior to my arrival. I arrived nine days ago and have been holding intense and long meetings with everybody who has an interest in these issues in Liberia. There were one or two organizations that I have not seen, but I hope to be back regularly and then see those key organizations I have not seen because of lack of time. For those I have seen, gave me the impression that this country is filled with talent. We need to help; we need to see where we can get resources; we need to see how we can provide for the people of Liberia. Again with the fundamental aim of ensuring that we put as much distance between Liberia and a possible return of any instability of any sort.

I was also encouraged when I met with the heads of 18 political parties and their representatives. I was encouraged by the liveliness of the debate. It was a bit tense, but it is nothing unusual in a democracy, it was engaging and I said to the members of the political parties that there is no doubt in my mind that they all love their country. What I hope is that as we move the process along and in conjunction with the Liberian Government, we will consult regularly with the political parties to ensure that these are issues on long term. We did look at national reconciliation. There were some points raised on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. We made clear that on this issue, this is a sovereign decision of the Government and people of Liberia to decide. All countries emerging from conflict have to find their own ways through the path that lead to peace. We can support with ideas, but the decision and ownership must be local.

And the countries have the rhythm to them. There are many cultures that make up the principle culture and we are observers to this. We can look at the ideas that could be helpful. I mentioned the relevance of a country in Europe about 15 years ago. In subsequent discussions after the conflict came to an end, I said that one of the formulas that we were discussing in that context which could be or could not be relevant here is that prior to national reconciliation in a genuine sense, you need reckoning, meaning not that you look at everybody else - what did they do to you, but that you look at yourself as a community and you say what did we do to others. We start like that; it seems to have been helpful.

But must say I am hopeful. I would work hard to ensure that we have funding for the projects that we would begin to focus on. I did break ground in the presence of some high ranking officials, both national and international in Gbarnga on a security and justice hub. It is a complex that we will start building quite soon. We hope it will provide services to the people of Bong County and beyond, hopefully Lofa and Nimba will also be included. The idea is you create a center with these services and it can be provided including customs, immigration and other areas that have relevance to it. You have a widen arch of small offices that can be provided by this hub. We will hope to use local labour to build the hub and subsidize it with labour from other parts of Liberia.  And then embark on building four other hubs around the country. The Peace Building Commission will work with the Peace Building Fund which is managed by the Assistant Secretary-General for the Peace Building Support Office. So we will work in conjunction with the Fund.   

I have had a very good first visit and I come away impressed, and I look forward to coming back. Thanking you very much and I will be delighted to answer questions you may have.


Question and Answer


Q:    Moses Wenyou (Star Radio)
I want to know whether there are budgetary projections for the execution of the Peace Building initiative and if so, what the time-line set is.

A:    His Royal Highness Prince Zeid Bin Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein of Jordan) Chair of the Peace Building Commission, Country Configuration for Liberia)
We know that the Government and the people of Liberia are anxious to see good progress. What we can say that thus far we have moved very quickly in comparison to some of the other countries on the agenda of the Peace Building Commission. I have to say that when we asked the Liberian Government for its input they came very quickly which was very encouraging. We also found that in travelling around to two counties we were in, people were keen too see improvement, capacity build-up, and people were very straight forward with what they need. I was very happy to hear that.

We have not fixed the time line as such, but we will begin to put one in place quickly. Months before there was no configuration and we have moved quite quickly and just to assure you how we are trying to be creative. This afternoon we shall chair the configuration which is in New York from here, using video conference. This has never been done before, but what we plan to do in the future as we continue to chair is talking to stakeholders and people directly on the ground.

Q:    Festus Poquie (New Democrat Newspaper)
With respect to the TRC, it documented violation of international laws and war crimes. In consistent with UN protocols and convention, do you think it requires the United Nations to help in the prosecution of the perpetrators of those crimes?

Secondly, could you tell us the findings in the assessment report?

A:    His Royal Highness Prince Zeid Bin Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein of Jordan) Chair of the Peace Building Commission, Country Configuration for Liberia
    This issue again is an issue which falls squarely within the sovereign competence of the Government. There are very few countries around the world that have examined their past openly and clearly with open eyes and then taking the lessons and embroiled it into the education system and said we have many things we can be proud of, but we have many things we should be ashamed about. And when you take a look around the globe there are not many countries that have done this. It is not easy. When we talk about peace building, people refer to building roads, bridges and schools. What is so difficult for all countries is how we deal with all the stuff in our head. There is no magic formula or example we can go to and say this is perfect of this has not worked. Every country has to look at the reason of your people and you might assess and examine a particular conflict if that model was suitable or not.

    So I think it is right for the international community not to impose itself on Liberia in this regard. There is a process and leave it up to the people of this country on how to deal with the past. One of the things you notice around the globe is that very few countries have national archives that are organized, vetted and the documents are released. The national archive is the national memory of the country and people. In most of the developing world we do not have archive and we should have them because one day we will all pass and we need a record of the state for posterity.

We will look creatively at what we can do and we will ask for your support and advise and likewise offer some ideas and it is up to Liberians to decide whether these are good ideas or not.

On the second question, the assessment report came back with an observation, while again there was a great deal of those willing to do something that capacity was required. When you look at a state, you can argue that these three items are the central nervous system of the state. And clearly when we went to a number of Liberia National Police (LNP) stations, one that was being renovated, and looked very good and newly build ones which looked very impressive and the staff had just graduated from the LNP Academy and we were impressed with their level of training. And there were other parts which required further work and we visited the Circuit Court in Gbarnga, and that was a building built in 1938 and needed renovation. Hopefully what we are doing in the hub is continue consolation with the Liberian authorities. We will have new court rooms at the hub to address that.

Q:    Alphonso Toweh (Reuters and New Republic newspaper)
I read in your CV that you are an expert in international justice and someone would think that some of that nature would have bitter idea on keys issues that have to do with the justice system. What do you think with respect to the TRC report that came out, the recommendations barring certain individuals moving in specific are of work. You are here for peace building what do you think?

Secondly, you played a key role in carrying out specific advisory role looking at sexual exploitation. What is the level do you think of sexual exploitation in the UN System?

A:    His Royal Highness Prince Zeid Bin Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein of Jordan) Chair of the Peace Building Commission, Country Configuration for Liberia
On the first question let me share with you a conversation I had with a European ambassador. He said that do you know that almost 19 years of our civil conflict we still can not talk about it? It is too sensitive and I though my goodness. It made me realize how important this issue is. And you look around the globe and you notice how true this is. What a is country passing through to trauma has to go through is enormous. Each country has to decide what time is right to deal with this issue.

I do not presume to know enough of Liberia and its people. I can never more than you know about your country. What we can do is look at other examples and suggest what could have worked elsewhere may work here and vice versa. What seems to be key unlocking is a very deep attempt, looking at yourself before you look at others. I if look deeply you can look and say we are ourselves; we may have been victims, but we ourselves are also doing things. In most conflict there is a fair element of that going on. So if we look inward before we look outward that could be a key. This is my comment on that.

On the matter of sexual exploitation and abuse, I was the advisor to the Secretary-General in 2004 to 2005 where this phenomenon relates to peace keeping. We had put together a report; I embarked on a visit to one of the worse affected regions and I am convinced that the UN has done a great deal and I feel we the member states are not doing enough about it. We still have some way to go. There is a draft treaty for instance which will extend jurisdiction coverage to all civilian personnel. That is pretty much stuck in the UN and we have not seen much improvement which we would like to see.

There was the issue of investigative capacity and who should conduct investigations and the General Assembly took a decision which I regret to say I do not think it was a wise one and we want to see how we can modify that decision.

Q:    Samukai Konneh (Public Agenda newspaper)
As per your CV, we were informed that in 2004 you played a vital role in the settlement of dispute between Benin and Niger, as well as occupied territories of Palestine by the Israelites. That tells us that you have a significant experience in what land plays in a conflict and post conflict situation. Land issues in Liberia are major. The Land Commission fears there might be no elections if land disputes are not settled because politicians might exploit the situation. What you think based on your experience in this matter?

Secondly, you told us that your impression during your meeting with the 18 political parties was that they all love their country. But are there other observations you have during the meeting with the political parties?

A:    His Royal Highness Prince Zeid Bin Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein of Jordan) Chair of the Peace Building Commission, Country Configuration for Liberia
My involvement with Benin and Niger was more limited as a trust fund that belongs to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. And it assisted who would like to take their case to the International Court of Justice. I was the channel of that Trust Fund in respect to those countries. We did not deal with the actual case itself. On Palatines and Israel, these were advisory proceedings of the International Court of Justice and I was representing Jordan on those issues.

What you said have been said to me throughout the country that land disputes are a serious issue. Most communities are affected by them. I was very impressed of what I heard at the Land Reform Commission. I think the leadership seems to be very capable. They seem to know the dimension of the problem. They need to have more specific knowledge and I think that is what they are doing with the Task Force in terms of collating as much information as they can. We will certainly look at their effort to see how we can help. It is very clear to us that when you are dealing with reconciliation issues, these sorts of issues need to be solved. We see that the World Bank is very interested, the Millennium Challenge Corporation is involved and so we will try and help without duplication.

Q:    Francis Dahn (Kings FM/Clar TV Channel 5)
I am concerned about the Liberian peace process especially when it comes to elections and I did not hear you speak on anything about the elections of 2011.

Secondly, security is of an importance to Liberia, especially within the sub region. Guinea is having her elections, and also Ivory Coast. Does it draw your attention when it comes to security?

A:    His Royal Highness Prince Zeid Bin Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein of Jordan) Chair of the Peace Building Commission, Country Configuration for Liberia
With my meeting with the political parties, they also raised the questions and what was my position on this? We made it clear that we are guided by the three items that we put forward in the note to the Security Council. While security is very much our focus, we have to keep a broad view. We do not get involve with these elections directly or indirectly. This is an election that will be run by the Liberian Government and not the UN.

In terms of security, we are impressed by what we see. But we are also aware that there is still much to be done. What is very clear is that there seems to be a deep sense that 14 years of war was enough and there is no desire to go back. We all hope and expect that Liberia will continue to be stable and prosper in time. Sometimes it can look very far, but I think with the right support, this will be entirely possible.

Mr. Moustapha Soumaré (DSRSG-Recovery and Governance)
This is an important opportunity that we have to really keep Liberia at a high level at the attention of the international community. The prospects of helping Liberia achieve the three priorities that the Prince mentioned - the rule of law, security sector and national reconciliation are there because the international community really wants to have permanent peace in Liberia. It is up to us now, the UN, the Government, civil society and the media to help us achieve them. We all have an important role to play, particularly the press. As you know the concept of national reconciliation will come back. So we have to really work hard with the Government to inform you on the process so that you can work with us as you are an important partner in this process.

I want to thank our Chair for the Liberia configuration for his commitment to make this process a successful one and a success story. We hope that this Peace Building Commission, Liberia Configuration is going to be a successful story.

His Royal Highness Prince Zeid Bin Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein of Jordan) Chair of the Peace Building Commission, Country Configuration for Liberia
Thank you very much. I hope to be back in a few months time. I greatly enjoyed my interaction with all parts of the Liberian leadership and communities at the local level and ordinary citizens. I observe what everyone observed coming to Liberia, but Liberia by definition is a good author: speaks very well. No matter where we went the people give good speeches and I was impressed by them.

Thank you for your presence and I enjoyed being here. Thank you.