24 September Press Briefing

25 Sep 2012

24 September Press Briefing

Yasmina Bouziane, UNMIL Spokesperson Karin Landgren, Special Representative of the Secretary-General.

Near Verbatim

Yasmina Bouziane (UNMIL Spokesperson)
Good morning ladies and gentlemen; welcome to this press conference on the Wednesday, 19 September 2012, I am Yasmina Bouziane, Spokesperson.

I would like to welcome everybody from the press and also our UNMIL Radio listeners.

Today we have a very special press conference and a special guest the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) Madam Karin Landgren. Ms. Landgren has addressed the United Nations Security Council in New York at the UN Headquarters. She briefed on number of issues including presenting the 24th Secretary-General Progress Report on UNMIL and Liberia and she also is going to discuss with us here today, some of the issues as regards to the renewal of UNMIL’s mandate.

For those of you who are tuning in, UNMIL’s mandate was renewed on the 17 September 2012 at the United Nations Security Council for one year and our SRSG, Madam Karin Landgren is here with us today and she will speak to that.

On behalf of Madam Landgren and UNMIL, I would like first to appreciate and thank all the Liberian journalists who are here and all of you listening to UNMIL Radio for your interest and coverage of the activities of UNMIL. For those who are listening, the house is filled, we have many people and we thank you for your attention and for your interest in UNMIL and your cooperation.

I would like to hand the floor over to Madam Karin Landgren, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of Liberia and I would also like to let you know that there will be remarks by Madam Karin Landgren and then open the floor for questions.

Ms. Karin Landgren (Special Representative of the Secretary-General)

Thank you Yasmina.

Good morning. It is a pleasure for me to be meeting with the Liberian media this morning and I intend mainly to talk about the recent Security Council discussion of UNMIL.

Let me begin by saying that how delighted I am to be in Liberia and to be heading UNMIL. Thank you also for the very warm welcome I have received in this country. I had recently headed two other UN Missions, in Burundi and before that in Nepal; also countries that experienced serious conflicts followed by a peace agreement which the UN then supported some aspects of implementation of their peace agreement. So it is also a pleasure for me to see Liberia’s increased readiness to assume some of the functions that have until now being carried by UNMIL.

You have both the 24th Progress Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council and my own statement to the Security Council. Both of them are on the UNMIL website.

The main message of the Secretary-General is that the people and the Government of Liberia are making progress. Many steps have been taken to transform Liberia and he discusses these; the national budget has increased considerably, the security situation is generally stable. This means that the time is right for UNMIL to begin to reduce its military component and to work on handing over security functions to Liberia’s own security agencies. This is really good news. This reflects progress in Liberia.

The UN Security Council agreed with the recommendation and as you have heard, decided on Monday that UNMIL should be extended for the next one year and that during this year UNMIL will reduce its military assets but also build up its police assets.

I want to emphasize that UNMIL is not leaving Liberia just yet. UNMIL is not leaving Liberia in one year and the expectations are that UNMIL is not leaving in three years. Even by July 2015, UNMIL will still have 3,750 military personnel. That is four [corrected] Infantry Battalions fewer than our current seven battalions. UNMIL will also have, three years from now - as well as our just fewer than five hundred police advisors - UNMIL will have 1,795 police in formed units. That is an increase to ten units, compared to our current seven units. So as the Ministry of Justice also said their recent press conference, you will continue to see UNMIL's presence, we expect, beyond 2015.

UNMIL and the Government of Liberia are working together very closely on planning this transition. And let me emphasize that this will be a gradual process. It will be gradual, deliberate and well planned. Our guiding principle at all times is that Liberia’s security must be maintained. Liberian security is the number one priority.

A second important message from the Secretary-General in his report is that security measures are not going to be enough to create lasting stability. Liberia also needs well functioning, accountable and sustainable government institutions. There is also a strong call from the UN, from the Security Council for Liberia to address National Reconciliation, Constitutional Reform and Decentralization.

My priority is to work with the Liberian Government and people to make the best possible use of UNMIL. This intention is also reflected in some of the things the Security Council has asked UNMIL to do: to support the Liberian National Police (LNP) in specific ways to strengthen their capacity, to support the security sector and justice sector, but also to lend support to National Reconciliation, to the Constitutional Reform process, to Decentralization because these things are seen as absolutely central to Liberia’s continued stability.

One other priority for UNMIL is the situation on border with Côte d’Ivoire. The Security Council underlined how it important it is for these two countries, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire, to have a shared border strategy. UNMIL and also UNOCI - our sister mission in Côte d’Ivoire - are looking closely at how we can work together both on each side of the border, but also across this border; to help both these governments improve security in the border region and also to improve stability and development on each side of the border.

Before we open up for questions, I want to take this opportunity also to thank Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and the UN Resident Coordinator, my close colleague, Mr. Moustapha Soumaré. He will be leaving Liberia after very dedicated work here for the past three years. As you know, between the departure of Madam Ellen Løj and my own arrival, Mr. Soumaré was the acting SRSG. He is leaving for another complex situation to be the DSRSG in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I am very sorry to be losing him from here, but I know he will make a very strong contribution to the work of the United Nations in the DRC.

Thank you.

Questions and Answers

Q: Mai Azango (Front Page Africa Newspaper)
You spoke of security situation along the Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire border. Couple of weeks ago, I visited Grand Gedeh and the County has various border points with Côte d’Ivoire and I saw Armed Forces of Liberia, Bureau of Immigration personnel and the police they are in partnership and they are monitoring the border but what I gathered from some AFL soldiers and even from some of the security is that whenever they have is a problem with Ivorians crossing over into Liberia to cause some trouble or some disturbances… UNMIL does not go to help. UNMIL always sit at her post and doesn’t leave and leave them alone to fight alone with the Ivorian soldiers or whoever until everything is done, till damage is caused and people lives are taken and UNMIL still sits there supinely and doesn’t help. So how is UNMIL helping Liberia when they are sitting and the security of Liberia is at battle with the security from Côte d’Ivoire?

My second question has to do with the UN Secretary General recent address. He said Liberian Government is not doing enough in going in accordance with human rights because they see female genital mutilation is still going on and the Government of Liberia is not trying to stop it. Though they are doing some but they are not working very hard. According to Internal Affairs Minister, Blamo Nelson they cannot outlaw the practice from Liberia but he agreed with the Secretary General that it is keeping a lot of girls from school. Now my question to UNMIL… you are saying that Liberia is not doing much pertaining to human rights violations mainly female genital mutilation or female genital cutting… How is UNMIL working with Government to ensure that the practice is abolished from Liberia?

A: Ms. Karin Landgren (SRSG)

Let me talk first about the border which is one of our priorities. Let’s talk first about who is crossing the border… many of those who have crossed the borders are refugees, and Liberia has been a generous host of many refugees from Côte d’Ivoire. In fact, the number is quite reduced as most of the refugees have returned home. But there continue to be Ivorian refugees who need Liberia’s protection, and continue to be in camps. I want to be very careful that we do not spread rumors about who is actually crossing the border. Yes, there are concerns about former combatants and militias, there are concerns about Liberian mercenaries, and the Government [of Liberia] has a commitment to prevent its territory from being used for any attacks on neighboring countries. We see many measures that can be taken to strengthen the security of the border, and also to try to make sure that the people staying in the country are not the negative elements and that security is enhanced.

Coming back to whose responsibility it is to guard Liberia’s borders, this is the responsibility of the Liberia security agencies that you mentioned. Operation Restore Hope was deployed in June following some very bad attacks in Côte d’Ivoire. A joint task force comprising the AFL, elements of the police, the BIN and ERU, - our assessment is that Operation Restore Hope has worked well. UNMIL is there to lend them support if they need it, but our support to them has been minimal and not been necessary. I met with the leadership of this joint task force when I was in Zwedru recently and heard from them how they feel it is going. As you know, Operation Restore Hope has just been renewed for a further three months. So I see this as a very positive example of the way the security agencies function when they need to. Guarding the border is an issue in which Liberians are on the front line and we can provide some limited support. So I believe it is working as it should. As I said, we will be working closely with our UNOCI colleagues in the mission in Côte d’Ivoire, to look at all ways it can be strengthened. As you know, three helicopters that were based here in UNMIL are now based in Côte d’Ivoire and will be used to strengthen aerial reconnaissance and cross-border flights, also in the interest of border security.

On the question of female genital cutting…let me just say that it is my understanding that the Government is committed to working on this issue. The Government of Liberia is party to a number of international human rights instruments that address this and I believe that work is going on, particularly following the Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights to the period ending 2011. Thank you.

Q: Adolphus Mawolo (New Liberia News Paper & AFP)
Resource management has been the source of conflict in many African Countries including Liberia. I remember vividly in the early 2000, Liberia came under UN sanction because of its alleged support to the Rebel United Front and trading in blood diamonds. Recently when you addressed the Security Council you highlighted a number of issues including lack of control over the diamond trade. However, the Government gave a rather robust response to this component of your report. Does UNMIL think the Government of Liberia is managing the resources properly because recently the Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) was suspended for time indefinite for giving out permits to companies that were not duly registered with Government? What does UNMIL make of this?

A: Ms. Karin Landgren (SRSG)

Thank you. You are certainly right to highlight the importance of natural resources to the future of Liberia. UNMIL has noted the statement made by the Acting Minister of Lands Mines and Energy on actions that the Government has taken recently as part of the Kimberly Process. We are encouraged to learn that the Diamond Taskforce Technical Committee has resumed its weekly meetings, and at the same time we note the limited functioning of the 10 regional offices that were described in the June report by the Panel of Experts, who look more closely at these things. We encourage the Government to continue reinforcing its monitoring and appraisal regime. Let me just add that one of the most striking things for me, coming from Burundi and Nepal, is the wealth of this country. The potential of Liberia is so enormous and the natural resources are so considerable and as we’ve seen in other situation the way natural resources are managed can make all the difference… whether money flows to better the lives of all, whether the money flows into stronger development, stronger access to services, or whether it flows away from the country. So certainly continued strong management of the remarkable natural resources holds one of the keys to Liberian development and the country’s stability in the future.

Q: Charles Cuffy (ELBC)
The UN resolution 2066 notes that Liberia still faces security challenges making reference to the border situation with Côte d’Ivoire… This is about spillover effect. You talked about UNMIL supporting both Governments to ensure peace and stability. However, I am looking at the other countries within the Mano River basin. We expect the electoral process to commence in Sierra Leone and there are reports of drugs trafficking which are conduit and a major avenue for conflict. So what effort is UNMIL applying aside from Côte d’Ivoire situation to ensure that there is peace and security in other countries to prevent a spillover effect.

Another concern, in recent times there was this report about an UNMIL soldier who was kidnapped in Gbarnga. After few days that report was clarified that he was threatened by some of his colleagues and so he escaped from Gbarnga to Kakata. I am concerned about the rights and protection of those responsible for providing security in UNMIL’s own circle. You also talked about combating human rights abuses, sexual exploitation and abuse as one of the major concern of UNMIL. Can you tell us the level of gender based violence, sexual exploitation and abuse and human rights violation that UNMIL has determined in Liberia and what progress has to be made to curtail that?

A: Ms. Karin Landgren (SRSG)

Thank you. You asked about the spillover effect of possible instability in neighboring countries. I think we have discussed Côte d’Ivoire and that is a major focus. Obviously, the UN as a whole is keeping a close eye on the forthcoming elections in Sierra Leone and the overall situation and the anticipated elections in Guinea. What we are doing as UNMIL … for some time now we have had regular meeting on these borders. Not only the border of Côte d’Ivoire with counterparts on the other side including national security agencies,but also on the border with Sierra Leone and Guinea. So those are continuing and at the first hint of any broader trouble brewing we will step them up. Of course we look to ECOWAS and the Mano River Union to monitor, to advocate in these countries to maintain stability.

Regarding the Bangladeshi soldier let me say that UNMIL has never described this as a case of kidnapping. This report emerged in the press here but this is not something that we have claimed was the case. We are still investigating the facts of that case and what actually happen to that soldier.

Finally, with regard to gender based violence… the levels of such violence in Liberia are high. High enough for the Security Council to note this as a challenge, and the issue that has captured concerns about gender based violence is the high incidence of child rape. UNMIL and other UN and national partners are planning a wide discussion in the coming months of what Liberia can do to address this phenomenon of child rape. I am told that this is a war- and post-war phenomenon and it is not something that Liberians were accustomed to before the war. Please do not be accustomed to it now …It has to be stopped.

Q: Obediah Johnson (Heritage Newspaper )
Over the reported insecurity at the Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire border… I visited Grand Gedeh County and spoke with the Superintendent of the County, Peter Solo and he mentioned that there were suspicions of mercenary activities taking place at three refugee camps within the county… the Doegee, Solo and PTP refugee camps. Is UNMIL aware of this … and what are some reports you are getting from your men assigned in the county?

A: Ms. Karin Landgren (SRSG)

I also spent some days in Zwedru and visited refugee camps and spoke to the Superintendent of Grand Gedeh and heard these concerns as well. These concerns of mercenary activities, militia activities, about some such activities linked to some of the refugee camps, have also been reported by the Panel of Experts. What we see as important steps that can be taken for greater security include some measures that have already been agreed between the Government and other actors. One is the deployment at refugee camps of fifteen unarmed LNP that has been agreed, and the facilities are ready for them including in the largest refugee camp. We believe that will make a contribution to strengthening the security of the camps. Second, there is an agreement to have thorough screening of the asylum seekers… the new arrivals to make sure they are refugees and not fighters. The Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) will be undertaking that. I share the view that more can be done to make sure that this [type of] activity is not taking place. We have also seen in recent months that several of the suspected mercenaries have been arrested and charged. So I think we are seeing some progress to address this persistent question whether there are activities against the interest of Côte d’Ivoire taking place in the border region of Liberia.

Q: Buxton Davies (Freelance Journalist )
Quite recently the Liberian Government turned over some suspects and in less than few months there were reports of a jail break lead by men of Ble Goude. I want to know what UNMIL is doing to in following whether there have been re-arrest, maybe these people will resurface in Liberia.

A: Ms. Karin Landgren (SRSG)

I hear the concerns raised in this group, as well, about the border situation. You are correct, a group of suspects were handed over to Côte d’Ivoire; at the moment I am not aware of what has happened around a possible jail break. I am sure this is followed very closely by my colleagues in UNOCI in Côte d’Ivoire. As I mentioned we are going to work together closely to try to have essentially one approach in support of these two Governments of the steps the Governments want to take to strengthen border security. As you probably know in June there was an important meeting in Abidjan… a quadripartite meeting of the two Governments (Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire) and the two missions, UNMIL and UNOCI. This is the type of activity that we will need to see happening … these discussions at higher level about how to make this border more secure not just by security measures, not just by security agencies but also addressing longer term questions about development, food security , reconciliation , employment … the sorts of issues which if not addressed can make people unhappy. The fact of the matter is these border regions are among the farthest from their capitals and there is a tendency around the world for people far from the capital to fell they do not get the same attention. So looking into the availability of services, security, access to justice in these border regions is particularly important.

Q: Mai Azango (Front Page Africa Newspaper)

Let us talk about sexual and gender-based violence. Talking about child rape, abuse and rape, when it comes to sexual exploitation in Liberia, it is a very sticky issue. You find a lot of girls in the streets known as prostitutes. These people go to these various places to get customers and we have been talking to a few of these girls and some of them are 13 – 15 years. But they told us that some of their customers are UNMIL personnel and UNMIL said that after 12:00am no UNMIL personnel should be in the streets. These girls say they go to them that time and spend the night with them with little or nothing. These complaints have been coming to UNMIL. UNMIL would say if you see any UNMIL soldiers in a place that they are not supposed to be, bring the complaint to UNMIL. But if UNMIL is here to monitor situation in Liberia why does UNMIL not monitor herself? Why should Liberians be the one to monitor UNMIL?

Q: Roland Perry (Informer Newspaper)
In my hand is a briefing to the Security Council on the 24th Progress on UNMIL on 11 September 2012. In this report I see the expenditure review of Liberia Security Sector conducted by UNMIL and World Bank concluded that it would take another 6 to 7 years before Liberia can cover these cost independently. In the mean time, donor support will be essential. I would like to know what exactly UNMIL’s role will be in the process of donor support.

Q: Dyrus Zinnah (Liberia Broadcasting System)

Is UNMIL really concerned about wide spread corruption? Since you took over, have you been flipping the pages about corruption in Liberia? A: Ms. Karin Landgren (SRSG) These press conferences are also an education for me because I am learning issues that are uppermost in the minds of Liberians through your questions.

I am so disappointed at what you have said about sexual exploitation and allegations about UNMIL soldiers. Yes, there is a curfew but much more serious are any allegations of UNMIL soldiers in situation of sexual exploitation. That is unacceptable. The UN has a policy of zero tolerance. Implementing it is often difficult. We count on the troop contributing countries to instill a code of conduct and good behavior in their soldiers. We try to do the same here. What I can tell you is that any time we get an allegation of this kind, we investigate. So we have done so, and if specific allegations reach us, we will continue to do so. Every time I address the soldiers, I remind them of this policy and of its importance to UNMIL. This is something that tarnishes the reputation of the UN and it tarnishes that of the troop contributing countries. So we will continue to pay full attention to that. I will certainly do so during my tenure.

I do not have all the details, but I know that there is a task force that is looking at the off limits areas. There are off limits in Monrovia. Those are probably some of the places you are talking about.

I have now met the international community based in Monrovia, the donor community here and we will continue to advocate with them. We are working closely with the PBC (Peace Building Commission) which has a particular role also in advocating for and mobilizing funding for Liberia. Liberia has done remarkable things in donor field, in getting for example, its past debts forgiven and I find a lot of enthusiasm for supporting Liberia. So I think we have to continue to make the case for what Liberia’s needs are. The public expenditure review, I refer to and you refer to, has estimated 6 to 7 years before Liberia can fully take on board its own security cost; 6 to 7 years it a short time and again this is another reflection of Liberia’s extraordinary assets and extraordinary wealth. We have already seen Liberia’s national budget increase exponentially in recent years. So again I take think this is good news and the message from us to donors is; look there is a small gap that you have to help bridge. And as long as Liberia remains stable, as long Liberia continues to build functioning institution, then investors will have the confidence to come here to invest and to help Liberia grow its economy and its jobs and its future. There is a life beyond donors in Liberia making its own money based on your own people and resources. I think this is quite an optimistic picture for the country.

Regarding corruption, this is an issue that has already being raised with me several times and I hear it as a major concern among ordinary Liberians. One interesting example that we are working on with the Government to address corruption is a civilian complaints board for the LNP. This idea was proposed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at a workshop we had in August on transition; where we discuss how to build the capacity of the LNP and the important issue that many people raised about the LNP; how to build trust and confidence in the police. It is not for the police to have [sufficient] numbers, equipment, vehicles; - they have to be trusted by the population. So UNMIL is working with the Ministry of Justice and LNP to develop a concept where civilians all over the country can raise concerns, incidents of misconduct, misbehavior, corruption so that they can then be dealt with by an independent body. We agree with the President that this could go a long way to addressing misconduct and enhancing the professionalism of the LNP.

Yasmina Bouziane (UNMIL Spokesperson)
Thank you very much Madam Karin Landgren. You have been listening to a special press conference by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General here in Liberia; Madam Karin Landgren. Thank you all very much.