SRSG May 21 Press Briefing (Near Verbatim Transcript)
Press briefing by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) and Coordinator of United Nations Operations in Liberia, Karin Landgren on the UN Security Council’s recent discussion on Liberia and the resumption of the UNMIL drawdown
Near Verbatim Transcript, Thursday, 21 May 2015 at 9:30am
UNMIL Headquarters, Pan African Plaza Sinkor, Monrovia
Good morning everyone and welcome to UNMIL Headquarters.
On May 5th, I briefed the UN Security Council on the situation in Liberia. When I last briefed the Council on September 9th last year, Liberia was dealing with hundreds of new Ebola cases every week, in an outbreak the Security Council described as a threat to international security.
This time, Liberia was on the verge of being declared Ebola-free, which happened on the 9th of May. This has been an extraordinary turnaround by Liberia in the fight against Ebola. I congratulate all Liberian people on this achievement, and until we are at zero cases in the region we must all remain vigilant.
In my briefing to the Security Council on May 5th, I described Liberia’s success in beating back Ebola, the Government’s plan to assume full responsibility for Liberia’s security by June 30th, 2016, and the resumption of UNMIL’s gradual drawdown.
These are all very encouraging developments. In addition, I referred to the Senatorial elections in December last year, and the subsequent recourse to Liberia’s institutions to pursue the peaceful resolution of electoral disputes. I referred to Liberia’s historic reform, now, in de-concentrating service delivery. I also referred to the resumption of the Quadripartite meetings between the governments of Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire, and the two UN Missions. In short, I was pleased to give the Security Council so much positive news.
The Security Council’s decision to resume the UNMIL drawdown reflects the progress Liberia has made in 12 years of peace. The drawdown resumed on 13 May when 80 soldiers from Toe Town, Grand Gedeh County, withdrew to Tappita, Nimba County, where they were joined by additional soldiers transferred from Pleebo, Maryland County. By September 2015 (this September), the number of UNMIL military personnel will be about 3,400.
The Government’s Security Plan for UNMIL Transition is linked to the UNMIL drawdown. The Security transition plan focuses on Liberia taking over tasks still performed by UNMIL, and it also addresses needs and capacity gaps across the security sector.
I commend Liberia for meeting the security transition plan’s initial benchmarks, including by ratifying the Arms Trade Treaty on April 21st and taking over responsibility for marking and registering arms. UNMIL will continue to work closely with the Liberia National Police, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization, the Armed Forces of Liberia, and the Ministry of Justice to strengthen capacity throughout the transition period.
We anticipate that the Joint Implementation Group for this plan will meet soon to start monitoring progress in transitioning responsibility. The Joint Implementation Group will be chaired by the Minister of Justice and the SRSG.
Among the tasks that have to be handed over from UNMIL to the Government by 30 June 2016 is the destruction of explosive remnants of war that will be transferred to the AFL, security at Liberia’s two largest prisons, which will be the responsibility of LNP [Liberia National Police] and BCR [Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation], and guard duty at several locations. I am confident Liberia will be prepared to take over these tasks.
The success of the security transition plan depends on many things. The police need to be effective in all counties, and that also means having the trust and cooperation of the people they serve. Earlier this week I spoke to the security agencies and superintendents in Rivercess and Grand Bassa Counties. I was told that the LNP in Rivercess are supposed to number 162, but they are 26. They don’t have a single functioning vehicle. They were frank with me, and they were also frustrated.
The Government’s security transition plan foresees historic reform in the deconcentration of service delivery. Strengthening security mechanisms in the counties is vital. The formation of County Security Councils is well underway, and will enhance the relationships between communities and Liberia’s security institutions.
On my recent county visits, I also heard of the spirit and the momentum that is present after Liberia’s successful fight against Ebola. A county youth coordinator told me, “What I liked in this fight against Ebola was our togetherness.” The togetherness and the resilience Liberians showed against Ebola will still be needed for the next set of challenges.
Before I take your questions, I would like to remind everyone that next Friday, 29 May, is the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers. I hope you will join me in recognizing the contributions by Liberia and to Liberia made by peacekeepers over the past 12 years of peace, including those who lost their lives while contributing their service here.
I also note the recent passing of journalist Herbert Johnson and I express my condolences to his family and to the Press Union of Liberia. Thank you. I will now take questions.
Q. Evelyn Kpadeh-Seagbee (Liberia Women Democracy Radio): Good morning Madam SRSG. I would like to know from the UN the overall analysis of the security system in Liberia generally, now that UNMIL is drawing down?
Q. Matthew Nyanplu (FABRIC Radio): Recently, a former UN official and Liberian politician, Winston Tubman called on the UN to halt the troop drawdown because he said by 2017, Liberia will be in a crucial period of transition and he foresaw that if UNMIL were not to be here there would be instability that would re-exert itself. He made specific references to – not necessarily because the security is not trained, but that there would be situations that they would not be prepared to handle if UNMIL were to pull out. In your comment, you said that police needs to be effective in all the counties as a precondition to UNMIL pulling out of the country. Do you think all of this would be achieved by June 2016?
Q. Moses M. Jallah (INSIGHT): Looking at the recent riots that led to the burning down of the police station which was constructed by UNMIL in the Redlight area. It suggests that Liberian people lack confidence in the local security. Now, isn’t UNMIL frightened that there may be many such riots after a complete draw down?
SRSG Landgren: First to Evelyn. The police themselves, LNP, BIN and others have done their own assessment of where they are in their development, and they have assessed themselves as developing. In order words, they know that there are many things that need to be strengthened and improved. I feel struck by how frank and forthright the Liberia security sector is in its self-assessment. They know very well what needs to be addressed. And this is what the government Security Transition Plan actually responds to. So, that plan sets out the changes that are need, the improvements that are needed and benchmarks and timelines for them.
I would say that we have a shared analysis. There are no gaps between what UNMIL sees and what the security sector itself sees as necessary. This is a plan which Liberia has included in its bigger post-Ebola recovery plan and this very important. We know that Ebola had a huge impact on the overall health of the country, including its financial health. So, the post Ebola plan involves restoration of services, growth, and it includes justice and security. Now, the Security Transition plan is estimated at US$104 million up to 2018. We have encouraged the Government and UNMIL is working with the Government to break that down to be more specific about what those costs represent to get donor support for it. What is more important though is the understanding that for Liberia to move forward in growth, in human development, in all sectors, security and justice are vital. They are not just vital because UNMIL is drawing down. They are vital to Liberia’s economy. They are vital to all Liberia’s institutions. People need to have confidence in justice, for example. So, it is a rather long answer to say: this [Security Transition] Plan is the answer to your question.
[Follow-up question unintelligible]
SRSG Landgren: The Plan sets out what needs to be done. The answer to what are the gaps is: here is the plan. The Minister of Justice has spoken to the Legislature about the importance of this plan. It is not just about financing - some of the actions are Legislative. I mentioned the Arms Trade TreatyThe Police Act is also going to be extremely important. I know there is a hope to submit the [Police] Act to the Legislature in its current session. So, this the big answer to where the gaps are. I would say there is broad agreement on where those gaps are.
SRSG Landgren: Of course we have heard calls to halt the drawdown. My appeal to the UN Security Council is to remain very closely engaged in Liberian developments. The Security Council takes decisions only one year at a time. It doesn’t look long into the future when it decides. So, I ask them as they decide on the future of UNMIL to base their decision on developments on the ground in Liberia. Now, I did say that security in the counties needs to be strengthened; I didn’t say as precondition to UNMIL drawdown. But, for Liberia’s own sake, everybody would tell you security in the counties needs to be strengthened, and that is getting underway.
Mob violence is a problem. How to respond quickly to mob violence is always going to be a challenge. You have seen just how quickly that can flare up. I also heard in both Margibi and Grand Bassa [Counties] in particular, references to the motorcyclists, and there is a need to engage closely with the motorcyclists because of the recent events you have alluded to.
Q. Romeo Togba (UNMIL Radio): Madam SRSG it seems that strengthening security mechanisms in the counties should be obviously a vital part of the transition process of an under-strength police in remote places like Rivercess which should be having somewhere around 106 or above police presence, but has about only 26 officers. What does the picture present for UNMIL’s transition and the drawdown process?
Q. Lewis Togba (L-Net Radio): Madam SRSG you stated that security and human development are vital for growth in Liberia at your recent presentation at the United Nations in New York. What is your basic quest and what do you want to see tangibly happen in Liberia that will not make the UN worry after UNMIL shall have left the country?
Q. Fabine Kwiah (Radio Veritas): My concern is about the effectiveness of the Liberia National Police where you talked about trust, in the wake of UNMIL drawdown. During the drawdown, are you going to have several key tasks assigned because you have talked about having trust in the police, so what effectiveness are you going to leave on the ground as you leave the country as it relates to the Liberia National Police in particularly?
SRSG Landgren: We start with Romeo. I have been a very strong advocate for the LNP, BIN and others who are expected to serve in the counties, especially in remote counties. The police need to be present and visible; they need to be well trained; they need to have strong engagement with the communities; community policing is key to how they work. Of course, they need accommodation as well, somewhere to live. They need some incentives to serve in the counties. More than 70 per cent of the LNP are here in Monrovia. And we hear that even if they are deployed in the counties, sometimes they drift back here.
It’s not an easy job to be working out in a remote county and be short of equipment and even transport, so we continue to advocate strongly for the police in that regard. I also underline that security around concessions has been an issue in the past, and link Liberia’s economic growth to the importance of security, we can see that for concessions to operate here they also need a climate where security is assured – and I will say where justice is assured as well. So we will continue that advocacy and also we have worked closely with the LNP in training and mentoring and in strengthening specific capacities, we have given budget and financial experts to LNP for an extended period and so on to strengthen their own systems which need to be made more effective.
On the question of the basic quest around security and human development, let me say first the United Nations is not leaving Liberia. So many of the needs that we talk about – there is a need for inclusive development, there is a need for all Liberians to feel part of the country’s development, there is a need for all Liberians to be able to access better basic services, education, health, water and sanitation and so on – these are not UNMIL’s job. They are the work of many partners, including many other parts of the UN who will stay in Liberia even after UNMIL goes.
On this recent trip just in Cestos City, I met UNICEF; I met the World Health Organization, the United Nations Development Programme, all working on aspects of development, strengthening the health sector. Much of this work will continue to take place for many years; and for many years after UNMIL goes. For UNMIL, the priority is the security and justice institutions, and I would very much like to see the greater [county] presence as I talked about, and greater trust having developed in Liberia’s own National Police and the BIN.
SRSG Landgren: Now Radio VERITAS. Let me just say UNMIL is not leaving the country on June 30th 2016. That is the date on which a number of security tasks have to be completely transferred to Liberia’s own security actors. It is not the date on which UNMIL will leave the country. So we now expect that UNMIL will still have troops, police and civilians in Liberia on the first of July 2016. That is our current expectation. Thank you.
Q. Anthony Jiffan (The ANALYST): Good morning Madam. With all the situation surrounding police not being trusted in the country, do you think Liberia has the kind of security to maintain the peace and stability after the drawdown of UNMIL?
Q. Byron Browne (Power TV): You cannot have total peace in the absence of good justice. Can you please comment on the justice system of Liberia?
Q. Kevin Tydehson (FOCUS): Madam SRSG you mentioned that you visited some counties, including Rivercess and you discovered that there was lack of vehicles and other logistics. Do you have any plan of augmenting the process by providing some logistics for the LNP? And you talked about by June 2016 UNMIL will be drawing dawn but not completely. How many troops will be left on ground to protect the security of the country?
SRSG Landgren: Some of those questions are related, so I’ll answer them together in terms of the security institutions that are here, their capacity to keep the peace, their equipment in terms of logistics. We expect to see steady improvement, and this is what the Security Council is counting on seeing as well. They will assess year by year how it’s going. The current UNMIL mandate as you know is until September 30th this year. For any decisions after September, those decisions have not yet been taken by the Security Council about UNMIL drawdown. We are expecting in the UN Security Council in September the discussion of what happens in the next year. They will decide the pace of drawdown; they will decide how many troops, how many police would still be here after June 30th 2016. So in September we will know the answer to your question.
Partners have provided and funded many vehicles, many motorcycles so on. Where there needs to be greater attention is in how to manage and maintain those vehicles: fleet management, proper mechanical support. LNP is expected to send its vehicles back to Monrovia to be maintained. Just imagine the cost of that in fuel and wear and tear if your vehicle is in Cestos City or if your vehicle is in Fish Town, you have to drive it to Monrovia to be serviced, so decentralizing both the servicing of these vehicles, and monitoring what happens to the cars and motorcycles is going to critical. Partners are not going to want to simply provide new cars, new motorcycles, without the systems put in place to manage the existing fleet.
Of course we recognize that Liberia’s roads are harsh on everyone’s vehicles. But there need to be stronger facilities for keeping cars on the road, keeping motorcycles on the road.
An important development in the justice system has been decentralizing justice: you’ve all heard about the justice and security hubs. The hub in Gbarnga is up and running, and has been for a couple of years. Now hubs have started to function in Harper and in Zwedru. This is a crucial development and the focus now is more on providing services out of these hubs, including justice services – not on building buildings, which was a lot of the focus during the first hub in Gbarnga. So here too UNMIL and other partners are working closely with the Ministry of Justice and with the judiciary to see how we can support those gaps and their needs.
Q. Daniel Nyakonah (DW): Madam SRSG your statistics from Rivercess matching with your role in supporting the rebuilding of the security sector over a decade now, what was the target in numerical strength for the Liberia National Police that we have not met if there was any number set before UNMIL’s departure? And considering the history of the police force performance, are you impressed with the last incident, considering the uproar with the motorcyclist, the student demonstration years back and you continue to name it, continue to name the handling of riots how it ended up being brutal. And then your partner, the Government of Liberia, their role in meeting the set of reform targets to get functioning the security sector in Liberia before this drawdown if it came into force; where they a good partner ? How do you grade the overall relationship, has it has been good or is it a failure considering the Rivercess statistics? Thank you.
Q. Haji Masalay (SKY TV): Good morning Madam SRSG. We just witnessed a little demonstration by the Muslims against the 24th Proposition calling for Liberia to be declared a Christian nation. They have said that if that happens, it will meet a stiff resistance from them. My question is, is there a plan B for UNMIL if there is any unrest in the country?
Q. Alvin Worzi (Daily OBSERVER): SRSG, I would like to know your mission in the rural counties whether it was to assess the security situation or the impact of Ebola in the life of our people.
SRSG Landgren: I rate the partnership between UNMIL and the security agencies very highly, and also the partnership between UNMIL and the Government. In fact, I would say all our partnerships in this country, - with civil society organizations, with the media, I rate very highly. I find in all our Liberian counterparts and contacts, real openness and frankness in describing the challenges this country faces. No one is pretending, in your questions also, no one is pretending these challenges are not there and that is the first step towards addressing them, and addressing them together, and I have valued that very much during my time here.
It’s many years now that UNMIL has not been the first line of response to security incidents. The LNP have been the first line responders for several years, and we have only to look at the difference in response from say, November 2011, the incident that was referred to, and last year’s incident in Yekepa, to see that there is a qualitative difference in the response of the security sector. Now what we are doing with the LNP is, every time there is an incident, a significant incident and response, we review it together. We discuss what went right, what could have been better and again let me emphasis there is openness to discussing how incidents were managed and I see real changes in the responses of the security sector, which is also a tribute, I think, to good partnership and honest dialogue.
I want to encourage all Liberians to focus on Liberian unity and on expressions of unity and not division. If we look at what made Liberian communities successful against Ebola it was unity of action and not divisions, and this is a lesson I hope that everyone now has imprinted after the departure of Ebola.
As long as UNMIL is present here, if we are called on and capable of supporting the Government’s response to any violent incident we will do so. I was in Zorzor recently, as well, and met a large cross section of the community. We discussed the incident in Zorzor a couple of months back and I was struck by how many parts of society had responded to that incident. It was very impressive. UNMIL responded as well, and the police from the Justice and Security hub in Gbarnga also responded to Zorzor. I was heartened by that as an example of response.
I am in the counties as a matter of routine. I don’t go to the counties specifically to check on security or on Ebola response. I go to the counties, in part to get news and firsthand impressions from outside Monrovia. As we often hear Monrovia is not all of Liberia. There’s a lot to be learned from the counties. And also because UNMIL continues to have a presence in the counties. Now we will be closing our field office in Cestos City next month and consolidating in Buchanan. Our office in Buchanan will cover Rivercess as well. This is because as we draw down militarily, we will also make some civilian cuts, so we are stretching further, but as I told the Superintendent and the administration and civil society in Cestos City they should still expect to see us regularly. We will still be covering Rivercess and paying close attention.
Thank you all.