SRSG Speaks to Journalists on Recent Briefing to UN Security Council

3 Oct 2013

SRSG Speaks to Journalists on Recent Briefing to UN Security Council

Aleem Siddique (UNMIL Spokesperson)
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen and a very special warm welcome to all our listeners on UNMIL radio across Liberia who are joining us for this live press conference being held at UNMIL Headquarters in Monrovia . We are very pleased today to be joined by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General Madam Karin Landgren. SRSG Landgren has returned recently from UN Headquarters in New York where she briefed the members of the Security Council on the current situation and progress being made in Liberia with support from UNMIL. I will shortly handover for the SRSG to make some brief remarks, after which we will be happy to take a few brief questions from the journalists gathered here at UNMIL Headquarters. Without further ado may I turn the floor to SRSG Landgren.

Karin Landgren (Special Representative of the Secretary-General)
Thank you very much Aleem , Good morning everyone ,welcome to UNMIL and to this briefing which is as you just heard to talk about the meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Liberia which took place three weeks ago on September 10 . The meeting was very successful and very supportive. Members of the Security Council continued to follow developments in Liberia very very closely. And I will talk about the most significant issues that were discussed in the Security Council. The single most important issue that was discussed was appreciation for the ten years of peace that Liberia has enjoyed. All Security Council members and of course the United Nations are full of praise for Liberia having reached this extraordinary milestone of ten years and historically, the world over ten years is a very special milestone to reach after the end of conflict.

The Security Council commended the enduring commitment of the Liberian people to peace. We recognized how far Liberia has come from the chaos and devastation that was here ten years ago. But we also recognize that ten years is not really long enough to fix the effects of the war.  The second point the council discussed was of course the military drawdown of UNMIL. As you know this military drawdown is a gradual process and three years of it have been planned. So the military drawdown of UNMIL which we have completed the first phase of was discussed in the Council. The first phase finished on June 30th and finished on time and successfully. And in this first phase UNMIL closed eleven locations, and eight of these were handed over to the government. So at this point UNMIL has approximately 5800 military personnel still in Liberia. We have increased the number of UNMIL police and UNMIL has kept the civilian presence in each of Liberia’s county capitals.

The third related point that was discussed was the process of transitioning security responsibilities as we drawdown to the government of Liberia. Throughout this past year of military drawdown, we’ve developed with the government, a very good transition planning process. That planning process has been very strong. But the Liberian Security forces have not yet been able to scale up their presence and their effectiveness in the locations where UNMIL military have left. The UNMIL Drawdown will continue gradually in the coming year, but this means the government will be under greater pressure to increase the Liberian security presence across more of the territory of Liberia.

There are big challenges in getting the Liberian police up to speed, and these challenges have been widely reported and discussed. There is insufficient Liberian police capacity; there is very low mobility once they are out in the counties, they have challenges in communicating with each other.  There are professional management gaps and of course there are limited resources to do the things they need to do. This past year the national police training academy has graduated far fewer police than had been hoped and anticipated. At the same time, as UNMIL has reported, there are worrying high levels of violent crime, particularly sexual and gender based violence and mob violence and both these types of crimes have increased since last year. Now related to this, as the government told the Security Council, access to justice is a fundamental human right. We are all pleased as the Council was pleased that the first justice and security hub opened this year, opened in February in Gbarnga and planning is underway for the next two hubs for Zwedru and Harper , and it’s very important that Liberia’s development continue to lend support to strengthening the justice and security sectors .

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf speaking to the General Assembly last week commended the Security Council for extending the mandate of UNMIL and committed the government fully to meeting all the expectations that were expressed by the Security Council.

Including concrete steps towards attaining an effective and self-sustaining security sector able to tackle violence crime, sexual-based violence and infringements of the rights of the ordinary person.

The fourth issue I want to touch on is discussion in the Council of efforts to strengthen security across this Sub-region. Here, the Security Council commended the effort of the Liberian government. The Mano River Union, with the support of ECOWAS and the United Nations, is preparing a joint security strategy for the four countries of the Mano River Union. This regional approach is something that was hailed by the Security Council as a very important approach. We discussed, of course, security along the border with Cote d’Ivoire which remained calm for the past months. The governments of Liberia and of course Cote d’Ivoire along with UNMIL and UNOCI have strengthened our joint dialogue as well as operational cooperation across the border. Planning is underway for a meeting of traditional chiefs and elders from both sides of the border as well. As you know, the repatriation of refugees from Cote d’Ivoire has gone well this year, with over 12,000 having returned home voluntarily.

The fifth broad area discussed in the Council were the many important reforms underway. Ten years of stability has given Liberia an environment where it is possible to advance with many of these reforms. These include, Constitutional Reform – extremely important and the Council underlined the need for a comprehensive and inclusive Constitutional review process. Decentralized Governance Structures; these will encourage more inclusive and more accountable government, it’s recognized that these will take time to put in place.

National Reconciliation, this is acknowledged as a big peace-building priority. And one where limited progress has been made. As the Chair of the Liberian Peace-building Commission told the Security County, reconciliation needs greater action and it also needs an appropriate level of funding in the National Budget. The Security Council called on Liberia stakeholders to intensify momentum towards achieving greater social cohesion, which I think as an important language to be using.

Land Reform; it is recognized that Liberia has a brand new land rights policy and this will be followed by new laws. That’s an important step forward. As well the transparent management of natural resources has consistently been underlined as an important area of work. The government is aware of the potential risk of new conflicts that could result from any improper handling of either land rights or the management of Liberia’s natural resources. We know that tensions over concessions have continued to lead to violence. Here, the government committed itself to continue to engage fully with all community stakeholders in the decision-making process where there is potential investment in natural resources.

The sixth area of discussion was corruption where as I have said this is a significant handicap to progress and it interferes with well functioning institutions in this country. I drew attention, though to the recent dismissals of several LNP officers and also the President’s dismissal of senior officials. These are important steps and they should send a message to others. Progress remains slow though. We would like to see more, faster progress on this. And the Security Council itself noted that issues related to corruption threaten to undermine stability and the effectiveness of government institutions. The Security Council encouraged the government to accelerate its efforts to combat corruption.

The Legislature, the seventh point, has an important role to play in developing the best policies for Liberia and exercising its oversight role, for example in following up the many audit reports that it has received. And the United Nations has encouraged more regular dialogue between the Executive and Legislature to develop and strengthen the role of the Legislature.

So I want to conclude by emphasizing that Liberia can feel a very well deserved pride in these ten years of peace. But all speakers including the Government agreed that the security situation in Liberia is stable but it’s still fragile. All Liberians and all Liberia’s partners in development will need to concentrate our efforts on support to effective national institutions for security and for the rule of law, as well as the very important national reforms that I have mentioned. The resolution and the statements made in the Council are available on the UNMIL website. I encourage the group here today and     all listeners to consult them for more detailed background information.

Thank you.

Question and Answer

Aleem Siddique (UNMIL Spokesperson)    
Thank you very much SRSG for such a thorough and rich briefing from your recent visit to the Security Council. If you are joining us on UNMIL Radio you are listening to a live press conference with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General Madam Karin Landgren who is briefing the press here in Monrovia on her recent meeting with the Security Council. With that we will open up for questions from journalists gathered here in Monrovia and I know that the first question is from Salu Swarray from the Sun Newspaper.

Q: Salu Swarray (Sun Newspaper)
Madam Landgren your presence at the UN Security Council in New York what key case study did you present on behalf of Liberia considering that Liberia is a fragile country.

Aleem Siddique (UNMIL Spokesperson)
Perhaps we could take one or two questions at a time. So if we could take the next question  from Joseph Konneh  from Klar TV.

Q: Joseph Konneh  (Clar TV)
Good morning. My name is Joseph Konneh from Klar TV. Madam SRSG you talk about increasing violence especially sexual violence and mob violence what do you think is responsible for that? And my second question what is the main reason for your extension up to 2014?

A:  Karin Landgren (Special Representative of the Secretary-General)
Thank you. You asked what was presented at the UN. What was the case study. Every year the Secretary-General presents two reports on Liberia to the Security Council and they are really an overview of the progress Liberia is making. How have things gone over the past year, which areas in Liberia in our view need further development. Of course the emphasis is on justice and security institutions since UNMIL has been providing long and deep support in the security sector. What is the ability of Liberia’s own institutions to take over these responsibilities from UNMIL? That is the focus of the report. And in September when the Council adapts a new mandate it also looks to the recommendations made by the Secretary-General. So is the UN recommending that the mandate be extended, are we recommending that the drawdown continue and what the numbers should be and so on.

The question was asked about the reasons behind the increase in sexual and gender based violence, and I will add to that – mob violence. According to our statistics, according to the statistics UNMIL has, sexual and gender based violence has increased by about 25% since this time last year, mob violence, reports of mob violence have increased by over 40% since this time last year. Now, we can talk about the need to prosecute - to punish the perpetrators, but I think it is very important that these forms of violence be rejected by society. Once it is socially unacceptable to engage in sexual violence, once it is socially unacceptable to go after suspected perpetrators of crime and kill them, then these rates of violence will reduce. Now, for this to happen, I recognize that Liberia’s security and justice institutions have to strengthen. But I would very much like to see a conversation among Liberians about whether it is really okay to do this to people. I think that is what will make the biggest difference to reducing these rates of violent crimes.

Why has UNMIL mandate being extended? The short answer is because the Government and the UN Security Council agreed that this support is still needed for the coming year. We recognized that ten years of peace are extraordinary achievements; we want to see that continue. And as the Government also said to the Council, they want to see the drawdown of UNMIL continue to be gradual and well planned. So Liberia has the time it needs to fill the gaps left by the UNMIL drawdown.

Aleem Siddique (UNMIL Spokesperson)
Thank you very much SRSG. Can we have our next question? I believe it is Varney Kamara from the New DEMOCRAT Newspaper.

Q: Varney Kamara (New Democrat)
Good morning SRSG, my name is Varney Kamara from the New DEMOCRAT. The first question is: There have been calls for President Sirleaf to step down in recent weeks. What is UNMIL’s position on these calls? My second concern is - in the wake of UNMIL’s effort to bring peace to Liberia, you have said consistently that the security situation in the country is stable but yet it is fragile. Could you just throw a light on what is the major contributing factor that is causing our security situation, despite all these international efforts, it still remains fragile - What is the major contributing factor towards that? And how is UNMIL trying to narrow the gap the security gaps that you talked about—because you talked about the ineffectiveness of our police in the places UNMIL has withdrawn. So what are you doing because you are still drawing down your forces and whereas the problems in those areas UNMIL has withdrawn?

Aleem Siddique (UNMIL Spokesperson)
OK thank you Varney. We will take a few more questions if we may- Samuel Diggs from Radio Monrovia.

Samuel Diggs (Radio Monrovia)
Q:    Good morning. My name is Samuel Diggs from Radio Monrovia. My concern has to do with this issue of UNMIL draw down from Liberia. There has been this issue or call from the security sector of Liberia when it comes to budgetary allocations so that they can be empowered to take over from those places that UNMIL is drawing down. So I want to know and many Liberians listening to the SRSG would want to know what has she done, even at New York, what did she put on the table to help the security sector here in order to maintain the peace that UNMIL brought here?

Q:  Necus Andrews (The News Newspaper)
Good morning Madam SRSG. My name is Lincoln Andrews I write for The NEWS. My concern is you mentioned of some progress being made over the years by the Government of Liberia in combating corruption, but you later said there are some problems, because the process is slow. I want to know from the Security Council position what kind of progress do you need or the Liberian government needs to combat corruption in a more vigorous way? Thank you.

A:    Karin Landgren (Special Representative of the Secretary-General)
Thank you very much. You know what UNMIL encourages most strongly of all in this country, is stability – and that means, respect for democratic processes and the strengthening of democratic institutions. So we have no comment on campaigns of one type or another, except to say that the Constitution of Liberia permits freedom of expression.

And it is important that this takes place as the media plays a vital role in this but it has to stay within lawful bounds, within the law.

If we look at contributing factors to instability, the fact that Liberia had a long period of war, it is itself a factor in continuing instability, and it is hard to recover from such a devastating conflict. But if we look at the reality of Liberia, we acknowledged that many institutions remain weak, capacity is weak and the country is physically difficult to cover and this is a big challenge for the police, for the national security bodies.

I have mentioned the challenges faced by the police. They have a small number of vehicles. When these vehicles break down, it is difficult to have them repaired; it is difficult to get them maintained.  Same for their communications equipment, the police themselves in many cases are reluctant to be posted outside of Monrovia so the bulk of the police is here in the capitol. There are challenges even housing them in parts of the country. There is a trust deficit if you ask the public if they trust the police. Many are not sure. This is a trust that has to be earned through effectiveness and good practices on the part of the police. That also takes time to be instilled and become a habit. Now the main responsibility for strengthening security lies with the government of Liberia and this is what they have committed themselves to do also to the Security Council.

The role of partners and also UNMIL is to helping the security sector function effectively. And there are many examples that we could give you, but let me mention one in the transition planning process which as I said is effective, once everyone saw that the state of the roads was a big challenge, you know as UNMIL draws down, as we reduced our locations of the military in the country, we also reduced roads repair to those locations. So once that emerged as a real challenge, the government brought the Ministry of Public Works into these planning meetings so that they could give higher priority to roads in those areas vacated by UNMIL for the police and others to function effectively.

The government of Liberia was represented at the Security Council by the Minister of National Defence, Mr. Brownie Samukai, his statement is also available online and you can see, he fully committed the Government to take action in these areas that we still see challenges. In fact the words of “stable but fragile” are the words of Minister Samukai. We also all agreed that a lot is needed to combat continuing corruption. I think the president in the past had referred to this as ‘public enemy  number one’ and as long as that goes on, the institutions that make up the government, the institutions that Liberians need to rely on and have trust in will not function properly if there is a back door for everything. If there is a shadow way of getting things done in every case, then the main institutions will not function well as they are constantly being undermined. So we are encouraging more transparent processes, there is a budget transparency initiative launched this year, open government is part of the answer so the public can know  as much as possible what is going on. I have also encouraged action of posting Liberia’s laws online so that everyone will know what the law says and for posting concession agreements online, because implementation of concession agreements have been a significant source of tension. Very often communities say they don’t know what have been agreed and feel that they should have been consulted in the process of making these agreements. So greater transparency is important in combating corruption.

Q:     Fabine Kwiah (Radio Veritas)
My question has to do with the security situation in the country, but earlier on you said the police have not been able to step up their presence in areas where UNMIL left and that there are big challenges, the security in the region as you mentioned you are stepping up effort and designing strategy. What kind of strategy are you designing as UNMIL has an extension up to 2014 what kind of strategy are you designing for the whole of West Africa?

Q:     Nathan Charles (ELBC)
Madam SRSG resolution 2066 of 2012 mandated UNMIL to withdraw its military strength from Grand Bassa, Rivercess, Sinoe and Grand Kru, have you adhered to that mandate, and if I can borrow from you, in the midst of this fragile security situation in Liberia.

A:    Karin Landgren (Special Representative of the Secretary General)
The question about what is being done on the regional security front, I want to emphasize on the lead, looking at security from a regional perspective is being taken by the Mano River Union. It has the full support of ECOWAS, it has the full support of the United Nations, but it is these four countries themselves that have recognized from a security perspective, their fates are intertwined. So they are currently working on a regional security strategy, which they expect to adopt this year and clearly a lot of attention will be paid to the shared borders.

As you know, there are many very long shared borders; the Mano River Union has already been setting up border units that are aimed at bringing together people themselves on both sides of the border.

UNMIL for our part has for many years had joint security meetings and patrols across the border with Sierra Leone, across the border with Guinea and across the border with Cote d’Ivoire.

Now it is the border with Cote d’Ivoire that has most of our attention right now and this is also where we are encouraged that there is more active cooperation between the two governments of Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire and the two security sectors on the two sides. There have been joint river patrols and nearer border patrols. So there is much more contact. Now, we also need to keep working on the civilian side, to really angle a spirit of reconciliation in this part of the country. But there is a lot going on and this is what the Security Council was also encouraged to see and encouraged to continue. In terms of security and draw down, what I can say is that although there is the three-year plan at this point up until June 2015, the security situation is under constant review.

So every year, the Security Council has a chance to consider the plan again, to consider the recommendations the UN wants to make and decide whether and how to go ahead. It is the number one priority of the Security Council and of the United Nations not to put Liberia’s security at risk. So the situation is examined very carefully and of course is something we do day-to-day, week-to-week here with the government, look at the state of security and on that basis make our recommendations. So these recommendations are not blindly put in place for three-year period, they’re always subject to review, to reassessment and of course in the coming year we will also be looking at what happens, what should happen after July 2015.

Aleem Siddique (UNMIL Spokesperson)
Thank you SRSG. I think we have time for one or two more questions. Samuel Diggs from Radio Monrovia

Q:     Samuel Diggs (Radio Monrovia)
Okay, my next concern has to do with the maintenance of peace in Liberia, which of course I believe is the paramount concern of UNMIL and then this issue of the call for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to step down. I want to know if whether as head of UNMIL in Liberia this call worrying you. If so, what impact you think it has on the peace in Liberia.

Q:    Samuel Diggs (Radio Monrovia)
My next concern has to do with the issue of corruption. You mentioned that institutions that are fighting corruption should not be undermined and quite recently you listened to senior government officials; the Minister of Justice; the Solicitor General questioning the power of the General Auditing Commission, the GAC saying that the GAC audit report lacked sufficient evidence to prosecute officials who might have been accused of stealing government money. Now these two comments from these senior government officials, do you think that it undermines the fight against corruption in Liberia?

A:    Karin Landgren (Special Representative of the Secretary-General)
Thanks. You know one thing that we have been encouraged by, and you will see this in my report to the Security Council on the 10 of September, is the level of public debate around these issues. That’s so important and the role of the media in that, in encouraging responsible public debate is absolutely vital so I would encourage all of you whether it’s calls for this official or that official to step down, when a minister says this thing or the other please go beyond just reporting that, and analyze what it means for the country, what it means for the fight against corruption what it means for establishing stable institutions. I’m not going to comment on the day to day politics of Liberia, the back and forth that inevitably takes place. But please ask yourselves what is going to contribute to stability?

Now GAC reports very important. And as we have also said, we encourage the legislature to review the audit reports. Let those audit reports go through the process of review. Examine the recommendations that they make, strengthen the institutions. I don’t know whether those audit reports are sufficient to stand as evidence in a court of law but that’s a separate process. If something is being taken to court that’s a separate process. But certainly UNMIL would encourage, where there is seeming evidence, where there are strong signs, strong suggestions that corruption has taken place, those cases should be taken to court. It’s very important, for the credibility of Liberia’s institutions, for people to see that corruption is punished; that there is accountability, that something happens to people who persist in seeking or taking bribes or bypassing the official processes for things.

Aleem Siddique (UNMIL Spokesperson)
Thank you very much. I am afraid that’s all we’ve got time for. If you’re listening to us, you have just been listening to a live press conference at UNMIL headquarters with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Madam Karin Landgren who has been briefing journalists here on her recent report to the UN Security Council in New York. Thank you very much for listening to us and joining us today and good day to you all. Thank you bye-bye.