The story of UNMIL [Book]: UNMIL field office helps resolve local dispute

16 Apr 2018

The story of UNMIL [Book]: UNMIL field office helps resolve local dispute

UNMIL field offices included civilian, police, military and support personnel all deployed in each of Liberia’s 15 counties. One example of how they worked together was at a riot in Sinoe County and its aftermath in 2015.   On 26 May 2015, the Liberia National Police (LNP) informed the UN Police commander in Sinoe County that a peaceful protest was ongoing at an oil palm plantation in Butaw District. A group of young people argued that they had not been not properly represented in ongoing negotiations with the concession company about community benefits, and they demanded to meet with the company’s chief executive officer. The UNMIL head of the field office and a team of UNMIL military observers went to monitor the situation and help mediate between the parties. They assured the protestors of UNMIL’s impartiality and commitment to help all parties to resolve their grievances peacefully. The team then went to the plantation to meet with the company management and Government officials on how to organize a meeting with the protestors.

Meanwhile, the protest outside the plantation escalated into violence. The protestors overwhelmed the few security officers present and stormed onto the plantation, carrying rocks and machetes. The UNMIL team informed its headquarters, but decided to stay as long as possible. The head of field office, Corinna Vigier, later noted, “While none of us was armed, we strongly felt at that point that we could not just abandon those in danger. Protection of civilians was a key part of UNMIL’s mandate and for me it would have been a betrayal of the mandate if we had just left when the violence started; when it became too dangerous for the remaining managers and Government officials to stay, the UNMIL team helped by evacuating them by car. Once out of immediate danger, the UNMIL team recorded the names of the arrested protestors an advocated for their proper treatment in accordance with human rights standards.

Meanwhile, the Chinese UNMIL Formed Police mobilized and together with other UNMIL civilians helped restore order at the plantation. UNMIL civilian and uniformed personnel also cooperated to rescue one of the company staff members, and brought him to an UNMIL clinic for treatment.

Over the following weeks, UNMIL acted as an impartial advocate for peace and human rights, visiting the prison and communities, and facilitating a dialogue with representatives of all parties to introduce participatory tools for conflict transformation. The results of the workshop formed the basis for further, bilateral talks between the company and the community resulting in a new agreement on what community benefits the company would provide.