Press Statement by SRSG Karin Landgren upon Return from Security Council Meeting

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SRSG Karin Langren: Good morning.

I returned to Monrovia last week from Security Council meeting on UNMIL, on 20 March.  This meeting came at the midpoint of UNMIL’s current term or mandate which began last September.

The Council had before it a report from the SG dated 18 February, updating it on developments in Liberia and in UNMIL.  I would like to share with you briefly five important points that were discussed in the Council, also in my statement, on 20 March at the meeting of the Security Council.  And then I will take questions.

(1)     Liberia's security situation has remained generally stable, and the situation along Liberia’s borders has also remained relatively calm.  There have been positive developments within the country, across the border with Côte d'Ivoire (I refer to last October's meeting of chiefs and elders, and many others, attended by Presidents Johnson-Sirleaf and Ouattara), and the development of a regional security strategy for the Mano River Union.  These are warmly welcomed by Liberia's partners.  I have spoken to you before about the challenges of mob violence, which has gotten worse, and also SGBV.  There is also the periodic violence related to concessions, and the UN believes the Government can do more to have consultations and information-sharing with all affected communities.  I also reported to the Council on demonstrations and strikes the country has experienced. 

(2)  Many challenges remain on the path to good governance and to reforms that will help this country have a more inclusive character.  It is the view of the UN that these reforms need to be pursued with greater urgency.  Let me say a few words about governance and reforms.

I was pleased to report to the Security Council on efforts to secure greater public accountability, including the work of LACC, the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission;  the work of LEITI, the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and measures taken with regard to irregularities, such as the suspension of forestry Private Use Permits. Liberia cannot afford to have its population believing that corruption allegations go uninvestigated, or that investigations are not followed by consequences. 

It's particularly important that these positive developments are reflected in the natural resources sector, including consultations with affected communities.

In terms of major reforms that are mentioned in UNMIL's mandate – namely, supporting constitutional reform, decentralization and national reconciliation – progress is very slow, and several initiatives are almost entirely dependent on donor funding.  

National Reconciliation:  while the Palava Hut programme was launched by EJS six months ago, there is no concrete progress in implementation.  This was just one of the recommendations of the TRC, as you know, and is contained in the National Reconciliation Roadmap, adopted in Gbarnga in December 2012 and launched last year in June.  The National Reconciliation Road Map so far has been almost exclusively funded by the international community, with the PBF disbursing $11.2 million over 2 years. There needs to be more operational capacity and stronger political will by GoL, including the disbursement of the allocated budgetary funding [[it is only US$500,000, but hasn’t been accessed yet]] if there is to be progress in the next few years. 

This is also true of constitutional review. The timeline adopted by the Constitution Review Committee was to complete civic education and public consultations by the end of March, and to validate proposed amendments to the constitution at a national conference this month.  After that, proposals would be presented to the President, still this month, before being considered by the Legislature, and then, after 12 months, a national referendum.  Time is becoming very tight if Liberians want to see changes to the 1986 constitution within the current timeframe.  The UN strongly encourages the legislature, the executive, and all Liberians to reflect together on reform possibilities.  This is a unique window of opportunity.

(3)  Let me turn to the Security Sector:  in particular, the Police.  As you know, some important steps were agreed at a security sector reform retreat last September.  Including:  to professionalize the police by appointing senior officials from within the ranks, and increasing transparency in tenure and promotion systems.  The LNP and BIN have been working to become more effective institutions.  So it has been frustrating to see the facilities vacated by UNMIL in Foya standing empty for over a year, waiting to become a BIN training center; and to see a new LNP training centre in Harper, inaugurated last September still standing idle.  Over the past few months, the Government has made significant commitments to strengthening the security sector: 

– The Minister of Finance has been personally involved in trying to make it easier for funds related to UNMIL security transition to be disbursed to the police, the immigration service and other agencies.  I am not sure this has had measurable success yet and we look forward to good news.  The police training academy has over a thousand recruits waiting to start training and over 250 people ready to graduate. 

– Second, the President herself has committed to activating more training resources and better use of facilities for training.

– And third, the President has committed to having a better balance in the 2014-15 national budget between investments in infrastructure, and investments in national security.

UNMIL will continue to offer support and to work with the many partners contributing to this sector.

(4)  The first Justice and Security Hub is operational and the court house will be inaugurated soon, currently scheduled for 28 April. Services are starting to be rolled out in Hubs 2 and 3 in Harper and Zwedru.  The Governement of Liberia will maintain the functioning of these hubs and these are recurring costs that will need to be budgeted for.  There are other important actions awaited in the justice sector, also for the public to have confidence that courts work, and work impartially. 

While the courts develop, it is important to work on Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms.  There are trained mediators and [others] in many counties to help people settle their disputes amicably.  I visited one of Liberia's Land Coordination Centres recently, in Harper – there are six of these centres – and heard about long-standing disputes slowly being discussed and settled.  Also, this process is free.  The MoJ has begun nationwide consultations to develop a national ADR policy.

(5) Finally, I reported that UNMIL's drawdown has continued smoothly.  I expect to report to the Security Council on this in greater detail later this year.  

Thank you very much and I think we will now open the floor to questions Mathew.

Mathew Elavanathoduka (OIC-PIO): Thank you SRSG Karin Landgren. Now we can take some questions and please introduce yourself and your institution before asking questions thank you.

Emmanuel Flahn (Microscope Newspaper): Good morning, my name is Emmanuel Flahn and I work for the Microscope Newspaper. I am concerned about the state of security in Liberia. In your report to the UN Security Council Madam SRSG, you said the security situation is stable. But on the hand people have said the security apparatus are doing nothing in the interest of the citizens. How you reconcile the two assertions made?

Joseph Soko Konneh, Jr. (Voice FM 102.7): Good morning, my name is Joseph Soko Konneh, Jr. I am concerned about the challenges that you mentioned Madam SRSG relative to mob violence and sexual gender based violence. What is UNMIL doing about it to help curtail mob violence and SGBV in Liberia?

Fabine Kwiah (Radio Veritas): Good morning Madam SRSG. My question focuses on the Justice and Security Hub that you have mentioned and you said the public needs to have confidence in the justice system. Is it that you are relating directly to Liberians who have been trained by UNMIL since its onset in the country because much has been pumped into the justice and security sector? So I think that needs to be further explained. Another one is that you mentioned about Liberia’s constitution saying that time is tight and that if Liberians want changes we need to go back to the 1986 constitution. Thank you.

SRSG Landgren: Thanks very much for those questions. The first question is about the state of security. UNMIL works with the government to monitor what is happening around the country in terms of security, both in terms of incidence of violence, and I mentioned concessions, I mentioned demonstrations and issues like sexual and gender based violence, where we work to maintain statistics of cases that are reported. And on the one hand, when I say we welcome the news it is that since the last report to the Secretary General, security within the country is generally stable which is to say a lack of major outbreaks of violence. It is not to say that the situation is rosy in terms of these types of violence that I have mentioned. UNMIL is working particularly with different government ministries and also with communities which is very important around gender based violence and how to combat it within communities; and on mob violence, as you know recently there was a launch of a national campaign to stop mob violence. Now some Liberians call it mob justice, but we do not call it mob justice because that is not an acceptable form of justice where people are hunted down sometimes on the basis of rumors alone and hurt or killed by the communities. So as these things continue we are also working closely, and so as many other partners, with the security sector precisely to help build up their capacity and their presence around the country and confidence in them.

I have visited the LNP and BIN all over the country and one of the challenges which UNMIL has raised many times is that you find a vast majority of the LNP in the capital. So there is still not a good spread of police covering the rest of the country. When I visit them in county capitals, I always find that they have inadequate logistics, their cars are mainly broken, they have difficulty getting fuel, they have no communications equipment, they don’t have stationeries and sometimes they don’t have furniture or uniforms and their numbers are usually far below the numbers that are officially suppose to have. And you hear about how little they earn and how difficult it is to be stationed out in some of these more remote locations. So we are advocating strongly for greater support LNP and to BIN. But for that to be effective, these security agencies also need well functioning internal systems. So UNMIL has been getting and sharing with them expertise in how do you manage budgets, how you manage people/human resources, how do you manager vehicles, how do you manager facilities so that they get maintained and do fall apart immediately? And these are some of the systems that need to be strengthened. Also other partners, I want to mention Ghana, has been supporting this by bringing groups of LNP officers for training at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration. So strengthening how these actors themselves manage the resources that they have is a big part in making them be more effective.

SRSG Landgren: Regarding the Constitution, the 1986 Constitution is Liberia’s current Constitution. That is the Constitution that applies right now. But many Liberians have said that it is… have pointed out that it concentrates a lot of power, a lot of decision making in the hands of the Executive. Many Liberians also pointed out that the administration of this country is concentrated in Monrovia. In fact for some of the decentralization self-initiatives that have been discussed to be implemented including the Local Government Act, which is currently under review, there will need to be constitutional changes. So it’s really is a question right now for Liberians. Do you want to see these things changed? Because if you do than the constitution will need to be changed to make that possible. Why is it important right now? Well, right now Liberia has a president who has named this Constitutional Review Committee and is opened to the possibility of reforming the Constitution, reviewing the Constitution. For this to happen, many things have to come together – the president, the legislature, the public in the form of a referendum – get to agree or reject the proposals that are made. So it’s very important in this fairly limited time because these are complex processes. That there will be more of an open debate about do you want changes in your constitution? This is the chance if you do and what kind of changes do you want to see. So that is why we emphasized this moment as a real window of opportunity to make these changes if Liberians want to see them. Thank you.

Mathew Elavanalthoduka: Some more questions

Arthur Douglas (ELBC): Good morning, my name is Arthur Douglas and I report for the state radio, ELBC. My attention is drawn to your comment on the national reconciliation strategy. And you said there is not much done, no credible or tangible program in place for the implementation despite the president’s commitment to the process. What exactly do you mean? You also talked about corruption, calling for more robust approach to corruption. You cited the issue about the Private Used Permits with the Forestry Development Authority. I have understood from your presentation that the UN has been following the issue of corruption. But is the UN also considering or let me just say, what is your assessment of government’s own response to clamping down on corruption considering the president’s assertion on corruption? My final question has to do with your frustration about the idleness of some facilities you turned over to government. In Harper, I was there when donors turned over the police barrack. You also talked about the one in Foya. Have you engaged government to find out why are these facilities still idle? Thank you.

Joseph Soko Konneh, Jr. (Voice FM 102.7): Again I am Joseph Soko Konneh Jr., Voice FM. You talked about the limited number of police officers in Liberia in the midst of UNMIL's drawdown. How is the security system going to be like, especially UNMIL is leaving Liberia gradually and Liberia and  what do you think is going to be UNMIL’s next move in strengthening the security sector? And from my end finally, the issue about – despite it wasn’t mentioned – Ebola, it got some security implications. Liberians are saying government should close its border with Guinea and what is UNMIL doing about it? Thank you.

SRSG Landgren: Thanks very much. You asked about the lack of progress around some reformed initiatives especially around reconciliation and I think what I said was no concrete progress since the last time UNMIL reported on this to the Council. What is happening is that –I’ll mentioned three things that are – have been set in motion. But in all of these three things, we see very slow progress. The first is the palava hut initiative. As I mentioned, this was launched last October in Zwedru. But it is not yet being rolled out. There are some studies being undertaken of how different communities in Liberia themselves manage palavas – palava hut type processes and we would indeed like to see that speedy up. It’s a very long time now since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reported it will be five years I believe this year. And again it is in the hands of Liberians how long do you want to wait for some of these processes to get underway. But to the UN these appear to be important processes to continue the discussion about what happened in the past and how to make sure that this doesn’t befall this country again.

SRSG  Landgren: A second initiative is the national symbols project. If you recalled in July 2012 the national orator of that year, Dr. Elwood Dunn spoke about Liberia’s national symbols and was asked to head a small process to review these symbols. This is not the first time in Liberia’s history that the symbols have been looked at. So, that is moving forward again and we are coming up to two years since that fantastic speech in July 2012. I don’t believe we have seen real progress or recommendations with regards to Liberia’s national symbols.

The third initiative is Liberia’s history project and looking at writing a share history of Liberia to have all of Liberia’s people agreeing on one version of what happened and how this country developed. Now I know that there had been some plans put in place for the writing of that history, but my understanding is, that has been stalled right now for lack of funding. So that is the more complete background to the lack of concrete progress in the past six months.

In terms of clamping down on corruption, there had been significant public commitments made to do this and I mentioned some positive examples. Now the country has a new head of LACC and the country will have a new head of LEITI, these are important institutions to support and audit reports of national institutions remain extremely important. And it is my view that there is interest in being transparent as possible, as public as possible about both investigations into allegations of corruption and the measures taken against people who are accused. So we strongly urged that this continue and strengthened.

There was another mention of the idleness of the facilities in Foya and Harper as I mentioned the president has recently committed to fast-tracking training facilities and so we are hopeful that these institutions would not stand idle much longer and would be used in full to speed up the training of the BIN and the LNP.  Now, more need to be done clearly with the police. Many people have observed that outside the capital, almost the further away you go the harder it is to find police presence in the number that they are suppose to be and effectively equipped with the facility they need in order to work.

UNMIL remains extremely engaged on it, the police need to lift their game, they are committed to doing so and what is important right now is that funding has been allocated in the current budget specifically for UNMIL transition in order words specifically to fill gaps created by UNMIL’s gradual draw down and that is in addition to the regular funding in the budget for the security sector. So the Ministry of Finance has made this commitment to make it easier for the security agencies to get access to those transition funds. And that is USD6 million dollars budget which include some money for hubs two and three as well. So we are waiting to see the results of whether the money in that pipe line is indeed flowing to the LNP in particular.

Let me say few words about Ebola. And the first thing I want to say is that this action to combat the spread of Ebola in Liberia is being headed by the government by Ministry of Health and Social Welfare under Health Minister Dr. Walter Gwenigale. So I am not taking the place of Dr. Gwenigale when I share this information with you. The government has drawn a national response plan, they have launched a national task force and they are taking this epidemic very, very seriously. The latest news we have is that there has been a total of eight suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola infection reported in Liberia. But I want to emphasize suspected or confirmed, there is not confirmed cases it is suspected or confirmed that includes four deaths of the eight, two were confirmed Ebola infection, one of whom died in Lofa County, the other of whom as Dr. Gwenigale who has reported who has been isolated in Margibi County who travelled from Foya. There are two probable and two suspected cases located in Foya.

Yesterday, UNMIL Chief Medical officer accompanied the World Health Organization Country Representative and the government’s chief medical officer on a visit to Foya to access prevention and containment measures that are being taken by the authorities and by partners. The WHO doctor has remained in Foya and is still in Foya to look at those measures and of course the international community is eager to give all possible support to the government of Liberia as it combats the spread of this epidemic. Thank you.

Mathew Elavanathoduka OIC-PIO: Thank SRSG. Any more questions?

Fabine Kwiah (Radio Veritas): Hello again. I have two questions on security. You always mentioned that the security situation is generally stable and calm along the borders. Nonetheless, a year ago, I remember vividly, there was this incidence down the 12th Street in Sinkor where UNMIL personnel from Uganda allegedly murdered a Liberian girl. The incident was reported in the newspapers and on the radio. Now, during a press conference in this same room sometimes last year, I remember Aleem Siddique was here and I asked him about the fate of the case. I wanted to know the outcome of the investigation.  It took him time to answer the question and promised the press that he would return with the investigation outcome. Since then nothing has been said about it.

My next question is that you have mentioned that governance and reform are being challenged, and therefore the need for renewed efforts to address the challenges. You named some institutions like LACC and LEITI. How do you explain that?

Haji Massaley (SKY FM): Good morning. Madam SRSG you mentioned that the security system is stable and calm. You also said that the country has witnessed mob violence and demonstrations as well as strikes under the period in review. How can you be more explicit in reconciling that statement?

SRSG Landgren: Thank you very much. That is a very good question. I want to be absolutely cleared with this group what we mean when we say generally stable overall. I have reported to the Council on the types of incidents or the types of violence that continue to occur; and they continue to occur as you pointed out. There have been strikes and demonstrations as well as continuing mob violence and sexual-based violence. And, there is no one saying that there is no crime in Liberia. But, you also know that UNMIL is not going to stay until there is the day when there is no crime in Liberia. What we are mainly looking at are incidents of the types that could challenge the overall stability of the country. So, when we look at the past six months, that is why we say generally, stable. We are not saying no crime, no violence. Similarly, when we look at the border with Cote d’Ivoire we are saying there is no confirmed cross-border attacks during this period. When I look back to 2012 and the situation prevailing then, we had many suspected or confirmed cross-border attacks across that border. So, this is a real change, and of course the fact that countries in this region have gotten together and committed themselves to regional security mechanisms. It is immensely important when one considers Liberia’s history, how the problems begun, and how problems were instigated across this borders in the past, this is a fantastic state of affairs. These are commitments from all the countries in the Mano River Union. So, that is the context in which we saying that the overall security is generally stable and remains stable.

In terms of more details about accountability, first of all, I will encourage you to speak directly to LEITI and to LACC and get them to tell you the different measures they have taken or planning to take. The head of LACC was confirmed in his new post and, I think, at his confirmation talked about measures he foresaw LACC taking and planning to take. In the case of LACC, they have worked on financial disclosures of officials and have made the information public. In the case of LEITI, there is a post-contract audit process they have been involved in and also they are looking at incomes from the extractive industries. So, these are very important initiatives and I want to encourage these institutions and their progress.

On the specific case you have mentioned, we would like to come back to you. I would only have an update on that case. Thank you. Thank you all very much.

Mathew Elavanathoduka OIC-PIO: Thank you and with this we have come to the end of this press conference. Thank you all for coming and thank you to all the UNMIL Radio listeners. Please note that there are copies of the 27th Progress Report of the Secretary-General to the UN Security Council available for your pick up. Also there is a leaflet on the Ebola-virus which describes the prevention methods and symptoms.   Thank you SRSG.

SRSG Landgren: Thank you.

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