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7438th Meeting* (PM)

Milestone Expected to Be Reached in Liberia’s Fight against Ebola, Senior Officials Tell Security Council

Speakers also Warn Against Complacency, Stress Continued Need for Support

With Ebola nearly eradicated from Liberia, it was now critical to address factors that contributed to the epidemic’s spread in the country, particularly given the continued drawdown of peacekeepers, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative told the Security Council this afternoon.

“Ebola highlighted Liberia’s underlying fragility,” Karin Landgren, who is also Head of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), said in a briefing that also heard from Olof Skoog of Sweden, Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission and its country-specific configuration on Liberia, as well as the country’s Minister for Justice, Benedict Sannoh.

All three speakers spoke of the enormous milestone expected to be reached on 9 May, when, if no new case had been confirmed by then, the World Health Organization (WHO) was expected to declare Liberia Ebola-free “after almost 14 months spent under the cloud of Ebola”, as Ms. Landgren put it.  At the same time, all three speakers warned against complacency and stressed the continued need for international support for the country.

Ms. Landgren introduced the Secretary-General’s latest bi-annual report on Liberia (document S/2015/275), which welcomed the eradication of the Ebola but said that the epidemic revealed the degree of distrust in the Government and the weakness of institutions in the country.  Liberians were angered, Ms. Landgren added, by the Government’s initial slow response and the rising cost of basic commodities, while the declaration of the state of emergency fuelled fears of misuse of power.

The report noted that, however, in line with the Secretary-General’s recommendations, UNMIL would continue its drawdown authorized through resolution 2215 (2015), reducing military personnel from 4,811 to 3,590 and its police from 1,795 to 1,515 by September 2015.  June 2016 was set as the deadline for the Government to fully assume security responsibilities from the Mission.

In that context, in her briefing, Ms. Landgren welcomed the 6 March endorsement by the Liberian National Security Council of a plan to guide the transition that addressed gaps across the security sector through a “whole-of-Government” approach.  She also welcomed the meeting of benchmarks in the plan.

Following the issuance of the Secretary-General’s report, there had been further progress in building capacity of the national army and the police.  Noting that she had urged the Government to include justice and security in post-Ebola recovery planning, she also acknowledged financial shortfalls in that area.

Reporting on a 16 April riot in Paynesville, near the capital Monrovia, which erupted after a motorcyclist died following a confrontation with police, she said it showed that further work was needed in professionalizing and depoliticizing the police force, while she also described steps taken by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in that direction.  She added that in the interest of reconciliation, army troops had been engaged in community projects.

She said that the Government’s early steps towards the security transition were also part of a “historic reform” in decentralizing service delivery.  An example was the activation of local justice and security hubs.  There were also promising developments in the establishment of frameworks for tackling corruption and providing transparency for the management of extractive industries.

At the same time, she said that the Ebola epidemic showed that societal divisions existed and that reconciliation was a work in progress.  Dialogue targeted to social exclusion and the crimes of the past was needed.  In addition, more work was needed with neighbouring countries to promote regional stability.

She stressed that in all such areas, much would be at stake in 2017, when Liberia’s next presidential election was planned.  In anticipation, she said, the political environment had become increasingly intense.  The international community must consider how to frame its own support for the process and determine the proper peacekeeping presence that would sustain the country’s — and the Mission’s — successes and prevent a reversal.

Mr. Skoog, in his briefing, relayed what he learned from a visit to Liberia in early April 2015 to see how the Peacebuilding Commission could best support its priorities.  He found that there was an urgent need for improvement in all socioeconomic areas, including primary education, social safety nets and employment for youth.  The Ebola crisis had destroyed the livelihoods of many.  Resumption of cross-border trade, return of international flights and economic stimulus would be key in that context.

To restore trust in State institutions, their accountability, legitimacy and capacity must be strengthened through empowering the various independent commissions and other means, he said.  Outstanding grievances from the civil war had to be dealt with through accelerating implementation of the reconciliation road map as the 2017 elections neared.  Inclusion of all, particularly women, was vital to that process.

He stressed the importance of a regional approach to recovery from the Ebola crisis and to cementing stability in West Africa.  Relevant initiatives towards that end deserved greater international support.  The priority for the Commission was to safeguard and strengthen all gains made in the country as UNMIL drew down, with the transition well-coordinated with Ebola recovery efforts.

Mr. Sannoh, finally, affirmed that his country had come a long way since the end of the civil conflict.  He acknowledged and expressed gratitude for the international support that had made that possible, along with the “robust support” of the United Nations that had help rid the country of Ebola.  He concurred with statements made by Ms. Landgren and Mr. Skoog that concerned such progress, the remaining challenges and the need for further international support.

However, he emphasized that continued corruption and impunity as described in the Secretary-General’s report should be properly ascribed to capacity challenges and not to a lack of political will to fight those menaces.  There were a variety of initiatives that were being put in place to confront them, and he also described work being done in support of security sector reform.

On the human rights situation, he pledged that his Government remained committed to fulfilling its obligations under local and international laws.  He said there was no restriction on press freedoms, though media organizations were required to abide by law as well.  Sex and gender-based violence remained a challenge despite measures taken, but criminal justice alone could not address it; sociological and cultural dimensions had to be taken into account as well.

Describing the scope of the security transition plan, he recognized the responsibility of the Government to mobilize the funds required while also emphasizing the need for increased donor support to the security sector.  He looked forward to a continuing partnership with the international community not only in sustaining an Ebola-free region and assisting the security transition but also in support of Government efforts to improve socioeconomic conditions and build trust and confidence among the citizenry.

The meeting opened at 3:07 p.m. and closed at 3:42 p.m.


*     The 7437th Meeting was closed.


For information media. Not an official record.