20 March 2006
Addressing Security Council, President of Liberia Expresses Determination to Confront Painful Past to Enable Nation to Move Forward
Council Members Voice Support for Liberia's Efforts to Deal with Complex Challenges Facing Country
NEW YORK, 17 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following a conflict that had touched virtually every family and every individual in the land, Liberia must confront the legacy of the past, so that the nation could go forward in the future, the country's newly-elected President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, said in an address to the Security Council this morning.
As the Council considered the situation in Liberia, she said the country was determined to address its painful past, including the question of impunity. For that reason, it had established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as mandated by the Accra Peace Agreement. An issue of major concern to Liberians, as well as the West African subregion, was the case of former President Charles Taylor, who was presently exiled in Nigeria. She had asked that country's President, Olusegun Obasanjo, to consult with colleagues in the subregion regarding the resolution of that issue, in conformity with the requirements of the United Nations and the international community. Any proceedings on that question must be undertaken in an environment that protected fundamental human rights, she added.
She emphasized the imperative of providing tangible assurances to the Liberian people that democracy would bring change for the better. They must see early improvements in health and education, as well as economic opportunity, starting with jobs. Liberia would need the support of the United Nations and the international community to make the changes necessary to achieve those important national goals. Liberia, for its part, was committed to continued collaboration with its international partners in implementing the Governance and Economic Management Assistance Programme. At the same time, a capacity-building programme must be implemented to enhance Liberian ownership of that Programme, and help to transfer critical skills to Liberians, so as to strengthen national capacity on a long-term basis.
At the moment, the Government was putting in place mechanisms that would enhance transparency in governance, consistent with the requirements for the lifting of timber and diamond sanctions, she said, adding that she had, as a first measure, rendered forestry concessions null and void, as recommended by the Forest Concessions Review Committee. Also, the Government was meeting most requirements for implementing the Kimberly Process, and that would, hopefully, lead to an early lifting of the ban on diamond exports.
New measures had been enacted to enhance national revenue flows, so that Liberia could depend more on itself in the national reconstruction and development process, she said. In addition, the Government had extended the life of the Governance Reform Commission, expanding its mandate to include spearheading the formulation of a vigorous anti-corruption action plan. It would also lead in the implementation of a code of conduct, governing the behaviour of officials in the three branches of Government. She had already mandated that all ministers must make a public declaration of personal assets.
In rising to all those challenges, Liberia would continue to count on the unstinting assistance of the United Nations and the international community, she said. It was still a fragile State, whose armed forces were being reconstituted. The restructuring of the police service was not yet complete, and in view of those realities, the Council should maintain its support for the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). Liberia also sought the urgent contribution of donor countries and organizations for the country's recovery and development agenda, including debt relief. Many countries had already contributed significantly, especially in the areas of humanitarian aid and security sector reform.
Council President César Mayoral (Argentina), speaking in his national capacity, commended the achievements of President Johnson-Sirleaf and her Government over the past two months in combating corruption and launching the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate war crimes and human rights abuses. The path towards national unity and reconciliation should not mean sacrificing justice or allowing impunity, as victims of the great human rights violations that had taken place in Liberia over so many years deserved justice. Notwithstanding the many challenges she faced, the President could rely on the support of the Council, as well as that of the Liberian people and Africa as a whole.
Ghana's representative, noting that Liberia was starting from scratch on many fronts, said that, while its Government and people bore the primary responsibility for reconstruction and development, the magnitude and complexity of the challenges facing the country called for the continued support and cooperation of the international community and the United Nations system as a whole, especially during the present critical period of transition from war to peace. For its part, Ghana would continue to use its Security Council tenure, as well as its membership in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union, to support the implementation and attainment of the President's laudable vision.
Other speakers this morning included the representatives of Congo, United Republic of Tanzania, United States, United Kingdom, China, Denmark, Japan, Slovakia, France, Peru, Russian Federation, Qatar and Greece.
The meeting began at 10:15 a.m. and ended at 11:25 a.m.
The Security Council met today to consider the situation in Liberia and to hear a statement by that country's President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
Statement by President of Liberia
ELLEN JOHNSON-SIRLEAF, President of Liberia, describing her presence as recognition of the critical role played by the United Nations in restoring her country to its rightful place in the comity of peaceful nations, paid solemn tribute to the Organization and expressed her deepest gratitude to the families of the peacekeepers who had made the ultimate sacrifice on Liberia's behalf.
In providing support, through its resolutions and statements, during the Liberian crisis, and in defining the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), the Security Council had earned itself a laudable place in the country's history, she said. The activities of the United Nations in Liberia over the years had endeared the Organization to Liberians. The deepest appreciation was also due for the international community, beginning with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the European Union and the European Commission, as well as Liberia's traditional friends, such as the United States and countries that were providing troops and police for the smooth running of UNMIL.
She said that her inauguration on 16 January as the democratically elected President of Liberia had opened up many possibilities, which portended a brighter chapter in the country's history. However, Liberians realized that formidable challenges lay ahead as the country set about consolidating its hard-won peace. With the assistance of the United Nations and other partners, Liberia was determined to complete the reintegration of its war-affected refugees, internally displaced persons and ex-combatants, as well as to begin to address the most basic needs of Liberians.
In order to meet those challenges, she said, Liberia had elaborated a phased plan of action that defined the immediate priorities for the first 150 days of her administration, as a prelude to a national strategy that would take the country forward over the medium term. Liberia's strategy for peacebuilding was constructed on four core pillars, focusing on security, the rule of law and governance, economic revitalization and basic services and infrastructure. To spearhead and coordinate that effort, she had established the Liberia Reconstruction and Development Committee, which she would lead personally. Its major partners, including the United Nations, would be fully involved in that body's workings.
She said it was imperative to provide tangible assurances to the people of Liberia that democracy would bring change for the better. They must see early improvements in health, education and economic opportunity, starting with jobs. She would need the support of the United Nations and the international community to make the changes necessary to achieve those important national goals. Liberia, for its part, committed itself to continued collaboration with its international partners in the implementation of the Governance and Economic Management Assistance Programme. At the same time, she intended to ensure the implementation of a capacity-building programme that would enhance Liberian ownership of the Programme, as well as help to transfer critical skills to Liberians, to strengthen national capacity on a long-term basis.
At the moment, the Government was putting in place, mechanisms that would enhance transparency in governance, consistent with the requirements for the lifting of timber and diamond sanctions, she said. As a first measure, she had rendered null and void forestry concessions, as recommended by the Forest Concessions Review Committee. Most of the requirements for implementing the Kimberly Process were being met by the Government, and she hoped that would lead to an early lifting of the ban on diamond export. New measures had been enacted to enhance national revenue flows, so that Liberia could depend more on itself in the process of national reconstruction and development.
The Government, she continued, had also extended the life of the Governance Reform Commission and expanded its mandate to, among other things, spearhead the formulation of a vigorous anti-corruption action plan, as well as to lead in the implementation of a code of conduct governing the behaviour of officials of the three branches of Government. She had already mandated that all ministers must make a public declaration of personal assets.
She was aware that Liberia as a nation must confront the legacy of the past, to enable it to go forward in the future, she said. The conflict touched virtually every family and every individual in the land. Liberia was determined to address issues from its painful past, including the question of impunity, as well as the imperatives of national reconciliation, so that the country could move ahead. For that reason, it had established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as mandated by the Accra Peace Agreement. It had also reconstituted its Supreme Court to start the long-needed reform of the judiciary branch of the Government.
An issue of major concern to Liberia's people and the nations of the subregion, she stated, had to do with the case of former President Charles Taylor, who was presently in exile in Nigeria. She had asked the President of Nigeria to consult with colleagues in the subregion and the international community on the resolution of that issue, in conformity with the requirements of the United Nations and the international community. She had also asked that any proceedings be undertaken in an environment that protected fundamental human rights.
In rising to all those challenges, she would continue to count on the unstinting assistance of the United Nations and the international community. Liberia was still a fragile State. Its armed forces were being reconstituted, and the restructuring of the police service was not yet completed. In view of those realities, she urged the Council to maintain its support for the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). "We must consolidate the gains achieved during the transition of the last two years, so that the enormous investment made by the international community in the peace and stability of Liberia and the region is not put at risk."
She also sought the urgent contribution of donor countries and organizations for Liberia's recovery and development agenda, including debt relief. Many countries had already contributed significantly, especially in the areas of humanitarian aid and security sector reform. "If we are to achieve the sustainable development of Liberia that will guarantee continued peace and stability, it is important that we accelerate the transition from humanitarian to development assistance, so that we can tackle the fundamental problem of reducing poverty," she concluded.
NANA EFFAH-APENTENG (Ghana) said Liberia had come a long way in the quest for peace, and its people must be commended for their resolve in staying the course. That resolve had been demonstrated clearly in the successful completion of the two-year transition process, as set out under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement drawn up in Accra. In the new climate of hope, expectations were high, not least among the most vulnerable segments of the population, who continued to bear the brunt of the acute humanitarian and socio-economic crisis of a war-shattered economy.
Liberia was starting from scratch on many fronts, he said. The country's security situation remained fragile, not to mention the other serious challenges, particularly the urgent need for consolidation of State authority and the firm establishment of the rule of law and good governance throughout the country. While recognizing that Liberia's Government and people bore the primary responsibility for reconstruction and development, the magnitude and complexity of the challenge facing Liberia called for the continued support and cooperation of the international community and the United Nations system as a whole, especially during the present critical period of transition from war to peace. That would enable the leaders to build on the gains made so far, and to stimulate the rapid economic growth that was vital for sound nation building.
Stressing that UNMIL was expected to contribute immensely towards that end, and its continued presence in the country was necessary, at least for the foreseeable future, he said that, as Africa's first female Head of State, history had thrust upon the President, the additional burden of being a trailblazer for Africa's numerous women and girls in their quest for empowerment through active and meaningful participation in national politics, including leadership roles. Ghana would continue to use its tenure in the Security Council, as well as its membership of ECOWAS and the African Union, to support the implementation and attainment of the President's laudable vision.
PASCAL GAYAMA (Congo) said that the Council today had the privilege of honouring the first woman democratically elected as President in Africa, which represented a living expression of the influence of African women on the continent's societies. The success of the electoral process in Liberia was primarily due to the people of the country. The new President was elected for her merits and for the hopes that her political agenda had. The President was a competent individual who had held senior level posts, both in her country and in several international institutions, such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank. She had also known the pains of war and exile. She was elected, not because she was a woman, but for her political commitment. He was convinced that her great experience and the high esteem in which she was held, would help her carry out her mission to bring Liberia to sustainable peace and stability.
He said events experienced by Liberia in recent years had exposed the problems confronted by developing countries, particularly African countries, in achieving peace and reducing poverty. Solutions could only come from cooperation, dialogue, a renunciation of any use of violence, and without being overtaken by "partisan passions". He welcomed the will of the President to reach out to her opponents, to work with them to promote the national reconciliation that was vital to the development and stability of Liberia. He supported the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which would contribute to staunching the wounds of Liberians and building national unity. To allow the Government to take up the various challenges confronting it, such as restructuring the security sector and consolidating the rule of law, he appealed to the international community for greater long-term assistance to the Government, including maintaining UNMIL.
AUGUSTINE MAHIGA (United Republic of Tanzania) said that the first and foremost of the major challenges facing Liberia, was to lay a stable foundation for a new Liberia, emerging from civil wars, anarchy and suffering, which affected every family. A firm and stable foundation would be built by addressing a number of priorities, including working towards national reconciliation; strengthening security, administrative and judicial institutions; restoring law and order; creating an effective programme for the integration and rehabilitation of ex-combatants; fighting impunity; and rebuilding mutual trust and national esteem among the Liberian people.
Expressing strong support for President Johnson-Sirleaf's commitment to promote national reconciliation, he welcomed the inauguration of Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, noting that it would provide an important forum for establishing a record of past abuses and determining how to deal with them. Over the years of civil conflict, Liberia had produced one of the highest ratios of refugees and internally displaced persons in Africa. Their return ought to be integral to reconstruction and reconciliation strategies. The international community must remain focused and assist Liberia in its priority areas of political stabilization, economic and social reconstruction, as well as good governance.
JOHN BOLTON (United States) said that, for some years, the United States and the international community had paid close attention to the challenges of restoring peace in Liberia. Events there had been monitored with concern and apprehension, as well as with hope that Liberia would prove to be model of a country beset with problems that could recover. He was encouraged that Liberia was on the path to recovery and reform. Liberia could feel confident that the international community would be there to help. The United States pledged to support the country's reconstruction.
He said the elections last fall would be marked as a critical milestone on the path to recovery. In the short time since her election, he had been impressed by the President's courage and determination in addressing the country's challenges, such as economic and civil service reforms. It had been her commitment to create a better future that had inspired members of the United States Congress to give her a standing ovation when she addressed them, just a few days ago. He encouraged the President to continue with the forward momentum of recent months.
He also commended her commitment to reform the diamond and timber sectors, and looked forward to the day when the country fulfilled the provisions for the lifting of sanctions. He applauded her adoption of the executive order cancelling the existing forest concessions, and establishing the Forest Reform Authority. The United States was encouraged about reports that she was discussing with Nigeria, the issue of Charles Taylor, who faced multiple charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and welcomed ongoing efforts to bring him to justice.
EMYR JONES PARRY (United Kingdom), commending the President on her election, noted that it was fitting, in light of the fact that Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) called for a greater role for women in conflict resolution and peacebuilding. The Security Council mission that had visited Liberia in June 2003 needed no reminder of the enormous task the President faced in rebuilding the country. What Liberia required today was the support, not only of the Security Council, but of the entire United Nations system. The Organization stood four-square with Liberia, the country deserved it, Africa and the West African subregion needed it, and the United Nations must provide it.
He said that President Johnson-Sirleaf's words regarding the Kimberley Process were key to the lifting of the sanctions imposed on Liberia. She had shown particular courage in her approach to President Obasanjo of Nigeria regarding the question of former president Taylor. The United Kingdom was of the strong view that he should be facing the charges against him in the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Hopefully, the regional leaders would rally to what the President was trying to do in attempting to end impunity. Other difficult tasks included reintegration and rehabilitation, as well as the training of the Liberian national police. UNMIL could not cut and run, but must help shoulder those challenges before the national security forces could take them up. The Mission must also take account of the regional aspect, in order to avoid the transfer of problems from one country to another in the subregion.
WANG GUANGYA (China) said that the new administration in Liberia had undertaken new reforms in all areas for national recovery and rehabilitation, and had achieved positive progress. That was the victory of the Liberian people and the United Nations. As a friend of Liberia, China was happy for that success and believed that, under the President's leadership, all parties would unite to achieve the development of the country, at an early date. He appreciated the efforts of the United Nations, particularly UNMIL. The United Nations and the international community should continue to assist the new administration in its efforts for national reconstruction. China would always support efforts in that regard.
ELLEN MARGRETHE LØJ (Denmark) said UNMIL must continue its robust presence in Liberia, as the Government strove to tackle the many challenges confronting it, among them, securing reforms, ensuring the restoration of peace and justice, maintaining the fight against corruption and the cancellation of forestry concessions.
She said Denmark welcomed the President's determination to seek the termination of the Council's sanctions against her country. If the current reform momentum was maintained, those goals should be within reach shortly. In addition, while the President's decision to tackle the issue of former president Taylor had been a difficult one, it was also courageous and timely.
KENZO OSHIMA (Japan) said that he trusted, despite the many and difficult challenges Liberia faced in the aftermath of the decade-long civil war, that the Government and people of Liberia would be united under the President, would make every effort to consolidate the peace that had been achieved and move steadfastly towards its nation-rebuilding. To support that effort, the international community must respond, not only through goodwill, but also by mobilizing substantial support and assistance to Liberia. For its part, the Council would have to address such matters as the future activities of UNMIL, the lifting of sanctions and the issue of impunity, in close consultations with the new Government.
Japan would be pleased to join in such accelerated international cooperation for Liberia, as it embarked on a new journey, he stated. It would be working in partnership with the Government and people of Liberia for community-based development and reintegration of child soldiers, against the proliferation of small arms, and for other reconstruction and development projects. He hoped that friendly relations between Japan and Liberia would be strengthened through close dialogue and cooperation with the President, the Government and people of Liberia.
PETER BURIAN (Slovakia) said Liberia's progress during the previous months had been remarkable. The country that was perceived as one of the most fragile and vulnerable, just a few months ago, was today praised as an example of a successful transition. However, democratic elections were just the first step, though extremely important. To make positive developments sustainable, further decisions to strengthen democratic institutions and good governance were needed. He had been impressed by the President's courage and resolve during the first few weeks of her Presidency.
Ending impunity was a major challenge in all conflicts, he said. Surrendering Charles Taylor to the Special Court would be a major step for Liberia on its way to lasting peace and national reconciliation. In that regard, he welcomed the announcement of the beginning of discussions between Liberia and Nigeria to bring the issue of Charles Taylor to a timely resolution. He expressed Slovakia's full support for Liberia on its path towards stability, security and prosperity. He believed Liberia would continue to be a, much needed, good example in the extremely volatile region of West Africa.
JEAN-MARC DE LA SABLIÈRE (France) said the new President epitomized the correct spirit, as she was the first woman elected in Africa, and it was done in a democratic way. Her election demonstrated that crises on the continent, even when they achieved great intensity, were not fatal. An African State could emerge from war, when its leaders had a sense of purpose and when its international partners assumed their responsibilities.
Her determination and pragmatism were the best guarantors for the future of Liberia, he said. The job was immense, and included restoring the nation, delivering basic services, consolidating the rule of law and fighting impunity. He was pleased with discussions with Nigeria to send Charles Taylor to the Special Court in Sierra Leone. He also noted the fragile situation in her region, particularly in Côte d'Ivoire. The stability of the region should be a constant concern. She could count on the support of France and the Security Council in her promising efforts. Her success would be the success of the people of Liberia.
OSWALDO DE RIVERO (Peru) said that Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf's election to the presidency was a manifestation of what could be achieved when the international community worked together. Her democratic election was a shining example, not only for Liberia, but also for the whole of Africa and the entire international community.
He said that the successful election should be just one stage towards achieving the goals before the President, which included restoring the rule of law, reconstruction and economic development. Sanctions must be lifted, debt forgiven and foreign investment attracted, in order to boost trade. Peru supported the proposal to extend UNMIL's mandate until 31 March, without prejudice to appraising further extensions as circumstances might warrant.
ANDREY DENISOV (Russian Federation) said the Government of National Unity had been able to achieve significant success in strengthening unity and overcoming the consequences of the lengthy conflict. But, much needed to be done to ensure the irreversibility of what had been achieved during the peace process. Without effective assistance by the international community and the strong political support of the Council, resolving outstanding issues would be very complex. He expressed his delegation's support for the efforts of the new Government and for the President. He hoped Liberia, in the near future, would return to normal life, as it embarked on the path of sustainable development and prosperity.
NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER (Qatar) saluted the presence in the Council of Africa's first elected woman President, who had won office through fair and transparent elections.
Describing the President as a living example of women's capacity for conflict resolution and peacebuilding, he said the people of Liberia had suffered excessively in the recent past, and called upon the international community to support the country in its reconstruction efforts, as well as those aimed at ending sanctions. UNMIL's extended presence in Liberia would be of benefit, not only to that country, but also to the West African subregion as a whole.
ADAMANTIOS VASSILAKIS (Greece) said the recent elections had signalled a successful completion of the transition process in Liberia. The determination of the President to promote national reconciliation and sustainable development, as well as her qualifications, guaranteed the success of her efforts. He commended the progress made in the implementation of the Governance and Economic Management Assistance Programme. He also welcomed the commitment of Liberia and Nigeria to resolve the issue of Charles Taylor, and his transfer to the Special Court in Sierra Leone. In addition, he welcomed the inauguration of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, through whose work justice would be served.
He said the international community would stand by Liberia and provide all necessary support in that regard, and Greece would do its share. Liberia's reconstruction was one of the first issues the new Peacebuilding Commission should deal with. He wished the President success in her difficult mission.
Council President CÉSAR MAYORAL (Argentina), speaking in his national capacity, said that, as the first woman Head of State from Africa to address the Security Council, Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf and her Government, over the past two months, could claim achievements in combating corruption and launching the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate war crimes and human rights abuses. Argentina supported the maintenance of UNMIL in the country, as a precaution until circumstances warranted a change in that situation.
Emphasizing that the path towards national unity and reconciliation should not mean sacrificing justice or allowing impunity, he said that the victims of the great human rights violations that had taken place in Liberia over so many years, deserved justice. The Council welcomed the talks that President Johnson-Sirleaf was holding with her Nigerian counterpart with regard to former president Taylor. Notwithstanding the many challenges faced, including national reconciliation, the President could rely on the Council. However, she could rely first and foremost on the Liberian people, as well as those of Africa as a whole.
Ms. JOHNSON-SIRLEAF took the floor again to express her gratitude, on behalf of the Liberian people, for the support received from members of the Council and others, especially her African brothers and sisters, to help make the transition from war to peace. She thanked all countries that had provided peacekeeping troops to help her country reach the current stage of progress. She also thanked those who supported Liberia's development effort so it could embark on the process of change and transformation. In addition, she was grateful for all the expressions of support directed toward her this morning. She pledged, on behalf of the Liberian people, that she would continue to take measures to pursue peace, stability and development, not only in Liberia, but also in the subregion and in Africa.
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