March 2012 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 February 2012
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AFRICA

Sierra Leone

Expected Council Action
In March the Council is expected to consider the Secretary-General’s mid-term report on the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL), due mid-March. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe will brief the Council.

The mandate of UNIPSIL expires on 15 September 2012.

Key Recent Developments
On 6 February, the Secretary-General withdrew his Executive Representative for UNIPSIL, Michael von der Schulenburg, following a request by the Sierra Leone government. Schulenburg had been in the post since 2008, first as acting Executive Representative, and then as head of a reconfigured UNIPSIL since January 2009. It appears that the relationship between Schulenburg and President of Sierra Leone Ernest Bai Koroma began to deteriorate in 2010 after Schulenburg advised the government to drop plans for holding what would have been a politically motivated inquest into extrajudicial executions perpetrated in 1992 by the then military regime. (On 31 July 2011, the opposition Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party (SLPP) chose as its presidential candidate retired Brig. Gen. Julius Maada Bio, who might have been ensnared in the inquest had it been held because of his participation in that military regime.)

Schulenburg last briefed the Council on developments in the country on 12 September 2011. He noted that the elections in November 2012 would be the critical test of Sierra Leone’s continuing stability. He reported violent clashes between the ruling party and the opposition, including a stone-throwing attack on Bio on 9 September, which led to widespread violence in parts of the country. Schulenburg argued that a recent public apology by Bio for the crimes of the military regime should be accepted, welcoming the fact that “some of those who have been involved in previously undemocratic governments are now taking part in today’s democratic political life.”

On 14 September, the Council passed resolution 2005, renewing the mandate of UNIPSIL for a year and charging it with providing technical assistance to all relevant stakeholders to play a meaningful role “in achieving peaceful, credible and democratic elections.” The resolution also called on the government to “hold regular, inclusive and constructive party political dialogue on all major national, political, social and economic issues” bearing on “the future peace and development of Sierra Leone.”

Schulenburg’s statement to the Council welcoming Bio’s apology angered the authorities and was followed immediately by media attacks on him in pro-government newspapers and by the incumbent All Peoples’ Congress (APC) party. On 21 September, a member of President Koroma’s delegation to the General Assembly, Mohamed Bangura—head of a newly created political party but who was included in Koroma’s delegation as “Adviser, Ministry of Foreign Affairs”—delivered a letter to the Secretary-General accusing Schulenburg of mentoring and providing financial support to the opposition SLPP. When news of this letter circulated, the government issued a statement on 7 October denying that Bangura had been a member of Koroma’s delegation. But in December, the government formally requested the Secretary-General to replace Schulenburg.

On 14 January, a by-election for a local council seat in Freetown, reputably an APC stronghold, was accompanied by violent clashes between supporters of the APC and the SLPP, in which several people were seriously wounded by personnel of the Operational Services Division (OSD), the armed wing of the national police. The SLPP candidate, Mohamed Kanu-Mansaray, won the election but was arrested and charged with attempted kidnapping a few days later. He pleaded not guilty but was refused bail several times. The case is still ongoing.

The National Elections Commission commenced voter registration on 23 January, which is due to end on 25 March. On 5 February, the SLPP issued a statement claiming that the government was transporting armed ex-combatants from different parts of the country to register in opposition strongholds in order to “provoke violence” during the elections. On 9 February the government issued a counter-statement dismissing the opposition’s claims as “mischievous” and “a deliberate attempt to misinform” the public.

On 30 January and 1 February, the Sierra Leone government held a national conference on development and transformation, which drafted a 50-year plan of economic development. The conference was a government initiative to mark the 50th anniversary of independence and—according to the concept note for it—was meant to fashion “a clear vision and strategy which plans and programmes for the transformation” of Sierra Leone in the next 50 years. (The opposition SLPP boycotted the conference claiming that Koroma had politicised the process and that it had not been fully consulted.)

Developments in the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC)
The chair of the PBC country-specific configuration on Sierra-Leone, Ambassador Guillermo Rishchynski (Canada), visited Sierra Leone from 21 to 31 January. Rishchynski met with Schulenburg and Koroma and also with government ministers, opposition politicians, and civil society activists, discussing the rising political tensions in the country as well as the continuing problem of youth unemployment.

Key Issues
The key issue for the Council is how to prevent Sierra Leone from sliding into violence before, during and after the November elections and to ensure a smooth transition of UNIPSIL to a UN country team in 2013.

A related issue is to ensure a reasonably level playing field during the electoral process, including ensuring opposition access to the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), which was jointly inaugurated by the Secretary-General and Koroma in June 2010.

Underlying Issues
An underlying issue is that the recommendations contained in the 2 April 2009 Joint Communiqué, signed by the APC and the opposition with the UN acting as moral guarantor, have been ignored. The communiqué called for constant dialogue between the leaders of the two main parties, but to date, Koroma and Bio have not spoken since the latter was elected leader of the SLPP. 

A related issue is the release and implementation of the recommendations of the UN-funded commission headed by Justice Emmanuel E.C. Shears-Moses, which investigated political violence in the country in 2009. The commission submitted its report to the government in April 2010, but the report has not been made public, presumably because it held the ruling party culpable for instigating the violence.

Options
The Council could:

  • request frequent (possibly monthly) updates on the situation in Sierra Leone, including human rights reports, in the run-up to the elections, in an effort to take adequate stock of troubling signs that seem to cloud what is generally perceived as a success story;
  • invite more interaction with the chair of the PBC configuration; and
  • initiate an exchange of views on eventual transition of UNIPSIL to a UN country team.

Council Dynamics
Council members view Sierra Leone as a success story, though there are anxieties about the direction of the country as it heads toward elections in November and the withdrawal of the Executive Representative for UNIPSIL does not necessarily bode well. Nevertheless, the Council seems to be unanimous regarding the need for a strong political mandate for UNIPSIL through the elections.  

The UK is the lead country in the Council on Sierra Leone.

UN Documents

Security Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/2005 (14 September 2011) extended the mandate of UNIPSIL until 15 September 2012.
  • S/RES/1941 (29 September 2010) extended the mandate of UNIPSIL until 15 September 2011.
  • S/RES/1688 (16 June 2006) requested the Secretary-General to assist in the transfer of former Liberian President Charles Taylor to The Hague.

Secretary-General’s Reports

  • S/2011/554 (2 September 2011) covers the period from 1 March to 31 August 2011.
  • S/2011/119 (9 March 2011) covers the period from 1 September 2010 to 28 February 2011.

Meeting Records

  • S/PV.6609 (12 September 2011) was the Council’s meeting on UNIPSIL.
  • S/PV.6504 (24 March 2011) was the Council’s meeting on UNIPSIL.

Peacebuilding Commission

  • PBC/4/SLE/3 (28 September 2010) was the review of the outcome of the high-level special session of the PBC on Sierra Leone.

Other Relevant Facts

UNIPSIL Executive Representative of the Secretary-General

Currently Vacant

Size and Composition of Mission

Staff strength (as of 31 March 2011): 34 international civilians, 29 local civilians and 6 UN volunteers

Duration

1 October 2008 to present; mandate expires 15 September 2012

Chair of the Sierra Leone Configuration of the PBC

 Ambassador Guillermo Rishchynski (Canada)

Full forecast