March 2014 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 February 2014
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AFRICA

Sierra Leone

Expected Council Action

The Security Council expects a briefing in March on Sierra Leone. Jens Anders Toyberg-Frandzen, Executive Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL), is expected to brief the Council for the last time before the mission’s mandate ends on 31 March. Ambassador Guillermo Rishchynski (Canada), chair of the Sierra Leone configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), is also expected to address the Council.

The Council may adopt a presidential or press statement.

Key Recent Developments

When the Council considered Sierra Leone on 18 September 2013, Council members focused on progress in the drawdown of UNIPSIL and the transition of its tasks to the UN country team. Toyberg-Frandzen reported that the drawdown was progressing according to schedule. He described general stability in Sierra Leone, while noting ongoing challenges (S/PV.7034).

On 26 September 2013, the Special Court for Sierra Leone rejected former Liberian President Charles Taylor’s appeal, which the Council welcomed in a press statement (SC/11133). Taylor was transferred to a prison in the UK, where he will serve a 50-year sentence. The Special Court closed on 31 December, and the Residual Court for Sierra Leone took over on 1 January after its 16 judges were sworn in on 2 December in Freetown.

The public works minister and director of the roads authority were dismissed on 19 October, and on 18 February the energy minister was fired due to criticism of the state of the public infrastructure and recent power outages, sectors which President Ernest Bai Koroma had prioritised in the 2008 peacebuilding strategy, Agenda for Change.

Parliament adopted the Right to Access Information Act on 29 October, which Koroma signed into law several days later, requiring the government to establish a plan for making records publicly available. Conversely, the criminal libel law was used to arrest, charge with sedition and jail on 18 October two journalists of the Independent Observer who criticised Koroma. They were released on 4 November after posting bail of 500 million Leones ($115,000) each. According to Reporters Without Borders, which has expressed concern over the libel law, in total seven journalists have been arrested since October.

The opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and civil society groups condemned constitutional amendments from 19 November that lifted the requirement that the Speaker of Parliament be a high court judge. They claimed that the changes pre-empted the work of the Constitutional Review Committee. Despite the protestations, Parliament elected Sheku Dumbuya of the incumbent All People’s Congress (APC) as the new speaker on 21 January. A member of the Constitutional Review Committee, Dr. Omodele Jones, resigned the next day.

A court ruling on 27 November awarded parliamentary seats to APC candidates in two constituencies in the southeast of the country. The candidates received only 10 percent of the vote in those districts during the 17 November 2012 elections. The decision was made on a legal technicality that disqualified the SLPP candidates. With the ruling, the APC is one seat shy of a two-thirds majority in the Parliament, the vote needed, followed by a referendum, to amend the constitution.

Economically motivated unrest continued. On 10 December police fired on protestors upset about the expansion of palm oil plantations in southern Pujehun province. A government committee was established to investigate landowners’ grievances in the district.

A 19 February report by Human Rights Watch, “Whose Development? Human Rights Abuses in Sierra Leone’s Mining Boom,” documents violations of workers’ and local communities’ rights by African Minerals Limited, the largest employer in Sierra Leone, and the government’s failure to address complaints and enforce its labour laws.

Developments in the Peacebuilding Commission

A PBC assessment mission visited Sierra Leone between 18-22 November, in line with a request in resolution 2097 that the PBC “review its engagement with a view to scaling down its role”. In its report, the assessment mission recommended that the PBC reduce its engagement and be “more reactive” through monitoring developments while maintaining the ability to advocate for resources in specific cases. In March 2015, the PBC should review this new, lighter approach.

Rishchynshki visited Sierra Leone from 25 February to 2 March to discuss the proposal with the government and gain its agreement.

Human Rights-Related Developments

During its 25th session in March, the Human Rights Council will consider the report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, on his mission to Sierra Leone from 30 June to 5 July 2013 (A/HRC/25/58/Add.1). Bielefeldt identified serious challenges including harassment and persecution of persons suspected of “witchcraft” and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation. He called upon religious leaders to speak out publicly against these practices.

Key Issues

The key issue for the Council will be to confirm that the transition of remaining tasks (supporting political dialogue and the constitutional review, security sector reform and human rights) to the UN Country Team or government is on track to be completed by 31 March, under the terms of resolution 2097. In this context, members will be interested to receive an update on the constitutional review, which started on 30 July and is planned to take two years.

An ongoing issue, to be carried over by the UK and UNDP, will be the security sector reform where work is still required in the training and professionalising of the police.

Underlying Problems

Despite UNIPSIL’s end, Sierra Leone will continue to face challenges. Corruption is widespread and there is low public confidence in the government. Tensions between and within political parties is a potential source of instability.

Concerns remain over natural-resource management and the environment, land rights, youth unemployment and, increasingly, drug trafficking and organised crime. Some of these are problems common to peacebuilding. Others are viewed as underlying causes of the civil war.

The interconnectedness of the Manu River Union states (Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire) means that fragility in one country can impact others. Building up border security capability to deal with illicit trafficking and the movement of mercenaries and ex-combatants remains a need.

Options:

The Council could take no action or issue a presidential statement congratulating Sierra Leone and UNIPSIL on the completion of the mission’s work.

Council Dynamics

All members consider that the time is right for the end of UNIPSIL.

During the negotiations on resolution 2097, the UK, the penholder on Sierra Leone, initially proposed that PBC engagement with Sierra Leone end at the same time as UNIPSIL. Some members were more cautious and the recent PBC assessment mission, in which the UK participated, should quell most discussion on this issue. 

UN Documents on Sierra Leone

Security Council Resolution
26 March 2013 S/RES/2097 This resolution renewed UNIPSIL for 12 months.
Security Council Press Statement
27 September 2013 SC/11133 This press statement welcomed the judgement of the Special Court for Sierra Leone’s appeals chamber that upheld the fifty-year jail term of former Liberian President Charles Taylor.
Security Council Meeting Record
18 September 2013 S/PV.7034 The Council was briefed on the UNIPSIL report and by Foreign Minister Samura Kamara of Sierra Leone, who focused on the government’s new poverty reduction strategy launched in July.