Council Visiting Mission to Africa: Sierra Leone
FREETOWN: Council members arrived in Sierra Leone, the final leg of their visiting mission to West Africa, on Wednesday morning (23 May). The UK and South Africa were the co-leads on this leg. Council members had just one day in Freetown before heading back to New York on a late night flight. On this leg Council members were hoping to reaffirm support for peace consolidation, see for themselves progress being made by the peacebuilding agenda and emphasise the importance of ensuring that the 17 November elections are peaceful, free and fair.
The first meeting was with the Executive Representative of the Secretary-General (ERSG) and Resident Coordinator of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL), Jens Anders Toyberg-Frandzen, the UNIPSIL and the UN teams. (This was the first opportunity Council members have had to meet Toyberg-Frandzen as he took up his position only last week.) It seems that Council members were given a general overview of the political situation with the November elections being a key focus. (Resolution 2005 adopted on 14 September 2011 renewed UNIPSIL and charged it with providing technical assistance to all relevant stakeholders who want to play a role “in achieving peaceful, credible and democratic elections”.)
At a lunch hosted by the UK High Commissioner, Council members were given a chance to interact with the diplomatic community, civil society and women’s groups. Some of the Council members held an impromptu question and answer session – under the shade of a mango tree – with representatives of women’s groups in Sierra Leone. Among the areas discussed were efforts being made to ensure greater representation of women in parliament, the rise in sexual violence against women and the presence of women in the military.
In the afternoon Council members met with President Ernest Bai Koroma, first privately and then with a number of government ministers including foreign affairs, justice, finance, internal affairs, information, political affairs and defense. While the main focus of the discussion was the upcoming elections, Council members wece given an update on security sector reform (SSR) and efforts to deal with youth unemployment. It seems Council members were also interested in areas ranging from Sierra Leone’s economic growth predictions for 2012 to regional cooperation in combatting drug trafficking. Council members also sought answers to what type of involvement the government might want from the UN and international community during the elections.
Council members then met with the security sector, represented by the Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF), the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) and the Office of National Security. The overall picture conveyed to Council members was positive in terms of the developments in the RSLAF and SLP. Council members were assured that police brutality was not a common occurrence, although incidents did occur. Council members were also given a quick overview of preparations for the November elections at the National Election Commission.
The meeting with the opposition was less fiery than the one with the Côte d’Ivoire opposition. While there was some bitterness, it appears that the parties were committed to creating an enabling environment for free and fair elections. A declaration signed on 18 May by all the opposition parties as well as civil society groups at the National Conference of Stakeholders for the 2012 Elections, committed the parties and groups to a pre-election code of conduct. Council members apparently emphasised the need to ensure the declaration is now implemented.
Overall, Council members appeared to be impressed by the detailed and frank discussions. While successes were highlighted, the various groups they met with were also open about the challenges. There was also an overall impression that Sierra Leone was moving forward in implementing SSR, DDR and peacebuilding goals and that there was good potential for economic growth. Although there were some similar problems, Council members appeared to agree that developments in Sierra Leone over the last few years put it further along the peace continuum compared to the first two countries they had visited.
By the end of the day it was clear to Council members that the different stakeholders in Sierra Leone were firmly committed to trying to create the appropriate environment for credible and fair elections which would move the country into the next phase of development. There also appeared to be a sense that if the elections went well it would be possible to consider closing down UNIPSIL sometime in 2013. (UNIPSIL’s mandate expires on 15 September 2012.) Given the importance of keeping a close eye on developments leading up to the elections, it also appears likely that Council members may choose to have a briefing from Toyberg-Frandzen in the next couple of months.
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