Thursday, March 29, 2007

West Africa, Press conference on Sierra Leone by Peacebuilding Commission

By obtaining first-hand information about the situation on the ground in Sierra Leone and assessing the challenges to peacebuilding in the small West African country, the Peacebuilding Commission had met the key goal of its first-ever field visit, the Chair of the Commission’s Country-Specific Meetings on Sierra Leone said at a Headquarters press conference today.

Briefing correspondents on the Commission’s visit, Frank Majoor, who is also the Netherlands’ Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said the Commission’s team had been able to discuss with the Government the remaining gaps within the priority areas for peacebuilding. It had also discussed the development of an integrated framework or “compact” for peacebuilding, which the Commission intended to elaborate before the summer.

The mission’s composition, he added, included six representatives from New York, including ambassadors from Brazil, Guinea, Ghana, Angola, Croatia and the Netherlands, and representatives from China and Egypt who had joined the mission in Freetown. An ambassador from India, who resides in Côte d’Ivoire and was accredited to Freetown, also participated.

The team had met with a broad spectrum of representatives in the country, including Sierra Leone’s President and Vice-President, the Speaker of the Parliament, cabinet members, political party representatives, civil society members and the representatives of regional and subregional organizations. Meeting also with the President and the Prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the team had visited two provinces in the north and the east, seeing first-hand the conditions in a district level prison, a court and a police unit. The team had also visited one of the few remaining refugee camps.

The team, he continued, had also communicated the Commission’s main purposes and principles for stakeholders on the ground. As the “new kid on the block”, it was necessary to explain the role of the Peacebuilding Commission and the Peacebuilding Fund, which was sometimes confused. A key outcome of the visit was that the Commission had been able to leave with a great understanding and a great commitment from the Government on the next steps forward in the Commission’s engagement with the country.

In terms of general observations, he said the Peacebuilding Commission had an important role to play in supporting the national Government and other stakeholders in their continued efforts at peace consolidation. Much was happening in the country. The Commission would focus the international community and the Government on peacebuilding, while others focused on the longer-term development issues at hand in the country. It could also play a critical role in strengthening dialogue between the Government and international partners, as well as broadening the donor base in Sierra Leone, which was limited with only a few active donors. Broadening that base would benefit the country’s development.

The field visit had also contributed greatly to clarifying the difference between the Peacebuilding Commission and the Peacebuilding Fund, he said. While the Commission’s engagement in the country was more medium-term and went beyond resource mobilization, the Fund concentrated on the short-term, making funds available for things that could be done at the present time. The Fund was not governed by the Peacebuilding Commission, but had its own structure.

The field visit had also looked at regional and peace consolidation efforts, he added, noting that discussions had been held with the Mano River Union on the need to revitalize its capacity to address cross-border issues, such as refugees, proliferation of small arms, smuggling of resources and remaining border disputes. While the Union had potential in that regard, it had extraordinarily limited resources. There was also a need for continued capacity-building of civil society organizations, especially in rural communities.

While the Commission’s field visit had concentrated on its priorities, it had also been confronted with a crucially important issue, namely the issue of energy, he explained. Indeed, Sierra Leone’s energy situation was lamentable. As a prerequisite for development, the Government needed more support in developing that area. Youth employment, another priority area, was also needed for economic growth and private sector development.

Regarding the issue of governance, the team had stressed the need to increase dialogue among political parties and build confidence in the electoral process, not only in the run up to the 28 July elections, but also in the post-electoral process in order to build up the country. While much had been done in terms of justice and security sector reform, additional efforts were needed in the area of legal reform. Capacity-building was needed in almost every area.

In terms of next steps, the Peacebuilding Commission and the Government had reached an understanding on the need to develop a compact, he said. The Commission would be holding an informal meeting on youth employment and empowerment to discuss that issue in more depth. A formal meeting would be held later to discuss the first draft of the compact. A formal report from the Peacebuilding Commission’s mission was being drafted and would be shared before the end of April.

Responding to several questions on the country’s energy situation, he said he did not have an immediate answer on a strategy to be followed. At the current time, a number of smaller initiatives in the region would need to be more effective. Much of the country was being powered by generators. That was not a sustainable situation. It was also very expensive. Even Freetown depended on generators. One important project -- a hydroelectric power station connected to a dam not too far from Freetown -- had yet to be implemented.

Regarding the Commission’s relationship with United Nations agencies and programmes, he noted that, as an advisory body, the Commission’s role was to intensify dialogue with the Government and all stakeholders represented in the Commission and to galvanize support with an emphasis on the priority areas for peacebuilding. That could only be seen in conjunction with efforts on the ground, whether they dealt with peacebuilding or development. It was in that intense dialogue with the Government that the United Nations and other organizations, donors and civil society tried to develop a common approach. The United Nations was very much engaged in the process. The Commission needed those on the ground to be committed. Its role was to galvanize and broaden that support.

Responding to a question on the participation of United Nations agencies in the coordination of resources, Ejeviome Eloho Otobo, Deputy Head of the Peacebuilding Support Office, who also participated in the field visit, noted that, in terms of the Peacebuilding Fund, there were three ways in which the agencies would be involved. Projects would be executed by United Nations agencies for Governments. Two of the agencies sat on the Fund’s Steering Committee, namely United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The Executive Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General and United Nations Resident Coordinator in Sierra Leone, Victor Angelo, chaired the Steering Committee. The agencies that would take part in implementation would be working in the priority areas identified by the Commission. Those were some of the ways in which the work of the Commission, the Fund and the agencies on the ground was coordinated.

Asked whether there was a controversy about Mr. Angelo in Sierra Leone, Mr. Otombo said the team had not heard anything about it. If there were, the press, which was very free, would have raised it. It had not, however, shown up anywhere, including in press clippings.

Responding to a question on a press code of conduct for the upcoming elections, Mr. Majoor said that the Commission was not involved in that. It had been mentioned, however, as one of the good things being developed in preparation for the elections. There was also a code of conduct for political parties, which was relevant in the run up to the elections. Sierra Leone, to a very large extent, was a free society with a free press.

Link to Press Releases: West Africa, Press conference on Sierra Leone by Peacebuilding Commission