Monrovia, 22 March 2018 [As prepared for delivery]
Your Excellency President George Weah,
Dear colleagues and friends,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you, Mr. President, and distinguished members of the Government, for being here today as we mark the closure of the United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL. This ceremony is a wonderful demonstration of the Liberian Government’s success and strong relationship with UNMIL, its leadership and personnel. I thank you. Liberia has made enormous progress in the past 15 years.
In 2003, when UNMIL was created, Liberia was torn apart by conflict, with a traumatized population and no hope for its young people, especially our women and girls. Public services were in freefall, the country’s infrastructure was in ruins, the economy was destroyed and the national police and army had disintegrated. We may never know the full human cost of more than 14 years of successive, brutal civil war. But we know that more than a quarter of a million Liberians were killed, nearly a third of the population was displaced, and an estimated 80 per cent of women and girls experienced conflict-related sexual violence.
It is important to remember and recognise the suffering of the people of Liberia, and the devastation and destabilization that conflict brought to the entire region, in order to appreciate Liberia’s long path to peace. I would specifically like to recognize the important role Liberian women played in pursuing that peace. Women have borne most of the burden; they have stepped up at every stage, providing leadership, courage and integrity. They have done this with dignity.
The United Nations Mission in Liberia has supported the efforts of Liberians in restoring their country and building sustainable peace. I thank all the Special Representatives, and the civilian and military personnel who played a part in UNMIL’s success, and I commend the countries that contributed troops and police, in particular the women peacekeepers and police who served.
I pay special tribute to the 200 peacekeepers who lost their lives in pursuit of peace in Liberia. Today, we remember their sacrifice, we remember their families. As UNMIL closes, we can all feel proud of its accomplishments. It has fulfilled its mandate with distinction and leaves behind a country that has great potential for lasting peace and stability.
UNMIL helped to disarm more than 100,000 combatants, and protected millions of civilians; helped to rebuild the police, the security services and other institutions; facilitated the provision of humanitarian aid; and supported the development of national capacity to promote and protect human rights. UNMIL also supported the government in building a functioning and credible political system.
There have been three peaceful elections; and this country experienced its first democratic transition of power two months ago. Political leaders demonstrated their respect for the will of the people and the rule of law and for Liberia’s institutions. This sets the stage for further progress towards sustained peace in the months and years ahead.
Mr. President,Ladies and gentlemen, At this important turning point, we recognize the progress that has been made and the challenges that remain. Peace will not last without sustainable development; and development gains will be at risk without sustained peace and respect for human rights. Many Liberians are still waiting for the anticipated dividends of peace. They have even higher expectations after the recent elections. Some of the root causes of conflict remain to be addressed, including poverty, youth unemployment, illiteracy and lack of infrastructure. We need to give Liberians back their dignity, dreams and faith in a better future.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063, our plans to build inclusive, just and peaceful societies on a healthy planet, provide the best roadmaps to achieve this. Liberia played a lead role in ensuring the coherence between the two plans. The Sustainable Development Goals are our best tools for conflict prevention.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to implement the 2030 Agenda through the new National Development Plan. The Secretary General, at the request of Member States, has proposed reforms that will enable the whole United Nations System to deliver coherent, comprehensive, integrated and timely support to the Government’s efforts. I look forward to further discussions on these issues during my visit.
Tonight, we celebrate the achievements of peacekeeping and of multilateral cooperation, not only in Liberia but across a swathe of West Africa. A generation ago, Liberia and Sierra Leone were in freefall. Cote d’Ivoire was embroiled in a long, violent crisis. Twenty years later, the closure of UNMIL marks the transition of all three countries to peace and democracy. This sub-region has a bright future. It is at peace with itself and its neighbours, and is on an upward trajectory of sustainable development and increased resilience.
We will support Liberia in ensuring it builds on the gains of peace, human rights and democracy. I commend Special Representative Farid Zarif for his leadership, and particularly for the effective performance of his good offices mandate. His passion, commitment and integrity have held true to the core values of the United Nations.
I once again pay tribute to the uniformed and civilian personnel of UNMIL, past and present. I would like to express my deep appreciation to all national staff and look forward to exploring the opportunities of working together in development in the near future. And I thank ECOWAS, the African Union, the diplomatic community, and the many others who have played a part in our collective effort to support peace in Liberia.
God bless the people and government of Liberia.