Liberia's destruction diverted through dialogue
Press Release FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Dateline: Geneva, Switzerland
Tuesday, 23 June 2009
H.E. Madam Olubanke King-Akerele, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Liberia, thanked those who made sacrifices for peace in Liberia in a statement to mediators in Oslo, Norway on 16 June 2009.
In her speech, which marked the opening of the seventh Oslo forum meeting of conflict mediators from around the world, H.E. King-Akerele highlighted lessons from Liberia’s conflict resolution, or so called peace-making experience. She emphasised the important role of dialogue through negotiation and diplomacy to preserve the nation.
It soon became clear that the country would self-destruct, and that unless some intervention occurred, there would be catastrophic consequences.” she said.
Persistent efforts and a belief in peace were major contributions to a long process that allowed the Foreign Minister to now declare that “peace has returned to Liberia."
From 1990 to 1993, there had been 13 failed peace agreements.Determined efforts at dialogue resulted in disarmament in 1996 but,unfortunately, violence had erupted again by 2000. Eventually, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of Accra was concluded in 2003.
The Foreign Minister told the attending mediators of the critical importance of the people’s belief in dialogue that was necessary for reaching a negotiated solution: “Let me use this occasion to emphatically state that all the combined forces of the international community – both in material and human resources – would have achieved nothing had the Liberian people remained docile.
The courage of the Liberian people to transcend war; their abiding faith in peace and stability through the negotiation and diplomatic process; and their preparedness to cooperate in reconciling their differences to save their nationhood, the example of the Women of Liberia -- these were the crux to the success story in Liberia.”
Reiterating the recommendations of the Monrovia Declaration earlier this year, King-Akerele called on the United Nations Secretary-General to appoint a Special Representative on Security Council Resolution 1325, which addresses the impact of war on women, and women's contributions to conflict resolution and sustainable peace. “…women must be at the peace table.” she said.
King-Akerele highlighted the tireless mediation efforts, first of the Inter-Faith Mediation Council, then of the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU), the United States Government, the United Nations and: “…all private and public actors who, in one way or the other, spared no effort in Liberia’s journey to peace.”
The event was co-hosted by the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Geneva-based mediation organisation, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD Centre). It is part of a process known as the Oslo forum - an on-going series of informal and discreet retreats for those actively engaged in peace processes around the world. It features an annual global gathering in Oslo, Norway, and regional events in Asia and Africa.
Full text of the public speech follows]
“STATEMENT BY H.E. MADAM OLUBANKE KING-AKERELE
MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS OF LIBERIA AT OSLO
FORUM 2009, OSLO, NORWAY, JUNE 16, 2009
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen:
I am honoured to address this august body, and should like, at the outset, to congratulate the Government of Norway for the excellent manner in which this Forum is organized, and for the wonderful facilities placed at our disposal since our arrival in beautiful Oslo. The people of Liberia are thankful to the Government and people of Norway for your role, not only in bringing peace to our country, but also in participating in our reconstruction process.
Oslo, Norway, has come to hold an eminent place in the hearts and minds of people throughout the world as a place of great endeavours for peace, tranquillity, and human co-existence. It is a place where the potentials and values of distinguished thinkers and statesmen are recognized. We pay particular homage to Alfred Nobel, whose foresight and ingenuity gave us the Nobel Peace Prize which is today a most coveted Prize. There are other distinguished sons and daughters of Norway to whom the world owes a great debt of gratitude.
Let me also congratulate the organizers of Oslo Forum 2009 for your tireless efforts in gathering more than 70 eminent negotiators and key actors from around the globe who have devoted a greater part of their time and work to the maintenance of peace between nations and between rival groups.
The Oslo Forum – the seventh of its kind – aims to facilitate an exchange of experiences among senior track-one mediators engaged in peace processes, and to build professional networks across institutional divides. We are proud to join you and to share our experiences.
Liberia faced major challenges along the way since its founding by free men and women of colour from the Americas, from Sierra Leone and other African immigrants including repatriates from the Congo and its declaration of independence in 1847. Its preservation as a nation was fraught with hurdles in the wake of the colonial period. Hence all the tools of diplomacy, negotiation and bargaining to preserve our sovereignty had to be employed by our forefathers.
In Liberia itself, it was also the skilfulness of the founding fathers of modern day Liberia, the former Grain Coast, in dealing with their brothers and sisters they met on the ground that also carried us through as a nation-state.
However, there were crises and conflicts along the way – some very intractable and challenging. These crises and conflicts built up over the years to explode, beginning with the Rice Riot of April 14, 1979, to the bloody military coup d’état of April 12, 1980, and the civil war of December 24, 1989. It was the latter that drew international attention, involvement, and full participation.
The origins of the civil conflict can be traced to two broad factors: first,was the systematic exclusion and marginalization from institutions of political governance and access to key economic assets of significant portions of Liberian society; and second was the country’s economic collapse.
Today, I am proud to declare that peace, which eluded the Liberian people during more than fourteen years of a bloody civil war, has finally returned to the country. Liberians are busy reconstructing their devastated country and lives. For this, we give thanks to all and sundry – the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU), the United Nations (UN), the United States Government, and all private and public actors who, in one way or the other, spared no effort in Liberia’s journey to peace.
From the beginning of the Liberian civil crisis, the belligerent parties dug in and remained recalcitrant, believing that they would win on the battlefield. It soon became clear that the country would self-destruct, and that unless some intervention occurred, there would be catastrophic consequences. Thus, the first mediators to intervene were drawn from the religious circle known as the Inter-Faith Mediation Council. This council was comprised of Christians and Muslims who soon realized that their position as clergy put them above partisanship and therefore qualified them for a mediation role.
The Inter-Faith Mediation Council convened its first meeting in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in early 1990, but could do little to stop the carnage. At this point, ECOWAS was invited, and by August in the early 90’s, a military intervention in the process of peace keeping was agreed as the best option.
As ECOWAS dispatched troops on the ground to separate the warring parties, intensive negotiations took place from one West African capital to the other, culminating in thirteen failed peace agreements by 1993. Mediators from ECOWAS, the AU, and the UN remained unrelenting until the combating forces were disarmed in 1996, paving the way for democratic elections. The disarmament exercise was an outcome of a combination of peacekeeping, peace monitoring and peacemaking process by ECOWAS troops together with troops from other African countries, such as Uganda, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Niger, Benin, and a United Nations Observer Mission.
During the long and difficult period, mediation and diplomacy remained the main instruments for the total resolution of the crisis. Meanwhile, where applicable and necessary, force was used to check the fighting forces. At the same time, sustained national pressure was mounted by Liberians through various means, such as demonstrations and sit-ins, to compel the parties to come to agreement.
The use of the ballot box to elect a government democratically in 1996 only bought time, because the country returned to war by 2000. Liberia reverted to a path of destruction until it was rescued, once more, in August 2003 following intensive and sustained negotiations and bargaining which led to the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of Accra (CPA). The CPA called for the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force in Liberia; the disarmament, demobilization rehabilitation and resettlement of combatants; the holding of free and fair democratic elections supervised by the international community; and the repatriation of Liberians to their natural homes from refugee and displaced camps.
The extraordinary role of Liberian women, both Christian and Muslim in the peace process has been captured in the film “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”. I would here like to provide a few insights into their significant role, more details on which is part of an attachment to this statement.(see attachment)
Three years since the election of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the country has returned to peace and stability. Democracy is thriving through free speech, a free press, openness and transparency, and respect for human and civil rights, among others. We are proud to state that, apart from criminals and civil offenders, there is no prisoner of conscience in any Liberian jail.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:
Liberia’s return to peace and stability is an achievement – a success – that must be credited to the tireless efforts of leaders of ECOWAS first and foremost, the scores of diplomats and mediators who sacrificed their time and personal happiness to ensure that the Liberian people have peace. I would be remiss if I did not single out the brave and courageous men and women of the armed forces of the troopcontributing countries from within West Africa and elsewhere, as well as the United Nations. Enormous human and material resources were put into the success story of Liberia.
Let me use this occasion to emphatically state that all the combined forces of the international community – both in material and human resources – would have achieved nothing had the Liberian people remained docile. The courage of the Liberian people to transcend war; their abiding faith in peace and stability through the negotiation and diplomatic process; and their preparedness to cooperate in reconciling their differences to save their nationhood, the example of the Women of Liberia -- these were the crux to the success story in Liberia.
It is our conviction that the Liberian experience of engagement, cooperation, and understanding is a lesson that is worth learning in future negotiating and peace-making exercises. For unless the people are willing to reconcile and work together, no expertise in negotiation and diplomacy, and no application of force can compel them to accept any peace terms. Anyone visiting Liberia today and seeing how the people are holding together, would never think those were the same people who fought pitch battles not so long ago. We have made our peace. The significance of women at the peace table cannot be over emphasized. That is one of the major lessons of the Liberian crisis among others.
Another significant lesson is clearly that Women must be at the peace table. We cannot for example over emphasize the fact that the contribution of regional women peace networks such as MARWOPNET – The Mano River Union Women Peace Network were critical to achieving peace. Similar examples can be cited from other regions, I am sure. Therefore, we propose that more women be appointed by the UN Secretary General as Special Representative in mediation processes and that the SG appoints a Special Representative on UNSC 1325. This was in fact amongst the recommendations contained in the Monrovia Declaration that resulted from the recently held International Colloquium on Women’s Leadership, Economic Empowerment, International Peace and Security that was co-convened by President Johnson Sirleaf and President Hanolen of Finland in Liberia from 7-8 March.
Our post-war reconstruction is facing a serious challenge as a result of the global economic crisis. The global economic meltdown will affect major foreign-exchange earners, such as rubber, iron ore, and diamonds,while imposing constraint on imported commodities such as petroleum products, food, etc. Additionally, in the face of the global recession, multilateral and bilateral support to our reconstruction and development efforts will eventually suffer.
This will definitely undermine our hardwon peace.
The Government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf remains committed to deliver social services to the people of Liberia, however challenging the existing reality. We will continue to call for international support to assist our efforts in providing the services our people have lacked for years. This is why we are grateful, and thankful, to countries and institutions that have waived our debts. We want to pay particular tribute to the Royal Norwegian Government for this. We call on those who have not done so to consider waiving the debt Liberia owes them, to enable us to start anew on the path of national development.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Conflicts and crises have erupted mainly as a result of deprivation, exclusion and inequity, and Liberia is no exception. To correct this problem, Government has put in place the Poverty Reduction Strategy which is aimed at reducing poverty and lifting the standard of living of the individual in concert with Millennium Development Goal #1. Our desire is earnest, and we are sure to achieve this objective with the assistance of our international partners and friends.
As you deliberate over the next few days, I wish you the best, hoping that the lessons learned from here will be applied to end complicated and intractable conflicts such as those in Somalia, Darfur, the Great Lakes Region, the Middle East, and Afghanistan, among many others. I thank you.
Women Participating in Peace Deals in Africa
• The Golden Tulip Declaration on Liberia, (Accra 2003) illustrates the major role played by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Ruth Sando Perry in raising awareness among women’s social movements, politicians, and the international community regarding concrete and significant involvement of women in peace processes, conflict management and decision-making mechanisms throughout the African continent. The Akosomob Peace Agreement in 2003 was a consequence of the involvement of these women in mobilizing women organizations and political decision makers in the peace process, and in promoting and protecting women’s rights, in what is well-documented in today’s UNSCR 1325’s resolution history as the “Golden Tulip Declaration” (Accra, August 2003). This initiative which was conceived and coordinated with the support of the then UNIFEM’s Regional Peace and Security Advisor for West and Central Africa, Dr. Jean Jacques Pufusi Sadiki at that time.
• The “Nelson Mendela” Peace Process Committee on Burundi In the case of the Great Lakes region, particularly during the peace process in Burundi, Ruth Sando Perry, then a member of the Nelson Mendela Committee at the peace negotiations in Arusha, was to play a crucial role in convincing the warring factions to hear the cries of the ravaged population and to embark on a path of reason, with the support of the women of Burundi, the majority of the population. “The Burundian negotiators have categorically refused to include women in the negotiations. This issue must receive immediate support in order to strengthen the involvement of women throughout Burundi with regard to issues relating to their security, their inclusion and their rights,” she urged.
• The Sun-City and Inter- Congolese Dialogue – President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s contribution to peace processes in Africa, and particularly in the Great Lakes region, the Democratic Republic of Congo is considerable. Using her character and her national and international experience to the full, she successfully facilitated the Humanitarian, Social and Cultural Commission, one of four Commissioners established by the Inter-Congolese Dialogue in Sun City (South Africa) in February 2002. In fact, this dialogue established the end of the war in the DRC. Subsequent deterioration of the situation in DRC continues to pose major humanitarian challenges to the world community.
• Perspectives in Implementing UNSCR 1325 - Following a successful Expert Group Meeting on SCR 1325 which took place in Monrovia early 2009, Liberia has presented its National Plan of Action as well as a Strategic Plan for the implementation of UNSCR 1325 all over the world. Under the coordination and the leadership of presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Tarja Halonen of Finland, the “ Monrovia Declaration and the call to action on UNSCR 1325” was the net result of the International Colloquium and is expected to be presented to the UN General Assembly in September.
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