Global Policy Forum

Presentation to the Arria Formula Briefing - Liberia - Oxfam


Oxfam International
September 9, 2003

Thank you for this opportunity to feed in views on the scope and nature of international and UN involvement in Liberia at this crucial moment.

Have set out some of our concerns to Council members in letters on 3 July and 14 August.

I shall touch on a couple of the areas that Oxfam believes are essential elements of the UN's role in Liberia and which requires substantial and sustained support from Council members and the rest of UN member states.

1. Sufficient peacekeeping troops to provide security for Liberian civilians

As an organisation working to assist people that have been affected by Liberia's conflict, we share the views of colleagues at Save the Children and Medicins Sans Frontií¨res that the priority for the UN and international engagement in Liberia is the establishment of security so that civilians are safe and that humanitarian agencies can provide assistance to them. Security is the prerequisite to provide assistance. As Ross Mountain highlighted yesterday, some IDPs have discouraged the distribution of food out of fear of being attacked or looted by combatants, despite their acute food needs.

Thus beyond the warring parties standing by their ceasefire agreements to stop hostilities and provide security and unhindered humanitarian access, the overwhelming priority for the Council and rest of the international community is to get many more peacekeepers on the ground and quickly.

This has to be tackled in the immediate term with rapid increase in the numbers and support for ECOMIL to allow it to fulfill its task to enforce the ceasefire and peace agreements. The deployment of troops for ECOMIL has been painfully slow and the peacekeepers on the ground lack the vital communications and transport logistics to deploy outside Monrovia even when there have been express requests to do so. . We need to ensure ECOMIL has the capacity for rapid deployment into insecure areas - within the day instead of within several days.

The US has a key role to play to ensure that ECOMIL has such support. We are also urging the US government to return the 150 marines that it recently withdrew [after only 11 days on the ground] and deploy more troops as to buttress the capacity of ECOMIL peacekeepers. The tentative involvement of the US sends a very mixed message to Liberians who were hugely bolstered by the symbolism of their dramatic arrival.

But the lack of clear American action should not obscure the responsibility of all UN member states to ensure that the subsequent UN peacekeeping operation has sufficient troop numbers, resources and equipment to deploy beyond Monrovia and throughout the country swiftly. UN member states must provide this if Liberians are to have confidence that a UN force can make a difference. Currently, Oxfam sees many displaced people who are not willing to leave the current appalling conditions where they have sought shelter to return to more established camps as they fear that ECOMIL will not provide security. While not experts, the figure of 15,000 troops for the UN peacekeeping force would seem a minimum.

2. A UN operation with a robust protection mandate

We were dismayed that in Resolution 1497 the Security Council failed to give ECOMIL an explicit mandate to protect civilians. We believe that it is essential for the Security Council to confer a clear and unambiguous mandate obliging the follow-on UN peacekeeping operation to provide protection to civilians, authorising the force to use all necessary measures to protect civilians and humanitarian workers under imminent threat of physical violence and ensuring that the force has the means to deliver on this essential role.

3. Holding peacekeepers accountable for their conduct:

It is essential that all peacekeepers respect international humanitarian law, and do not commit violations of human rights. Peacekeeping troops should receive appropriate training in human rights and international humanitarian law. The UN must put in place accountability systems to monitor the behaviour of the peacekeeping troops in order to record and report any violation of UN standards or abuses of human rights. Any such incidents must be the subject of investigation and sanction. The UN and all contributing countries should ensure that peacekeepers are held to account for their behaviour.

4. Tackling the proliferation of arms

We hope that the Council and international community will seize this opportunity to ensure that arms proliferation is tackled comprehensively in Liberia. One measure would be the creation of an effective National Commission on small arms and to establish a comprehensive policy on the demilitarisation of civilians requiring clear plan of action on civilian ownership and possession of weapons.

The UN operation should be given a clear mandate that includes monitoring the destruction of weapons stockpiles.

And arms are yet another of the facets that demand that the strategy in Liberia is joined up to a broader strategy for the region. We hope that the current focus on Liberia should act as a springboard to strengthen the ECOWAS moratorium on the proliferation of small arms in the region to ensure that illicit arms flows do not fuel new conflict. The ECOWAS Secretariat must do more to promote and enforce the current regime. We hope too there will be progress towards a legally binding instrument controlling the arms trade.

5. Increased aid

It is clearly essential that donors to increase their commitments to the newly-revised UN Consolidated Appeal for Liberia. Beyond that, it will be essential that donors commit to provide aid to economic regeneration. There are a number of roots to the conflict in Liberia. One is that desperate people follow dangerous leaders when there are no economic alternatives, and no security. Longer-term economic incentives to end the conflict must be an integral part of the international community's engagement with Liberia.

Such aid needs to be providing with an awareness of how aid provision can foster divisions. To be clear, humanitarian assistance should be provided solely with regard to need – not as a force protection mechanism or to win hearts and minds. This means focusing only on need, which may also include people who may be destitute in their homes, as well as those displaced, refugees or demobilising soldiers. But broader reconstruction assistance needs to be provided in ways that take into account divisions within and among communities.


This is an opportunity to put in place a UN operation at the heart of an international strategy for Liberia and the wider sub-region: It is essential that the UN operation in Liberia is required to liaise effectively with UN operations across the region and that this is complemented by the international community working to a shared strategy to tackle conflict and poverty in the region.

We hope the Council will heed this call and quickly. We remain disturbed by the prospect of prolonged insecurity in Liberia if ECOMIL fails to deploy more fully outside Monrovia and the UN operation does not arrive in a swift and timely way.

This is a chance to get things right for the people of Liberia. It will require sustained support, and committing sufficient financial and political resources to the operation. It will need to avoid gradualism and half measures that will consign the people of Liberia once more to cycles of violence, insecurity and suffering.

Thank you.



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