NEW YORK, March 6, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ — Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the closing ceremony of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL), as delivered in Freetown today:
I thank His Excellency President [Ernest Bai] Koroma, the Government and the Sierra Leonean people for their warm welcome. Today, we celebrate the successful conclusion of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office. This is a triumph for the people of Sierra Leone. The UN is proud to have supported them – and we thank them for proving our value.
Sierra Leone saw many UN “firsts”. This country hosted the UN’s first multidimensional peacekeeping operation with political, security, humanitarian and national recovery mandates. Sierra Leone was home to the first UN Deputy Special Representative, who also served as head of UNDP, UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, underscoring the links among peace, human rights and development. The UN Peacebuilding Commission made its first-ever visit to Sierra Leone. This country also had the first Secretary-General’s Executive Representative heading the political and development presence. This ensured an integrated approach to supporting the Government’s peacebuilding efforts.
The UN Mission in Sierra Leone overcame severe challenges and successfully brought peace to a nation torn by a decade of war. Our blue helmets disarmed more than 75,000 ex-fighters, including hundreds of child soldiers. The UN destroyed more than 42,000 weapons and 1.2 million rounds of ammunition — a potentially deadly arsenal that is now itself dead. The UN helped the Government to combat illicit diamond mining that fuelled the conflict and to establish control over the affected areas.
With the UN’s help, Sierra Leone held its first-ever free and fair elections. The UN assisted more than half a million Sierra Leonean refugees and internally displaced persons when they voluntarily returned home. We helped train thousands of local police.
Many UN staff members launched projects that gave jobs to thousands of ex‑fighters and basic services to communities. Our staff built schools and clinics, funded farming projects and provided free medical services.
The people of Sierra Leone suffered grave human rights abuses and they became staunch human rights advocates. When victims and perpetrators of atrocities were ready to talk and heal, the UN helped set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Sierra Leoneans knew their hard-won peace would only be sustained with justice. The United Nations was proud to help set up the Special Court here. This was the first country in Africa to establish, with UN participation, a tribunal on its own territory to address the most serious international crimes.
When the Special Court closed last year, it was the first of the UN and UN-backed tribunals to successfully complete its mandate. The Special Court’s sentencing of former Liberian President Charles Taylor was the first conviction of a former Head of State since Nuremberg. It showed the world that even top leaders must pay for their crimes. The Special Court’s cases recognized the terrible suffering of victims. I offer my and the United Nations highest tribute to these brave individuals. The trials saw first-ever convictions for attacks against UN peacekeepers, forced marriage as a crime against humanity, and for the use of child soldiers.
When the peacekeepers left, the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office helped Sierra Leone’s citizens to consolidate progress. This political mission addressed tensions that could have caused a relapse into conflict, while strengthening institutions and promoting human rights.
UNIPSIL helped the Government to bolster the National Electoral Committee and the Political Parties Registration Commission. It emphasized dialogue and tolerance. The Mission helped the police establish the first Transnational Organized Crime Unit in West Africa and create an Independent Police Complaints Board. UNIPSIL also helped to establish the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation. It strengthened Sierra Leone’s National Human Rights Commission, which received an award for complying with international standards.
As we mark the formal closure of UNIPSIL, I thank all of its dedicated staff and Mr. [Jens Anders] Toyberg-Frandzen for their outstanding service. I take this opportunity once again to express my deepest admiration to Mr. Toyberg-Frandzen as my Executive Representative for UNIPSIL for his leadership. And I stress that this milestone is far from the end of the UN’s engagement.
We will continue to support efforts to expand economic opportunities, deliver public services, strengthen democratic institutions, promote the rule of law and address new challenges. I welcome President Koroma’s commitment to ensuring that the constitutional review process is transparent and inclusive. This is an important opportunity for the people of Sierra Leone to address the outstanding root causes of the conflict. I am also encouraged by the holistic approach to development of the Agenda for Prosperity of His Excellency President Koroma. I call on Sierra Leoneans and the international community to press ahead for success.
In 2010, when I visited Sierra Leone, I saw a football match played by members of the Single Leg Amputee Sports Club. They had suffered during the war, but they were not thinking about the past. They were living for the moment and planning for the future. Each one of them was a champion.
Many proud sons and daughters of Sierra Leone have shown that a person’s hope is stronger than any machete. That a mutual goal can beat a machine gun. And that even the most deadly weapons can be defeated by our determined will. Sierra Leone
has taught the world many lessons, but none more important than the power of people to shape the future.
Other States devastated by conflict, hatred and atrocities can draw hope from Sierra Leone. Here we see that a strong investment — in material resources, human energy, international support and national goodwill — can bring lasting peace. Sierra Leone once hosted the largest UN peacekeeping operation in the world with 17,500 soldiers. Now some 120 Sierra Leoneans serve under the UN flag as peacekeeping troops. Some of them are here today. I salute them all.
Mr. President, allow me to present to you this blue helmet as a symbol of our past engagement and our future cooperation. As Secretary-General of the United Nations I reaffirm again in this very symbolic [ceremony] that the United Nations will continue to be with the people and the Government of Sierra Leone so that they can have a better future for all.
Thank you very much.