Ruth Perry At The United Nations

(United Nations - October 9, 1996): Ruth Perry, Chairman of the Council of State of the National Transitional Government of Liberia, said her country's civil war, which began more than six years ago, had unleashed one of the worst man-made disasters in recent memory. It had claimed over 250,000 lives, about 15 percent of the population; forced over 800,000 Liberians to seek refuge in neighboring countries; and left several hundred thousand others internally displaced. Regrettably, the most vulnerable groups women, children and the elderly continued to be victimized by the ravages of disease, hunger and malnutrition, which were commonplace under such conditions.

"The wanton killing of civilians and the destruction of basic infrastructure, which intensified in April of this year", continued to retard economic activities and deprived the people of their fundamental human rights, she continued. The painful reality of child soldiers, child laborers and abandoned children in the country meant that a formidable task of rehabilitating them into productive citizens lay ahead.

Since 1990, she said, "ECOWAS had deployed a peace-keeping force in Liberia. It was hoped that the initiative, the first by a subregion, would have received the full support of the United Nations. Unfortunately, the assistance of the international community had been both slow and inadequate, thereby imposing severe pressure on the scarce resources of the member States of ECOWAS". She thanked Nigeria to whom she said Liberians owed " a debt of gratitude", and other ECOWAS members for the sacrifices for their quest for peace in Liberia. She also thanked the United States, the Netherlands and Germany for their assistance to ECOMOG. The efforts of ECOWAS must be complemented by the international community through the provision of substantial material and financial support to facilitate the implementation of the peace process. She appealed to the United Nations to assume its share of the burden of peace-keeping in Liberia. The subregion was facing extreme economic hardships due to external factors beyond its control.

Reviewing the events leading up to the resumption of fighting in April, she said that after several failed peace agreements, ECOWAS had convened a meeting in Abuja, Nigeria in August 1995. At that meeting, a decision was taken for the first time to include the leaders of the three major warring
factions in a six-man Council of State. Accordingly, a cease-fire wasimplemented and Monrovia was maintained as a safe haven. The members of the Council of State were inducted into office in September of 1995.

In April of this year, however, fighting had resumed and dealt another set- back to the peace process, she said. She extended the profound regrets of the Liberian Government and people to intergovernmental and non- governmental organizations, as well as others who sustained losses as a result of the April fighting. Her administration would do everything within its power to prevent the recurrence of such lawlessness.

She went on to say that the events of April had enabled the leaders of the subregion to identify deficiencies in the agreement and to take measures to prevent the recurrence of such a breakdown in the implementation of the peace process. Although they had reaffirmed the Abuja accord as the best
framework for finding a lasting solution to the Liberian conflict, they nevertheless resolved that a change was necessary in the leadership to restore confidence. Thus, the parties had unanimously selected her as Africa's first female head of Government. It represented a major victory and recognition of the active involvement of Liberian women in the peace process. The resolution of the Liberian conflict was therefore not only a challenge to her and all Liberian women, but to all women in Africa and the world.

She said, "Our leadership is challenged with the difficult tasks of pursuing national reconciliation, reunification, repatriation and resettlement of refugees and internally displaced persons, and the creation of an enabling environment for the holding of free and fair elections by May 1997." Additionally and more demanding, her Government must ensure the successful disarmament of combatants, and their demobilization and reintegration into civil society.

"This task requires us, as a matter of urgency, to first disarm our children and redirect their lives", she said. It was also necessary to address the immense suffering which the war had inflicted on the Liberian people. An independent elections commission must be established to conduct free and fair elections under international supervision.

She expressed confidence that, with international support, the tasks would be achieved. All of the parties to the conflict had pledged to hertheir commitment to the implementation of the revised schedule. "Despite some signs of retrogression, our timely intervention and appeals have been heeded, thus averting derailment of the process." Efforts to maintain the cease-fire must be sustained at every stage of the peace process by timely intervention and insistence that the terms and conditions of the peace agreement must be respected by the parties. She appealed for assistance to enable the deployment of additional troops to sustain the new focus on disarmament and demobilization.

The failure to achieve peace over the past six years, she said, "made it imperative that long overdue measures be taken to ensure the final and successful implementation of the Abuja peace agreement." Following the selection of a new head of Government, provision had to be made for the regular monitoring and assessment of the implementation of the peace agreement a responsibility assigned to the special representative of the Chairman of ECOWAS and the ECOWAS Committee of Nine on Liberia.

In addition, she continued, "ECOWAS member States agreed to impose sanctions on any person or group of persons obstructing the implementation of the peace agreement. Those necessary measures would require equal support from the international community." She added that the urgent need to rehabilitate and grant relief to the children was one of her principal concerns. In order to facilitate the rehabilitation of the children, she appealed for assistance in rebuilding educational institutions, especially those providing vocational and technical training.

Meanwhile, the African First female Head of State, Mrs. Ruth Perry had this to say according to UN report on her press briefing following her UN speech:

The Chairman of the Council of State for the Liberia National Transitional Government, Ruth Perry, told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon that she expected a new democratic government to be in place in Liberia by May 1997. Mrs. Perry, who is the first female head of Government in Africa, said she had addressed the General Assembly on the situation in Liberia and solicited international support for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) initiative.

In response to a correspondent's question concerning current policy on the export of Liberian natural resources, Mrs. Perry said that an embargo wasin effect on the export of resources. The Economic Community of West African States' Monitoring Observer Group (ECOMOG) had been given a mandate to stop the export of resources.

A correspondent asked if having a woman as head of the Government had affected the agenda. Mrs. Perry replied that it had not affected the agenda, because it was men who said that they wanted a woman to lead them. Women have the integrity and the confidence to make a difference.

A correspondent asked about her meeting with Secretary- General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Mrs. Perry replied that the meeting was very fruitful and rewarding and that there had been talks about the situation in Liberia and what assistance Liberia would like from the United Nations and other international organizations. That assistance included disarmament, rehabilitation, repatriation, resettlement and education.

What initiatives were being taken to try to disarm the various factions in Liberia? a correspondent asked. Mrs. Perry replied that the warring factions had made a commitment at the Abuja accord meeting that they would disarm their soldiers. She added that last month she had the privilege of witnessing the partial disarmament of one warring faction, General Alhaji Kromah's wing of United Liberation Movement (ULIMO) (ULIMO-K), and she believed that the rest of the factions would follow.

Asked if any help had been received from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other specialized agencies, such as the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Mrs. Perry said that one of the faction leaders had made it possible to have an assessment made in those areas where children were suffering and dying. The assessment team had provided pictures of malnourished children and she had asked the NGOs to move into those areas immediately. As a result of the help received from those NGOs, the situation was gradually improving.

What relations did the Chairman have with the "male warlords" in Liberia, and how did she think she could bring them together for peace? a correspondent asked. Mrs. Perry replied that, as a mother, she would be a stabilizer for her male counterparts. She had been working with the faction leaders and they generally agreed on issues, especially on children, the elderly, and women. On political issues, the men knew that if they did not agree, the women would take the lead.

Were there any plans to disarm child soldiers and reintegrate them into society? a correspondent asked. Mrs. Perry responded that there was a program to bring those children back and offer them "not just a pair of sneakers but also put them into institutions where they will have benefits for the future".

Asked if a process had been put in place for the criminal prosecution of warlords, Mrs. Perry said that ECOWAS had created a mandate to set up a war crimes tribunal to investigate those crimes.

Had the Chairman asked for assistance from other countries? a correspondent asked. Mrs. Perry replied that her country had asked all friendly countries to come and help with the problems in Liberia. Asked if the conditions were ripe for elections in Liberia, Mrs. Perry said that the warlords knew the timetable and the country was on course.

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