Thursday 10 December 2020
I commend the Chair and all members of the Peacebuilding Commission for convening this meeting.
I had the opportunity to visit Freetown last month and witnessed firsthand the investments in the Sustainable Development Goals and progress towards consolidating peace and stability. In my interactions with young people, I sensed pride in the country’s steady path towards sustainable peace and development, and in the aspirations of the government to become a middle-income country by 2035.
I am therefore pleased to see the continuous engagement of the Peacebuilding Commission in support of Sierra Leone. The Commission’s consistent backing over the past 14 years is commendable, enabling the country to reach its key milestones, including the successful transition from a peacekeeping operation to peaceful elections and development gains.
These achievements include the country’s effective response to the Ebola epidemic, the rebuilding of the country’s institutions, the management of electoral processes, and the pursuit of national development plans and priorities, including the empowerment of women and youth.
The Commission’s support has been matched by Peacebuilding Fund investments. With contributions totaling $65 million, the Fund has buttressed national efforts to rebuild state institutions, improve security, promote inclusive democratic governance and create channels for dialogue and reconciliation.
For example, the Fund supported the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission. This has proven to be an important step towards improving access to justice, and a key instrument in building the capacity of public and private institutions to set business practices and standards that respect human rights.
The Fund also helped strengthen the country’s human rights mechanisms, with a focus on the protection of women and girls from violence and the promotion of the rights of people with disabilities.
Sierra Leone has much to be proud of, but more remains to be done. As outlined in the government’s roadmap for future engagement with the Peacebuilding Commission, there is readiness to do more to ensure the meaningful participation of women in decision-making processes, as well as to work holistically across the peace, development and human rights spectrum.
I heard these same priorities during my visit. I was encouraged by the political will to promote sustainable development, enhance inclusive governance, further improve access to justice and better protect human rights, including to fight against all forms of gender-based violence.
I was also pleased to see widespread acknowledgment of the need to support youth employment and empowerment. In my meetings with young people across the country, it was evident that more must be done to enable young people to develop and achieve a sustainable livelihood, and achieve their full and free participation in the social, economic and political spheres of life.
To this end, I am pleased to inform you that this year the Peacebuilding Fund is supporting a project that empowers youth at risk in the Tonkolili and Kenema districts to become peace enablers through community resilience and social cohesion activities designed to help prevent gang recruitment and violence.
Sierra Leone’s efforts in support of the 2030 Agenda face serious setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the most vulnerable groups in society at elevated risk. During my visit, it was evident that women’s leadership in managing the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic should be facilitated. Women have been badly hit by the pandemic and their participation in devising solutions is an imperative.
I was pleased to see, based on lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak, the active involvement of numerous civil society organizations in monitoring and reporting sexual and gender-based violence during the Covid-19 crisis.
The financial constraints caused by the COVID-19 pandemic call for solidarity and support in a manner that is both conflict- and gender-sensitive. In that regard, the government’s efforts to invest in health, education, women’s empowerment and agriculture merit the Peacebuilding Commission’s continued attention and support. It is particularly encouraging that education is high among the government’s priorities. Efforts to close the digital divide and green the country’s economy, including through climate-smart agriculture, should also be supported.
At the same time, the importance of equitable and sustainable exploitation of the country’s extractive resources is crucial.
Sierra Leone is a success story for other countries to emulate — a showcase of prevention in action. I wish to reiterate the continuous support of the UN system to the country’s achievement of sustainable peace and development.