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 You are in: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice > Former Secretaries of State > Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell > Speeches and Remarks > 2004 > February

Remarks to the International Reconstruction Conference on Liberia

Secretary Colin L. Powell
United Nations Headquarters
New York City
February 6, 2004

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(10:50 a.m. EST)

Secretary Powell with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at the International Reconstruction Conference on Liberia. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I thank you for that very startling introduction. It is a great pleasure to be here, and I would like to express my regrets for being a little late arriving this morning, but we circled over New York for about an hour and a half before my very capable Air Force pilots found a hole in the clouds that allowed us to descend to Kennedy, and then thanks to New York City's finest, we were able to do a quick trip into the city and to be with you this morning.

I am honored to join the Secretary General, Vice President Madavo of the World Bank in hosting this important conference in support of Liberia's recovery from 15 years of brutal warfare. As President Bush has said, the United States is determined to help the long-suffering people of Liberia to find a path to lasting peace.

The deeply interconnected conflicts in West Africa have laid waste to precious lives and to the region's natural bounty. Some 200,000 people have died in Liberia alone. As the violence spread throughout the region, so, too, have destruction, disease and despair. Millions of West Africans were driven out of their homes, as thugs, traffickers and terrorists rushed in to exploit the havoc, to exploit that havoc for their own ends, posing threats to the wider international community.

Clearly, the killing and the chaos had to stop, and the international community responded and took action. I commend the Economic Community of West African States, the United Kingdom and France for their leadership in the international efforts to restore security in Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire. I also wish to applaud the dedicated efforts of Nigeria and Ghana to find regional solutions to the conflicts in West Africa.

In Liberia, the United Nations and its specialized agencies, the Economic Community of West Africa States, the European Commission, our fellow members of the International Contact Group, non-governmental organizations and, most important of all, courageous Liberians have worked in partnership to advance three key goals. First, we have come together to help put an end to the violence that has devastated the country and destabilized the region. Second, we have facilitated the flow of humanitarian aid. And, third, we have given our support to those in Liberia who are working for fundamental reform of the way that Liberia is governed. The United States is proud to have contributed to all of these efforts.

The citizens of Liberia now have the opportunity to put fifteen years of war, chaos and misery behind them and to build a future of hope. This promising moment is not likely to come again. And the people of Liberia need our collective help to seize this moment.

Our help will mean a new chance at life for the men, women and children of Liberia who have seen so much death and destruction. A Liberia at peace will be critical to peace and well being throughout the West African region.

And Liberia's successful reconstruction would send a powerful message to other long-troubled parts of Africa that the international community will stand behind those who seize the opportunity for peace and who set the course for democracy and sustainable development.

With our concerted efforts, much has been accomplished. Yet a great deal still is needed to meet the immediate humanitarian requirements and lay the groundwork for Liberia's long-term recovery and development.

The Results Focused Transition Framework, which will be formally presented to us during these proceedings, identifies the priorities for the critical next 2 years. Together, we must continue to provide relief and support the resettlement, rehabilitation and reintegration of displaced persons, refugees and former combatants. And we must put special emphasis on female ex-combatants, and, especially, on child soldiers.

As someone who served almost his entire adult life in the career military, the fate of Liberia's child soldiers moves me deeply. These boys and girls have known more horrors in their young lives than anyone, let alone a child, ever should have to endure. Children were recruited by force, torn from their homes, deprived of an education, made to perform forced labor. They were drugged, beaten. The girls often were raped and subjected to sexual servitude.

The children were taught to fight. They were made to kill. The children became both victims and victimizers. Now, the vast majority of these children want desperately to leave these nightmare pasts behind them. They want to find their families if they are still alive. They want to go to school. They want to escape poverty. They want to make something of themselves.
We must help these children. If we help these deeply traumatized children to live in hope, then there is also hope for Liberia.

Indeed, we must bring fresh faith in the future to a country that for too long has lived in hopelessness. And we must help the rule of law to a Liberia, help bring the rule of law to a Liberia that for decades has known only lawlessness. Accountability must prevail. We must stand ready to work with Liberians as they grapple with how best to bring justice to their land and achieve liberty through law.

We must help the Liberians strengthen their civil society, establish accountable institutions, and create independent media as checks against corruption. We must assist in the preparation of free and fair presidential elections and congressional elections scheduled for October 2005. We must foster the successful completion of Liberia's transition to a genuinely representative and responsive government. The health, education, forest and farming sectors must be rebuilt. The security sector must be reformed under civilian control to protect Liberia's territorial integrity.

For our part, the United States has already provided nearly $90 million to address the latest humanitarian crisis in Liberia as well as the needs of Liberian refugees who have fled to neighboring countries. Our food aid through the World Food Program has helped to feed hundreds of thousands of Liberians. And our support for international relief organizations and non-governmental organizations has helped to meet Liberia's pressing needs for water, sanitation, health, and shelter.

Beyond our ongoing humanitarian help, to date the United States has contributed $8.5 million to train and equip civilian police. Four million dollars has gone to the United Nations Development Program and to support the operation of the Transitional Government. Twenty-one million has gone for assistance to ECOWAS peacekeepers.

And I am pleased to confirm today that the United States Congress has appropriated an additional $200 million in humanitarian and reconstruction aid and another $245 million for United Nations Peacekeeping operations in Liberia.

The presence here today of United States Congressmen Amo Houghton of New York and Don Payne of New Jersey, Amo Houghton of New York, both dear friends of mine and committed lovers of Africa and Africans, demonstrate the serious and determined bipartisan support that we enjoy in the Congress for our efforts and their commitment to the long-term success of our efforts.

I hope that our own and other contributions will help prompt a broadened, substantial international response in the form of funds, technical assistance and active diplomatic engagement. Having helped Liberia to this hopeful point of peace, we as a world community now must be prepared to commit ourselves to the long, hard process of Liberia's recovery and reconstruction.

Ultimately, of course, it is up to the Liberians themselves to seize or to squander this moment. Our new colleague, Chairman Bryant, the leader of Liberia's Transitional Government, has committed his administration to quote "scrupulously and meticulously" implement the peace agreement and make it irreversible. Now is the time for all parties to join in supporting the peace agreement, not to scheme against it. Now is the time for all to meet their obligations under the Accra accords, not to obstruct the peace process.

We welcome the fact that Chairman Bryant also has made the establishment of good relations with Liberia's neighbors a top priority. We call upon neighboring countries to do everything they can to support the Liberian peace process. A peaceful, democratic, prosperous Liberia is crucial to stability and well being throughout the entire region.

For too long, the countries of West Africa have suffered from deeply interconnected crises and conflicts that have common roots in corruption and criminality. Now, West African countries must grasp the opportunities to form healthy ties of commerce and cooperation that will help them address the ills that have led to past violence.

With great eloquence, Chairman Bryant has called upon the citizens of Liberia to join him in making "a new beginning" for their country. He has pledged to practice transparent, honest, accountable and fiscally sound governance. And he already has begun to take concrete steps in that direction.

Achieving political stability will be just as crucial to Liberia's getting a good start on the road to democracy and development as establishing conditions of physical security. Chairman Bryant has announced his intention to pursue a "pro-people policy." He acknowledges that the Transitional Government must earn the confidence of citizens, and they do that by addressing pressing issues of human rights and social welfare throughout the country as basic security is restored.

Not only must the Transitional Government earn the confidence of the Liberian people, it must also begin soon to adopt the governmental, legal, social, economic and environmental reforms that can earn the confidence of traders and investors. In Liberia, as in other developing countries across the globe, private capital will be the driver of development.

We encourage the World Bank and the rest of the international community to promote Liberia's own private sector. At the same time, we call upon the Liberian Transitional Government to liberalize foreign trade and investment opportunities in Liberia.

I am glad that many private organizations here in the United States and around the world are supporting Liberia's recovery and reconstruction. Last night, for example, the Leon Sullivan Foundation hosted a corporate dinner for Chairman Bryant's delegation. The Corporate Council on Africa and others will do the same in Washington next week. And the vibrant Liberian-American community can and must play a greater role in Liberia's recovery and development.

My colleagues, the histories of the United States and Liberia have been bound together since the earliest days of both of our nations. Tragically, the cruel bonds of slavery formed our first ties with Liberia's forebears. And in the early decades of the 19th century, it was the dream of shaping their own destinies in freedom that brought Liberia's founders back from America to Africa to build a new homeland. Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, Americans and Liberians enjoy warm ties of kinship, commerce and a common commitment to freedom.

As Liberia's best and oldest friend, the United States will stand by Liberia as her citizens rebuild their country and move forward on a path of democracy and development. Together with our partners in the international community, we will help the people of Liberia build a country ruled by a constitution, and not by kleptocrats. We will help the Liberians build a country where children carry schoolbooks and not AK-47s.

We seek a Liberia whose timber does not fuel the fires of war and whose diamonds are not dripping with blood. We want to see Liberia's great natural wealth invested in its most precious resource, its citizens, not used to fund endless conflict.

Together, we will support Chairman Bryant and the men and women of Liberia as they transform their country into a place where respect for human rights, good governance and economic opportunity are the norm and stability at home is matched by peace in the region.

On behalf of President Bush, I wish to thank the members of the world community for your contributions to Liberia's future. I can assure you of America's strong commitment to work with you as together we help the people of Liberia seize what might well be their last, best chance for peace, prosperity and democracy.

Thank you very much.


Released on February 6, 2004

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