Rights Advocate Calls for Disbanding ATU; Goes Into Hiding

The Perspective

September 11, 2001

A Liberian human rights advocate, Mr. Adebayo, Executive Director of the Liberian Watch for Human Rights, has called for the disbanding of the notorious and infamous Anti-Terrorist Unit, commonly referred to as ATU. BBC Focus on Africa report issued on the 10th, 2001, stated that the rights group in its statement, described the ATU as "unconstitutional" and called on President Charles Taylor to dissolve it.

According to the BBC report, the group said: "ATU is not only legal, but also dreadful [and] instituted as a domestic machinery to terrorize innocent Liberians. As commander in chief of the Liberian army, the human rights group said, president Taylor has ignored his constitutional mandate to restructure the army, but rather willfully and lavishly invested in the ATU. They pointed..., "the abandonment of the national army has rendered them handicap and reduced their status to mediocrity which has adverse effect on the reunification and reconciliation of all Liberians."

BBC further reported that: "The human rights group [also] blamed the persistent armed attacks by dissidents in the north of the country on president Taylor's failure to restructure the Liberian army and give it a technically and geographically balanced look."

In its follow-up story yesterday, BBC said that the Liberian police authorities have launched a "search" for Mr. Adebayo because of the statement his human rights organization issued, but he had gone into hiding for fear and safety of his life. The Liberian Police Director, Paul Mulbah, was quoted as saying, "Mr. Adebayo will be apprehended to answer questions. Besides his call for the dissolution of the Anti- terrorist Unit, Mr. Adebayo is wanted to explain what he exactly he meant when blamed rebel war in the north of the country on president Taylor's failure to restructure the Liberian army. Maybe the man has more information on the fighting than we know, and he needs to share it."

The ATU has been involved in more "terrorist" acts than its actual role of countering and combating terrorism. Serving as Mr. Taylor's private militia, and comprising mostly ex-combatants of Mr. Taylor's NPFL rebel faction, it has been used as an extension of the state security machinery to harass, intimidate and silence critics of the government.

ATU's acts of transgression on civil society are numerous. Its role in harassing the innocent citizens of Lofa County has been well documented in a scathing report recently issued by Amnesty International (AI). Amnesty reported: "Testimonies and reports gathered by Amnesty International suggest that since late April 2001, government security forces, especially the Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU), a special military unit frequently accused of human rights violations, have extrajudicially executed, arbitrarily detained or tortured [people] -- including the rape of women and girls."

Just a few weeks ago, ATU was deployed in Maryland County under the pretext of combating "ritualistic killings," but its real motive was to recruit young boys. Its role in the brutal attack on students at the University of Liberia cannot go unmentioned. The list is infinite - and could go on and on.

But the fate of Adebayo could follow that of another human rights activist who escaped the claws of the dreaded ATU two years ago. James Torh of the human rights group, FOCUS, now exiled, had made critical comments of the Taylor regime and the way in which it was conducting the affairs of government. Sedition charges were brought against Mr. Torh by the government, but Mr. Torh had to escape for his life before even appearing in court to defend himself.

The whereabouts, however, of Mr. Adebayo remain unknown. "The police search team which consisted of senior officers, has visited Mr. Adebayo's home and offices to no avail," BBC reported.

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